2009 KU-KSU basketball Jan. 13
There was one main reason Mario Little said he decided not to red-shirt.
“The team,” the junior said after Kansas University’s 87-71 victory over Kansas State on Tuesday. “The team needed me.”
Though the 6-foot-5 junior-college transfer still isn’t fully healed from a stress fracture in his left leg, he chose to play in Tuesday’s game fully knowing the consequences.
Because he stepped on the court in a game during the last half of the season, Little will not be able to red-shirt this year — whether he gets fully healthy or not.
“Coach always expressed how everything is bigger than us: this university, people that have been here, the people who came before us. That’s what it’s about,” Little said. “It really wasn’t about me. That’s what it was at first, but I kind of did it for my team and my teammates, because they really want me to play.”
Would a red shirt have been better for him personally?
“Of course,” Little said. “Getting a head start, working out and getting two healthy years would be way better than a half a year, a year and a half.”
He talked to family members, coaches, friends and teammates to get their opinions before telling KU coach Bill Self his intentions.
“I’ve been thinking about it. Should I do it for the team, or should I look out for me and what’s best for me?” Little said. “I wasn’t totally looking out for what was best for me, but I really didn’t think I could help the team, and I wasn’t healthy. It wasn’t me.
“I still haven’t showed what I can do here, and I understand that, because I haven’t been playing long. I just tried to do it for the team.”
All along, Self urged Little to test his leg before deciding.
Little said the coach promised not to be mad at him, whatever decision he made.
“I don’t want anybody to look down on me like, ‘Yeah, man, he’s sitting out. He doesn’t want to help the team,’” Little said. “That was the main thing. I didn’t really want nobody to look down on me.”
Self said the choice was all Little’s. The coach’s advice to the Chicago native, though, was to play if he was healthy.
“I think it’s one of those deals where there’s no right or wrong,” Self said. “I think it’s a right decision if he stays healthy, and it’s not going to look like a great decision if he doesn’t. But he could also hurt his ankle or hurt some other part of his body down the road. We talked about that.
“I thought it was a selfless decision, but he knows we didn’t recruit him here to red-shirt. We recruited him here to impact our team, and I really think that his thinking is, ‘I can impact this team.’”
Little, who started Tuesday because a few other players did not perform well in practice, contributed eight points on 4-for-6 shooting. He also added three rebounds in 13 minutes.
“I’ve been feeling comfortable with my shot,” said Little, who scored his first field goal of the season on a layup three minutes in. “It was just my timing, trying to get it off, or to stop thinking. I was doing a lot of thinking my first three games.”
There’s good reason for that. Little is learning both the small-forward and power-forward positions at practice while also getting caught up with the basics of the offense.
“A lot of stuff, I don’t really know what I’m doing right now,” Little said. “That’s probably the main reason my minutes are limited.
“Sometimes they have to stop and start over, so I’ll be like, ‘Man, I need to get it right.’ It’s kind of frustrating, but I still try to stay positive.”