Brady Morningstar’s return to the rotation might mean reduced minutes for Kansas University freshman guard Elijah Johnson.
If that’s the case, so be it, says Johnson, who is elated that the 6-foot-3 junior’s suspension ends Saturday when the Jayhawks meet Michigan in an 11 a.m. tip in Allen Fieldhouse.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but he’s my favorite Jayhawk,” Johnson said of Morningstar, who has been practicing, but not playing in games following his arrest on suspicion of DUI on Oct. 3.
“I watch him a lot at practice. He has to be one of the hardest-working players we’ve got. He knows everything. He gives me a lot of advice,” the 6-foot-2 Johnson added.
Since he couldn’t contribute on game day during KU’s first nine games, Morningstar chose to play a significant role at practice.
“I’ve been trying to help them out,” Morningstar said of first-year perimeter players Johnson, Xavier Henry and C.J. Henry. “Sometimes you don’t know what coach (Bill Self) wants you to do. I was in their shoes once. I know it can be tough at times.”
Just as his suspension was tough to take.
Remember, Morningstar started 34 of 35 games a year ago.
“It’s been difficult obviously. You take your medicine and go with it,” said the former Free State High standout, who averaged 6.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game his sophomore season. “You help others as much as you can and wait for your chance to get on the court.”
Morningstar has received similar support from his teammates.
“I don’t know if I’d say I was ever depressed. I was down a little bit, making mistakes and stuff, but a lot of people helped me,” Morningstar said. “The coaching staff and my teammates were a huge help. Obviously your family members will stick by you in hard times. Everyone was good to me. I appreciate that and I’m looking forward to getting back out there.”
At practice, Morningstar has been the unofficial captain of the Red team — the second team that’s designed to make the Blue team (starters and key subs) better.
“We are pretty good,” Morningstar said. “We’ve got Travis (Releford) and ’Rio (Mario Little) since they are red-shirting. We’ve got (Chase) Buford as our big man, along with (Jeff) Withey. We’ve got a pretty big front line. I think we’d do pretty well,” he added, asked if KU’s reserves could put together a Top 25 team.
Self has applauded Morningstar’s effort at practice.
“We do flow better whatever team he’s on because he knows what he’s doing and has a better understanding than most of the young kids,” Self said.
“He knows how to get the ball to guys in certain areas and he only takes wide-open shots and the ball doesn’t stick. He’ll not play 30 minutes. He’ll play his fair share. I don’t know what that is, yet. We’re deeper than we were last year. His role may change. We need an active perimeter defender and ball mover. He’s our second-best post feeder behind Sherron (Collins).”
Morningstar tends to think pass first.
“I think for this team, this year, we have a lot of guys who can score. I’m capable of getting the ball to them,” Morningstar said. “I know how to play a little bit. It comes from years of being in coach Self’s system and knowing what he wants. It makes it a little bit easier.”
He believes it’ll take awhile to get back in the flow.
“The first couple games back could be tough trying to find your niche with the team and see how things work out,” said Morningstar. He’ll be joined by former Arizona center Withey, who also will be eligible for the Michigan game after sitting out first semester in accordance with NCAA transfer rules.
“I’m not too worried about it. I’m just going to go out there and help my team where I can and hope I can fit in somewhere,” Morningstar said.
Morningstar — he had surgery last summer to repair a stress fracture in his right foot and missed several weeks of practice this semester after reinjuring the foot — has no idea when he’ll enter Saturday’s game.
“No, he (Self) hasn’t addressed my role,” Morningstar said. “It comes with how I do on the court when I’m out there. If I play well, there could be a spot for me. If I’m not playing well, then there probably won’t. Hopefully they’ll squeeze me in there.”
One thing is certain: After so much time on the sidelines, Morningstar is ready to hear cheers again.
“If I hit my first shot, sure,” he said, hoping for applause. “Really it’ll just be good to be back playing in the fieldhouse again. It’s the best place in the country to play college basketball.”
Temple fans ready for KU: Fans at Temple’s 8,500-seat Liacouras Center chanted, “We Want Kansas,” after the Owls’ 75-65 victory over No. 3 Villanova on Sunday. KU travels to Temple’s cozy campus arena on Jan. 2.
“I was told today that Temple students were chanting that,” Self said, asked about the chant on his Hawk Talk radio show. “We’ll take it one game at a time. I don’t think things like that have much bearing on a game. They’ll be excited to play and we will. It’s great to have student involvement. It may be motivation a little bit, nothing we’ll use in a pre-game talk that ‘Their students did this, (so) let’s get ’em.’ It does bring a sense of, ‘Hey, these guys believe they can get us,’ if it does anything.”