It took all of 16 seconds for Kansas University sophomore power forward Markieff Morris to show how much he has improved since the end of last season.
“Even my son made the statement the other day ... the first time we get him the ball, he dunks in traffic,” KU basketball coach Bill Self said.
“Last year we didn’t even know if he could dunk. He could, but he didn’t play very strong.”
Self’s son, Tyler, voiced his approval Tuesday night when the 6-foot-9, 232-pound Morris dunked off a feed from Sherron Collins. The hoop gave the Jayhawks a 2-0 lead en route to an 107-68 pasting of Fort Hays State in Allen Fieldhouse.
Morris — who started in the frontcourt next to Cole Aldrich — finished with 12 points, nine rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals in just 22 minutes. His most impressive play might have been his first of the two-game exhibition season.
“I didn’t think anything of it. I got the ball in a good position and tried to dunk it,” Morris said, downplaying the crowd-pleasing play.
Pressed, however, Morris — who also slammed off a feed from Tyshawn Taylor to give KU a 41-26 lead — admitted he wasn’t much interested in rattling the rim a year ago.
“I was too worried about being tired to dunk the ball,” Morris said. “A dunk, then running back on defense can take a lot of energy out of you.
“A dunk will get your adrenaline going. You can play a lot longer after the dunk, but one or two plays later you feel tired. I’d say, ‘I shouldn’t have dunked that because now I’m tired.’ This year I’m not worried about being tired. We’ve got a lot of good players coming in. This year I play as hard as I can, get a sub and come back in and give us three minutes at a time like coach always says.”
Morris — it has been well-documented by now — has gained 30 pounds since the end of last season. Impressed at the big man’s work in the weight room, Self calls Markieff “of our returning guys, the most improved player we have.
“He is smart. He knows how to play. He has a good feel for the game. He came in last year and didn’t go through the summer (program). He didn’t go to Canada (with team because he was not yet eligible). He and Marcus (twin brother, 10 points, six rebounds vs. Hays) were behind the 8-ball from understanding. They have a better grasp of what is going on now.”
The twins were on a roller-coaster ride a year ago. Marcus averaged 7.4 points and 4.7 rebounds, Markieff 4.6 points and 4.4 boards.
“I think from an outsider’s perspective, a fan’s perspective, they could be frustrating at times to watch when they were young because they were inconsistent,” Self said. “When Julian (Wright) and Mario (Chalmers) were inconsistent (as freshmen) we had some other guys. They didn’t have to be out there as much. We played Nevada ... Julian played three minutes, and (Nick) Fazekas had six points, and we couldn’t put Julian back in the game.
“We played Cal, and Mario had five turnovers in 15 minutes, and we couldn’t put him in the game. We had to go to Stephen Vinson to win the game. The twins didn’t have those type games. I still feel like we expected them to be beyond their years when there’s a natural thing that has to take place. It happened to those other guys. I think it’s happening to these guys (twins) right before our eyes.
“They are fun to coach. I do think they were a little underappreciated last year because they did more than most freshmen do, just our expectations were high.”
Markieff said he didn’t fret over some fan criticism last season.
“I want the fans to be happy. I take whatever they say and take it in consideration and try to get better every day,” Markieff said. “Last year I felt I wasn’t playing as well every game as some games. This year I feel I have to be more consistent.”
And that means finishing around the rim.
“Coach hasn’t said anything yet. He probably will tease me about the dunk when we watch the film,” Markieff said with a laugh.