Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self paid sophomore forward Marcus Morris a huge compliment after Monday’s 80-68 victory at Texas.
“Guys, he’s not one of the better players in the league, he’s one of the better players in the country,” Self told a handful of reporters representing some of the country’s biggest print publications and Web sites.
Morris — he scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds — on Thursday said he appreciated his boss’ ringing endorsement.
“I think I’m a good player. We have some great guys in our league,” said Morris, who ranks sixth in the conference in scoring (17.8 ppg) and seventh in rebounding (8.4 rpg) through nine games.
“You’ve got Sherron (Collins). You’ve got Cole (Aldrich). You’ve got Craig (Brackins, Iowa State). You’ve got Damion James (Texas). Just for coach to say that about me ... it makes me more confident. I wouldn’t say I’m one of the better players in the league. I wouldn’t say I’m one of the better players in the country. I’d just say I’m a player,” Morris added.
Morris, who averages 13.3 points and 6.3 rebounds overall for KU (23-1), credits the 6-foot-11 Aldrich for opening up the floor.
“Cole takes a lot of pressure off me,” Morris said. “He has a lot of pressure on his shoulders by being the biggest guy on our team. Not too many teams will play him 1-on-1. If you play him 1-on-1, you’d be a fool.”
Defensively, Morris has been assigned to guard accomplished frontcourt players such as Iowa State’s Brackins, who scored 13 points off 5-of-13 shooting in KU’s 84-61 victory over the Cyclones on Jan. 23 in Ames, Iowa. The rematch of that game is 7 p.m. on Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse.
“I think I’m more intent now. I’m trying to defend a lot better,” Morris said.
“I feel I can guard anybody on the court. I want to be a versatile defender. I don’t look to go out and score. I do look to go out and rebound and try to steal extra possessions and try to defend,” added Morris, who had 16 points in the first ISU game.
Morris stressed Thursday that he’s not thinking about riding his success into an early departure for the NBA.
“I never even thought about the NBA coming into the year,” Morris said. “I’d rather win. I’d rather come back. I’m coming back next year. There’s no talk about it (NBA), and maybe (I’ll come back) my senior year, so that’s really not an issue.”
A small issue right now is injury.
Morris will wear a padded bandage on the middle finger of his shooting hand the next eight weeks to help heal a torn tendon near the top of the finger. He suffered the injury after banging his hand on the bottom of the backboard Monday night.
“I can’t go into the game worried about it,” Morris said. “If it gets hit, it gets hit. The pain is only temporary. It’ll go away soon.”
He said his finger was not dislocated.
“We’re trying to keep it straight. In about eight weeks it should go back to being normal,” Morris said.
One of Morris’ teammates expects no decline in production.
“Right now Marcus is playing like one of the better players in the country for sure,” junior Brady Morningstar said. “You look at the numbers he’s putting up and the players he’s doing it against ... it’s pretty impressive.”