Pick-up basketball games mirror Big 12 action about as much as a toothache resembles a slice of berry pie with a scoop of melting vanilla ice cream on top, served by Heather Graham on roller skates on a really hot summer day.
Nobody knows that better than Brady Morningstar, former Free State High and Kansas University guard. Watching him warm up, he had the look of a scrawny wannabe. Teamed with four big-time talents and a coach holding players accountable, Morningstar reeked of glue, holding everything together, putting the ball right where it needed to go, be it into a big man’s hands on the block, in stride to a shooter, or in the hoop.
“Anybody can score a lot of points and play well in a pickup game, but you can’t judge a summer camp game or pickup game or any of that because some players play a lot better in an organized set and some players don’t play as well in an organized set,” he said.
Camp games tend to degenerate into break-away dunking competitions because players don’t get back on defense — a sin that, if committed during the season, triggers a lashing from coach Bill Self’s tongue and a seat on his bench.
“Basically, you have to wait for the season, a couple of games in, to see how comfortable they look and how they might be,” Morningstar said.
Still, like every gym rat, Morningstar can’t help but form opinions on players that he plays with and against or watches from the bleachers. He said he fully understands why Ben McLemore, who redshirted as a freshman last season, has dropped so many jaws this summer.
“He’s the spitting image of Brandon (Rush), as far as their athletic ability, body type and shooting the ball,” said Morningstar, who played for Tulsa in the NBA Developmental League last season.
Naturally, Morningstar didn’t mention another way Rush and McLemore are alike. Handling the ball is the weakest aspect of both players’ games, which means the smartest guess at a starting lineup has McLemore at small forward, not shooting guard.
“Ben has a chance to be a really good player if he wants to be, because of how athletic he is and how long his arms are,” Morningstar said. “His strength is only going to get better. I don’t know who is taller, but to me they’re about the same player coming into Kansas.”
That’s certainly exciting.
“He’s going to have a lot of dunks,” Morningstar said. “People in the crowd are going to be like, ‘Dang!’ He had one in a camp game where he just picked it up off the ground and took off from the middle of the lane and put it down. You can’t teach that. That’s stuff you’re just gifted with.”
How quickly McLemore emerges as a Rush-caliber star depends on how well he embraces the stuff you can teach.