Kansas pins hopes on maturer Morris

Marcus Morris still wakes up at times and prays it was all a dream.

That he and his Kansas Jayhawks, the clear-cut favorites to cut down the nets in Indianapolis this past April, were not stunned by Northern Iowa on the first weekend of the Big Dance.

But Morris can’t shake the vision of Ali Faroukmanesh’s jumper that sealed the deal and sent the Jayhawks home in the second round.

Sherron Collins graduated, Cole Aldrich left after his junior season and Xavier Henry called Lawrence home for less than a year.

Now, this is Morris’ team.

While Morris does appear to have matured over his time in college, it’s still a downright frightening thought.

Morris had a terrific sophomore campaign playing in the shadows of KU’s version of the Big Three. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound Philadelphia native averaged 12.8 points and 6.1 rebounds.

"He’s made me the leader of the team, the captain,” Morris said of Jayhawks coach Bill Self.

Morris is talented — and he won’t have to do it alone.

His brother, Markieff, is back and so are steady guards Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed. The Jayhawks signed arguably the top point guard in the country in freshman Josh Selby and also have plenty of players capable of emerging whether it’s Tyshawn Taylor, Thomas Robinson, Elijah Johnson, Jeff Withey, Mario Little and Travis Releford.

But someone needs to be the face of the program next season, and Morris is the leading candidate.

Some will question whether he’s able to expand his game on the perimeter, but I’ve seen him make deep perimeter jumpers and beat defenders off the dribble.

That’s not my concern.

My worry is whether he can lead.

Self is optimistic. So, too is Jayhawks assistant Joe Dooley.

But remember this is the same kid who had many coaches questioning whether he and his brother had too much baggage throughout the recruiting process.

But kids mature.

Sherron Collins certainly did in his four seasons in Lawrence.

Morris has sent out mass texts in the offseason to his teammates in an attempt to make certain everyone is motivated.

"He’s matured so much since his freshman year,” Morningstar said.

But is it enough?

Morris certainly says all the right things — about how something was missing last season, especially the second half of the season — whether it’s in terms of chemistry or leadership.

"We’re already more of a family than we were last year,” Morris said. "Also, last year we took things for granted.”

Now, he wants this team to have that same “scared” feeling that the Jayhawks had when he was a freshman and he and his teammates clearly overachieved all the way to the Sweet 16.

Morris has no issue beginning the season by playing second fiddle to that other team in the state: Kansas State.

"I enjoy being the underdog,” he said. "We lost three big guys, and people don’t know what we can do without those guys.”

But Morris isn’t conceding anything to those guys down the road.

"I feel we have the pieces to win a national championship,” Morris said. "Our mentality is to win and prove everyone wrong.

"We’re going back to being afraid."

They aren’t the only ones a little scared.