Entries from blogs tagged with “Kansas”
It's so easy to keep up with Gary Woodland, greatest-ever University of Kansas golfer, thanks to pgatour.com. It has statistics in every category for every touring pro, offers shot-by-shot descriptions during tournaments, and supplies video highlights.
Yet again, Woodland gave his fans plenty to follow with a terrific performance in the Honda Classic. He made bogey on the final two holes Sunday and had to settle for a tie for second place with Morgan Hoffmann, four strokes behind winner Rickie Fowler, but that finish was a rare blemish on a spectacular weekend for Woodland.
Hunch: Woodland will contend The Masters in early April.
He moved from 10th to sixth on the 2017 PGA tour money list with $1,928,837 in earnings in eight tournaments, bringing his career earnings to $15,834,165. He's seventh in the FedExCup standings and 30th in the Official World Golf rankings, up from 41st.
Woodland's tied for 17th on the tour with an average drive of 304.3 yards with a long drive of 403 yards. He's 22nd on tour in made putts from inside 5 feet (98.03 percentage).
The following four videos of Woodland all were from the Honda Open:
Short-wedge game impresses none other than Jack Nicklaus
Perfect read, perfect stroke
Up and down out of sand
Walks in an eagle on final hole Saturday
Thomas Robinson was runner-up to Kentucky’s Anthony Davis in national player-of-the-year awards.
Sherron Collins was a third-team All American as a junior, a second-teamer as a senior. Brandon Rush earned first-team Big 12 honors in each of his three seasons at Kansas and led the team in scoring all three years. Mario Chalmers was right behind Rush in scoring in each of those years and was named Most Outstanding Player in the 2008 Final Four, the only featuring all No. 1 seeds.
Tyshawn Taylor started four years and earned third-team All-American honors as a senior. Marcus and Markieff Morris did terrific things in teaming with Taylor for three years before heading to the NBA.
Andrew Wiggins was the first pick in the NBA draft, Joel Embiid the third.
Wayne Simien was a first-team All-American in Bill Self’s second season at Kansas.
Frank Mason need not take a back seat to any one of those Jayhawks.
“He’s meant to us as a program as much as any one player has since I’ve been here,” 14th-year Kansas coach Bill Self said on the Big 12 conference call, a day after his team clinched the school’s 13th consecutive Big 12 regular-season title.
Self looked back one more time at assistant coach Kurtis Townsend discovering Mason.
“So thankful that coach Townsend saw him in a back gym in Vegas when we were there recruiting another kid,” Self said. “Kurtis said, ‘Bill, I think this kid is as good or better as anybody we’re recruiting.’ I said, ‘Well, who else is recruiting him?’ That’s what all coaches would say. ‘Well, not really too many folks at all.’ ‘Well, are you sure he’s that good?’ He said ‘Well, I’ll go back and watch him some more.’ First impression was he was (that good). After watching him more, Kurt liked him even more.
“We knew he’d be a good player when we got him, but his maturity and how hard he’s worked on his game and his knowledge of the game has grown so much. I don’t know if he can win national player of the year or if he deserves to, but I would say positively he deserves to be in the very immediate discussion with two or three other guys as the primary candidates.”
Mason’s averaging 20.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 5.0 assists, is shooting .512 from 3-point range and has guided his No. 3 team to a 25-3 record with victories against schools that at the time Kansas played them were ranked No. 1 (Duke), No. 2 (Baylor), No. 4 (at Kentucky, at Baylor) and No. 9 (West Virginia). He consistently has produced in the clutch.
Others who belong in the discussion for the Wooden Award include UCLA's Lonzo Ball, Purdue's Caleb Swanigan and Villanova's Josh Hart.
I like Mason's chances. A lot.
One simple sentence from Brandon Rush's halftime address to the Allen Fieldhouse auidence resonated Wednesday, the night Kansas clinched its 13th consecutive Big 12 title and Rush's jersey found a new home on the wall: "I'm happy."
Always glad to hear nice people say they're happy. Rush, always a straight shooter, not to mention a pure one, doesn't say that if he doesn't mean it.
It's nice to know Rush has not let playing time define his happiness. After being chosen by the Portland Trailblazers with the 13th pick of the 2008 NBA draft and being immediately traded to the Indiana Pacers, Rush played significant minutes in each of his first four seasons: 24.0, 30.4 and 26.2 with the Pacers, and 26.4 with the Warriors in 2011-12. His second season in the league was the only time he started more games (64) than he came off the bench.
His playing time dipped starting with his fifth season: 12.5 with Golden State, 11.0 with Utah, 8.2 with Golden State, 14.7 with Golden State and he's averaging 18 minutes a game this season with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
He's an unselfish teammate and easy to coach, factors in him never having trouble finding a job in the NBA. And when you manage to stay in the league as long as Rush has, you make a very nice living. By season's end, Rush will have earned $22,675,676 in NBA salaries, according to figures listed on the terrific website basketball-reference.com, which lists a "may be incomplete" disclaimer with all of its salary information. That ranks Rush fifth among the 14 Jayhawks on NBA rosters as of Wednesday and will put him $47,787 ahead of Mario Chalmers, a free agent whose Achilles injury has left him without a team this season. Chalmers has healed and has had tryouts, but so far hasn't hooked on with a team.
1 - Paul Pierce (Clippers): ..........$197,024,552
2 - Nick Collison (Thunder): ........ $57,993,990
3 - Darrell Arthur (Nuggets): ........$25,757,663
4 - Markieff Morris (Wizards): $24,463,279
5 - Brandon Rush (T-Wolves): ......$22,675,676
6 - Marcus Morris (Pistons): ........$18,338,781
7 - Andrew Wiggins (T-Wolves): ...$17,269,920
8 - Cole Aldrich (T-Wolves): ..........$16,583,663
9 - Joel Embiid (76ers): .................$13,880,760
10 - Ben McLemore (Kings): .........$13,087,722
11 - Thomas Robinson (Lakers): ...$12,611,701
12 - Tarik Black (Lakers): ...............$7,543,395
13 - Kelly Oubre (Wizards): ............$3,926,880
14 - Jeff Withey (Jazz): ...................$2,779,454
Bill Self on Wednesday's victory and winning Big 12 title No. 13 in a row
Jayhawks Frank Mason III, Devonte' Graham and Josh Jackson discuss another Big 12 title
TCU coach Jamie Dixon and Horned Frogs Alex Robinson and Kenrich Williams on Wednesday's loss to Kansas and what the Jayhawks did right to make for a long night
Brandon Rush on the experience of having his jersey raised to the rafters
The number is so unusual that it forces you to re-read it to make sure your eyes aren’t messing with you again.
Quarterbacks don’t throw for 566 yards every day. In fact, not many at any level ever throw for that many yards in a single game.
Kansas quarterback Peyton Bender did as a sophomore at Itawamba Community College in Mississippi, where he played a season after spending two (one as a redshirt) in Mike Leach’s Washington State Air Raid offense. The fact that Bender’s freakish total was amassed against the most famous football team in junior college charges the number with an even louder echo.
It came in a 44-42 loss to East Mississippi, the school introduced to America in “Last Chance U,” a wildly popular Netflix Documentary about a football team rife with talented transfer students who either grew impatient waiting for playing time or ran afoul of the law and had to find a new place to continue their football careers and rehabilitate their tainted images.
If you haven't seen the documentary series, make it happen soon. East Mississippi’s head coach, Buddy Stephens, at times in the six-episode series makes Mount Vesuvius look like Lake Placid.
“I didn’t meet him or get the chance to speak with him, but I saw him over there throughout the game,” Bender said.
Netflix is scheduled to air a second season of episodes in the summer and it will chronicle East Mississippi’s 2016 season.
“I was a big fan of the first season,” Bender said of Last Chance U. “I thought it was really cool, something I could relate to because I was going to play in the Mississippi League. I don’t know how many highlights of mine they’ll be showing, but the Netflix crew was there for our game and all that, so it was a cool experience.”
In answering questions about his monster day against juco’s most famous football factory, Bender deftly and sincerely deflected credit.
“Our coaching staff did a great job of putting together a good game plan and it was just a night where our offense clicked,” Bender said. “Everything seemed to be working and I have to attribute a lot of that to the coaching staff. Everything was clicking. Receivers were making good catches for me and on some of them I only threw the ball 10 yards and they took it for 70 yards.”
Bender has had a chance to work with KU's receivers in seven-on-seven drills and said, "I like what I see."
What else is he supposed to say? But there is reason for optimism with Alabama transfer Daylon Charlot joining speedy returning receivers Steven Sims and LaQuvionte Gonzalez.
Former Kansas basketball star Brandon Rush will have his jersey retired at Allen Fieldhouse Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, during a halftime ceremony of the Jayhawks’ home game against TCU.
A three-time All-Big 12 first-teamer, Rush scored 1,477 points in his three-year college career, which concluded with him helping the Jayhawks win a 2008 national championship.
Filling out a first-team, All-Big 12 ballot never has been quite the no-brainer that is is this year. You don’t need to look at statistics, mull over any tough decisions or worry that you’re leaving off someone deserving.
Try it in your office or wherever you’re having lunch. Write down the 10 names of the Big 12 schools and my guess is that within three minutes you’ll come up with the same five names as I did. All stats listed below are for conference games only because that’s the only fair way to compare players.
The five names that surely will be announced as first-team Big 12 selections:
Frank Mason (Kansas): Leads the Big) 12 in scoring (20.9) and 3-point percentage (.524), is second in free-throw percentage (.850) and minutes (36.9) and consistently leads the team running away with the conference title late in close victories. Definite Big 12 player of the year.
Josh Jackson (Kansas): There isn’t a player in the conference he wouldn’t volunteer to guard and not a player who would not have a difficult time guarding him. Ranks sixth in scoring (17.1), rebounding (7.1) and steals (1.9), seventh in field-goal percentage (.486), 13th in blocked shots (1.0) and 15th in assists (2.9).
Monte Morris (Iowa State): His 7.4 assists-to-turnovers ratio looks more like a typo than any statistic in college basketball. He leads the conference in minutes (38.3) and ranks seventh in the Big 12 with 16.9 points per game.
Johnathan Motley (Baylor): Is second in rebounding (10.1) behind only KU’s Landen Lucas and is third in scoring (17.4), fifth in field-goal percentage (.519) and ninth in blocked shots (1.3).
Jawun Jawun Evans (Oklahoma State): Leads Big 12 with 6.6 assists, is eighth in scoring (16.9), ninth in steals (1.6) and his relentless aggressiveness is the primary reason the Cowboys have won 8 of 9 games to put themselves in position to make the NCAA tournament field, despite starting Big 12 play with an 0-6 record.
Before Kansas football great Aqib Talib made the No. 3 jersey his own in Lawrence, wowing spectators in Memorial Stadium with his prowess in the secondary, Charles Gordon did the same.
Donning the very same No. 3 on his chest and back and drawing the adulation of the KU faithful as both a defensive back and receiver, Gordon was the Talib prototype for Mark Maningo’s teams in advance of people knowing about the future NFL Pro Bowler, Talib.
Gordon and Talib spent one season together at KU, on a 2005 team that went 7-5 and beat Houston in the Fort Worth Bowl. Now the two get a chance to team up under different circumstances in the NFL. The Denver Broncos have hired Gordon as a defensive quality control assistant.
The move to the pro ranks for Gordon came after the former Jayhawks standout spent four seasons on Northern Colorado’s staff at the college level, coaching defensive backs on Earnest Collins’ staff. A former KU assistant from 2003-06, Collins coached Gordon on special teams and in the secondary for Mangino’s teams.
"Anytime you run a program you want your coaches to excel and move on," Collins said in a UNC release about Gordon’s new job with Denver. "When you had a player that played for you, like Chuck did for me, and then also worked for you moving on to bigger and better things – it's like a family member moving on, or a son in a sense. I'm thankful for everything Coach Gordon did for me while he was here and I'm proud to see him moving into a new role with the Broncos."
Gordon was a two-time First-Team All-Big 12 selection (2004 and 2005) at KU, and earned Third-Team All-American AP honors in 2004. He was also a First-Team Freshman All-American in 2003, after catching 57 passes for 769 yards and 5 touchdowns.
In his three seasons at Kansas, prior to turning pro, Gordon caught 106 passes for 1,232 yards and 9 touchdowns on offense, and made nine interceptions on defense, while averaging 10.4 yards on his 99 punt returns.
The 5-foot-11 corner spent three seasons with the Minnesota Vikings before suffering a career-ending leg injury in 2008. Gordon started six games in the NFL, and made 2 interceptions and 64 tackles.
Nearly 30 years ago, when I was covering the UC Irvine basketball beat, I enjoyed getting to know Andy Andreas, a volunteer assistant coach who was convinced he could get the high-scoring Anteaters to play better defense. He quit at the end of the nonconference season after back-to-back losses in which Irvine allowed a combined 255 points.
Long after I forget any other details about that season, I’ll remember what Andreas told me about the question he used to ask himself if undecided as to whether a player was worth recruiting: “If I cloned him four times and sent those five players onto the court, could I win with them?”
That’s a tough standard because so few players meet it. Landen Lucas has done a fine job for Kansas at center, but you can’t win with five of him. Even Frank Mason, such a relentless thorn in any defense’s side, underrated defender and a strong defensive rebounder, doesn’t qualify. National player of the year, yes, but can you win with five of him? No, because he can’t defend a post player.
Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound force on the block, averages 18.9 points and 13 rebounds and shoots .483 on 3-pointers. Close, but teams would apply full-court pressure against five Swanigans.
Villanova’s Josh Hart? Close, but he’s not who you want defending a low-post scorer.
Josh Jackson. Now you’re talking.
Watching Jackson’s defensive versatility in KU’s most recent late-game domination to pull out another squeaker made me think of Andreas, who by the way was the first man to hire Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight, assigning him to the JV team at Cuyahoga Falls High (Ohio) in 1962. Five Josh Jacksons could win a national title.
Jackson spent much of Saturday’s game guarding Baylor’s 7-foot center, Jo Lual-Acuil, who averages 9.4 points and 6.7 rebounds. He totaled 11 points and two boards Saturday.
On the game’s final possession, Jackson left Lual-Acuil to double-team point guard Manu Lecomte with Frank Mason. Long enough to guard a 7-footer, quick enough to stay in front of a 5-11 guard, Jackson did a great job all afternoon of getting his fingertips on passes and lent timely help defense on the interior. Lucas and Jackson trapped Johnathan Motley late in the game to force a key turnover.
NBA talent judges put great value on being able to guard a wide variety of players because of all the switching NBA defenders are required to do.
Jackson’s just as versatile offensively. His vision makes him a great passer, sometimes too good a passer for teammates to be ready, such as on the game’s opening possession. He drives and dishes and does a nice job of picking apart zones from the high post with precise passes. He blows by defenders on the dribble and has a nice post-up game, knowing just where on the glass to hit with his bank hooks.
He’s terrific starting fastbreaks with outlet passes and even better finishing them by throwing down lobs and is equipped to have the ball in his hands in transition as well.
Jackson’s consistently tuned in and turned up, which leads to a rapid improvement rate because his mind never rests, a big factor in him stuffing the box score across the board.
He’s an easy pick for first-team all-conference honors. Using conference games only is the only fair way to compare players since every team’s nonconference schedule is different.
In Big 12 games, Jackson ranks sixth in the Big 12 in scoring (17.1), tied for sixth in rebounding (7.1), ninth in field-goal percentage (.486), tied for 14th in assists (2.9), tied for sixth in steals (1.9) and 13th in blocked shots (1.0).
Mario Chalmers hasn’t appeared in an NBA game since he tore his right Achilles while playing for Memphis nearly a year ago. But the former Kansas star considers his return to the league imminent.
During a lengthy interview with The Summer Podcast this week, Chalmers, currently a free agent, revealed though he is still grinding through a lengthy and challenging rehab process, he’s now close to 100 percent.
“I really think by the end of this month,” Chalmers said, “I’ll be back to that old Rio.”
The 30-year-old guard who helped Miami win championships in 2012 and 2013 couldn’t say the same a couple weeks back, when he worked out for Cleveland, home of his former Heat teammate, LeBron James.
Reflecting on that recent experience, Chalmers thought it went well, and said he shot the ball better in three-on-three and four-on-four situations than in drills. When Cavaliers general manager David Griffin asked him how his ankle and heel felt, Chalmers told his potential employer he could maintain and give Cleveland what it needed.
“But,” Chalmers recalled adding, “ I don’t feel like I’d be me. I don’t feel like I would be the Rio that was in Memphis and how I was able to rock like that.”
At the time, Chalmers explained, he didn’t have his full confidence or flexibility completely back. However, he now feels better than he has since tearing his Achilles March 9, 2016, at Boston.
Since then, the eight-year NBA veteran has worked toward his return, even though he couldn’t even get in a gym and put up shots for several months.
Chalmers said shortly after suffering the devastating injury, which he wouldn’t wish on his “worst enemy,” Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant reached out to him via text message.
“This is probably going to be the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do in your life,” Chalmers recalled of Bryant’s message. “But I’ve seen you play and I know your personality and I know you form (Dwyane) Wade. If anybody can do this, you can do it.”
The words of encouragement came out of the blue form someone Chalmers considered the greatest player he ever faced, and he said the message helped direct him toward a grueling recovery.
So far, Chalmers only has worked out for Cleveland — he said his former team, Memphis, watched him in person earlier in the process to see where he was at.
“We’ll see what’s next,” Chalmers said. “I just want an opportunity. This is my first time being without basketball for this long. I’ve been playing basketball since I was two.”
Chalmers’ entire interview with The Summer Podcast covers an array of topics, including why things soured for him in Miami, playing high school ball in Alaska, how he ended up at KU and slipping into the second round of the NBA Draft after leaving Kansas a year early.
Fans of Chalmers and/or the Jayhawks will get a kick out of the stories he shares, which include the former KU guard’s accounts of some not-safe-for-work motivational speeches Bill Self delivered during Chalmers’ time in Lawrence.
Although Chalmers explains he grew up dreaming of playing at North Carolina, he is grateful for what he picked up under Self’s guidance — even if the KU coach challenged his manhood along the way.
“He’s a player’s coach,” Chalmers said of Self. “He puts his players first. He don’t care about anybody’s ego or if you’re the best man or the worst man. He’s gonna treat you like you were supposed to be the star player regardless.”
This could be a big spring for former University of Kansas right-hander Frank Duncan, traded last week from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Arizona Diamondbacks for infielder Phil Gosselin, who has spent parts of five seasons in the big leagues.
Duncan, 25, is not on Arizona’s 40-man roster, but was invited to the big-league camp, where he’ll have a chance to show his stuff against major-league hitters while the Diamondbacks evaluate him for a potential bullpen spot.
Duncan has progressed rapidly through the minors since the Pirates chose him in the 13th round of the 2014 draft.
His spent his first season in short-season Class A ball in the fabled NY-Penn League, pitched in advanced A ball in 2015 and after starting last season in Double A quickly earned a promotion to Triple A, where in two stints with the Indianapolis Indians he went 9-6 with a 2.33 ERA in 20 starts and pitched for the International League in the Triple-A All-Star Game.
“He’s got a chance to make the roster this spring,” Kansas coach Ritch Price said. “We’re really excited for him.”
Duncan is slated for a spot in the Triple-A Reno Aces rotation, but with an impressive spring could eke out a long-relief spot on the Diamondbacks’ roster.
Price said that the Pirates made adjustments to Duncan’s delivery, including changing his arm slot, with the goal of him inducing more ground balls.
MLBpipline.com ranks the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Duncan, a native of San Francisco, as the Diamondbacks 22nd-best prospect.
When No. 3 Kansas plays at No. 4 Baylor Saturday in Waco, Texas, the nation will be able to tune in (noon, CBS) and check out not only the top two teams in the Big 12, but also two potential No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
Still, KU coach Bill Self doesn’t want those unfamiliar with the conference to get the idea the Big 12 is top-heavy. Ahead of the marquee meeting at Ferrell Center, Self shared Thursday afternoon he thinks “the strength of our league is the middle of our league.”
To his point, the five teams trailing the Big 12’s top three — KU, Baylor and West Virginia — in the standings all have a shot at making The Big Dance in March, too.
“The difference between the middle and the teams that are perceived to be at the top is not very much at all,” Self said, “as evidenced by (Baylor’s) scores and also by our scores.”
Baylor just lost at Texas Tech this week, and in February one-possession games dropped one at home against Kansas State and beat Oklahoma State, in Stillwater.
KU, as you’ll recall, only won by a single point at Texas Tech this past Saturday, clawed its way to a three-point victory at rival K-State and suffered a rare Allen Fieldhouse defeat at the hands of Iowa State during the past couple of weeks.
“I do think it’s a monster league,” Self said, “because 18 games, round-robin, and even home games, as you guys well know with us, they’re not a cinch by any stretch.”
The overall quality and depth of the Big 12 could get as many as eight teams into the NCAA Tournament in March, depending on how the next few weeks play out. As of Thursday, ESPN’s Bracketology projected seven Big 12 teams in the tourney:
Kansas: 1 seed in Midwest region
Baylor: 1 seed in South
West Virginia: 4 seed in West
Oklahoma State: 8 seed in East
Iowa State: 9 seed in West
TCU: 10 seed in East
Kansas State: 11 seed in South
Texas Tech: “Next four out,” behind “first four out”
The NCAA Tournament selection committee identified Kansas and Baylor as No. 1 seeds (as of Feb. 11), this past Saturday. Self said, in the case of this year’s Big 12 makeup, there isn’t a “bottom-heavy” factor, where teams such as Kansas and Baylor can pencil in three or four automatic victories.
Coach Socrates — oh, sorry, Coach Self, that is — said the Big 12 may be undervalued by outsiders because “the appearance of parity breeds the thought of mediocrity.” In the conference KU calls home, though, nothing comes easily this season. Just look at the average margin of victory for the top two teams in the league: Kansas (11-2 in Big 12) is at +4.1 and Baylor (9-4) at +3.9.
“But having two teams this late in the year,” Self said, “that are projected as one seeds — and even though we KNOW that that’s gonna change from week to week — I think speaks well for our league.”
BIG 12 STANDINGS — As of Feb. 16
1. Kansas, 11-2 (23-3 overall)
2. Baylor, 9-4 (22-4)
3. West Virginia, 8-5 (20-6)
4. Iowa State, 8-5 (16-9)
tie-5. Oklahoma State, 6-7 (17-9)
tie-5. TCU, 6-7 (17-9)
tie-7. Texas Tech, 5-8 (17-9)
tie-7.Kansas State, 5-8 (16-10)
9. Texas, 4-9 (10-16)
10. Oklahoma, 3-10 (9-16)
The back end of the teenage years is a little late in the maturation process to learn how to share, which would have made point guard Trae Young’s time at Kansas a fascinating thing to watch had he chosen to move from his hometown Norman, Okla.
Instead, he’ll play for the Sooners and make them better.
Young has reached 40 points 11 times, 50 three times and had a season-high 62 points and he also had a 12-assist game, so he obviously dominates the ball.
That would have changed playing in a system where ball movement is rapid and the one with the ball in his hands when the defense has fallen a step behind takes the shot.
I can’t find attribution for the quote, “There is no limit to what can be accomplished when nobody cares who gets the credit,” perhaps because the one who came up with it didn’t care about getting credit for it. Eventually it will get attributed to John Wooden because all quotes used in sports do. It would have been interesting watching Self massage Young's brain in such a way to make him embrace that quote.
Anyway, if you haven’t read USA Today’s Jason Jordan’s all-access interview with Young breaking down his final six schools, give it a look.
In it, Young and his parents shared their thoughts on the pros and cons of each school. Young told USA Today, “Well, how many point guards has coach (Bill) Self gotten to the NBA?” His father, Ray, quickly mentions Mario Chalmers and Deron Williams, to which Trae says, “Besides them,” and then goes on to mention Sherron Collins and Josh Selby as flip sides to that coin.
Ray, a former Texas Tech star, mentions that it scares him that Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger never mentioned, “Trae going to the league,” since he started recruiting him as an eighth grader.
You can’t blame parents and players for having an eye toward the NBA — it’s not a fair rule that requires prospects to wait a year before becoming eligible for the draft — but selfishly, it’s more fun covering players such as Josh Jackson who unpack their bags and do whatever it takes to win with current teammates. Jackson’s college announcement was on the low-key side, so it’s not a shocker that he’s an unselfish player.
If Self didn’t think he could turn Young into an unselfish teammate, he wouldn’t have recruited him. He’ll find somebody less talented to take the scholarship slotted for Young and Kruger will take on the challenge of helping Young make the transition from a ball-hog to a scoring point guard who also brings out the best in teammates.
A couple months back, the Washington didn’t look like a playoff team. The Wizards dropped eight of their first 10 games, leading many to assume they would flounder and miss the postseason for a second straight year.
However, few teams in the NBA are as hot as Washington these days, and first-year head coach Scott Brooks says former Kansas star Markieff Morris has as much to do with the turnaround as anyone on the roster.
In an interview with ESPN’s Zach Lowe, Brooks explained how Morris became much more of a consistent force for the Wizards recently. The way the former Oklahoma City coach remembers it, Brooks let Morris know at halftime of one poor outing (he thinks it was against Philadelphia about a month ago) that the starting power forward wasn’t giving the team everything it needed from him.
Perhaps Brooks could’ve grabbed Morris’s attention earlier, considering the 6-foot-10 stretch-4 averaged 12.4 points in November and 12.7 in December, but Brooks wanted to establish a strong relationship with his players and have them understand his approach as the team’s new coach before hitting them with anything drastic.
By mid-January, Brooks felt comfortable letting Morris know it was time for a change.
“I think the game is supposed to be played in a fun way. But to me ‘fun’ is playing hard and competing and clawing and doing whatever it takes within the rules to try and beat your opponent,” Brooks said on The Lowe Post. “That, to me, is fun. And if I see that it’s below the level that we need to be at, I tell you — whether you’re John Wall or Bradley (Beal) or Kieff or somebody that doesn’t play as much.
“Your job is to go in there and compete, and … I know that (Morris) has that in him, and I tell you what, he has been playing, like I said, out of his mind,” Brooks added. “We’re not in this position right now if it wasn’t for him.”
Morris caught his coach’s message and reacted by improving his overall play. Over the past four weeks, the sixth-year veteran is averaging 18.9 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists, while shooting 46.8 percent from the floor and 40 percent on 3-pointers.
The Wizards (33-21) have won 14 of their last 16 games and are holding steady as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, only 2.5 games back of Boston for the No. 2 spot and 5 games behind defending champion Cleveland.
From a production standpoint, Morris has made much greater of an impact by giving Washington more from beyond the arc. A 32.9-percent career 3-point shooter, Morris only connected on 30.6 percent of his 3s in November, and that number plummeted to 22.7 percent in December. In January, Morris nailed 41.4 percent from downtown. In five February games, he’s 8-for-22 — 6-for-9 in the past two D.C. wins, which included a 23-point performance in a blowout versus Oklahoma City.
“I met with him early in the season,” Brooks told Lowe, “like a month in, I said, ‘You’ve got something that a lot of guys don’t have.’ And he says, ‘What?’ I said, ‘You can post up and take smaller guys at the block, but you also have the ability to take, to shoot 3s.’ But, I said, ‘You don’t want to take ’em for some reason. You’d rather take 17-footers, one-dribble pull-ups.’ I said, ‘That game is becoming dinosaurs, and if you’re gonna do that, it’s gonna be hard for you to fulfill this career that you can potentially have.’
“And I tell you what, he has really challenged himself and I want him to shoot as many 3s as he can shoot. I think he should shoot five a game, but don’t take away his low post when he has a good matchup,” Brooks added.
Morris averaged 3.6 3-point tries a game in January, and has taken 4.4 a game from deep thus far in February.
The 27-year-old Morris, who now has been with Washington for the equivalent of a full season after being traded from Phoenix in February of 2016, told The Washington Post not long ago he and his teammates benefit offensively from the all-star play of their point guard, Wall.
“You see how easy it is when he gets to penetrating. He’s a great passer,” Morris said of the team’s star. “He’s got eyes in the back of his head, so we just got to get open.”
The Wizards haven’t been held below 100 points since the first week of January, and are 17-4 in that stretch with Wall carrying his team toward the top of the East standings.
“If we make shots, he’d have 20 assists every game,” Morris said. “He’s a great player, top point guard to me. He leads us and we just follow his footsteps.”
Of late, Brooks thinks Morris, like Wall, deserves credit for Washington’s resurgence.
“I love him,” the coach said of Morris. “I love how he’s playing. He’s fun to coach. I really think that we have a good team because of what he has done.”