Benton Smith: Marcus Morris takes deserved spot in Allen Fieldhouse rafters
No one has or will confuse his college career with Wilt Chamberlain's or Danny Manning's. That doesn't mean Marcus Morris should be denied a place among the pantheon of all-time Kansas basketball greats.
His last name and No. 22 took their rightful spot in the Allen Fieldhouse rafters Monday night, nearly nine years after Morris' time with the Jayhawks ended.
There was a noticeable backlash from at least a portion of the KU basketball fan base last week when the program announced the name Morris would join Jayhawks legends in hanging from the hallowed ceiling above James Naismith Court.
Maybe it was because none of the three seasons Morris spent at KU concluded with a magical March run through the NCAA Tournament. Perhaps some choose to hold other Jayhawks from the Bill Self era who have gone on to see their jerseys retired - Cole Aldrich, Mario Chalmers, Sherron Collins, Brandon Rush and Wayne Simien - in higher regard, because their careers included a trip to college basketball's holy land, the Final Four.
There are degrees of greatness at a storied program such as KU, as well as accompanying levels of reverence for players in the eyes of adoring fans. That's to be expected.
But give Morris the on-court credit he deserves. Don't put an imaginary asterisk next to his No. 22 because his best season ended in the 2011 Elite Eight, or for any other reason.
The burly and occasionally surly Morris wasn't always perfect, but he is one of the most gifted and impactful scorers Self has coached during his 16-plus seasons in Lawrence.
Like so many KU players before and since, Morris didn't need to be iconic to leave his mark. By the time he and his twin brother Markieff were done, they were the identical faces of the program once the members of the 2008 national championship team all had moved on.
And, appropriately, that was the vibe inside the fieldhouse as Marcus had his jersey retired.
"I feel like this is one of those places where you have to win the fans over," Marcus told reporters Monday, prior to the ceremony. "I think it took us some time, but once we did they loved us and embraced us. It was special for us."
Both twins exuded the toughness and confidence Self aims to get out of all his players, and as a big forward playing out on the wing, Marcus Morris brought that mentality into everything he did in a KU uniform, with his passion often fortifying his efforts.
A rugged rebounder one possession who could just as easily transition into the role of a smooth shooter the next, Morris became a dominating performer by his junior season with the Jayhawks. That's when his 17.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game propelled him into becoming the No. 14 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, and, eventually, sent his name and number into the air space occupied by KU basketball royalty.
Markieff said before Monday night's KU game versus Iowa State that he thought most people recognized how good Marcus was for the Jayhawks, because he had the "accolades" to go with it.
"I think they all appreciated him more after we left," Markieff added. "Like what he did for the team and all the stuff he accomplished while he was here."
The Jayhawks went 35-3 with the Morris twins carrying them during the 2010-11 season. The 29.3 player efficiency rating that Marcus Morris posted is the best by any KU starter in the 10 years of data available at sports-reference.com. And Morris - the 2011 Big 12 Player of the Year and a consensus second-team All-American - accomplished that while finishing with a higher usage percentage (26.9%) than Frank Mason III had (25.6%) during his senior season tear that made Mason college basketball's best player in 2016-17.
Mason wasn't fortunate enough to play in a Final Four, either. But you won't hear anyone complaining when his No. 0 jersey one day goes up in the rafters.
As consensus All-Americans, as well as Big 12 players of the year, Mason, Thomas Robinson and Devonte' Graham all are locks to have their names immortalized high in the fabled fieldhouse before long.
What's more, there are other Jayhawks who are in similar standing to Morris, in that they earned All-American status, even if they aren't considered consensus first-teamers in the NCAA record books.
So don't be surprised in the future if more debates about retired Kansas jerseys pop off.
Two one-year phenoms for KU, Ben McLemore and Andrew Wiggins, were named to the John R. Wooden All-America team before turning pro. A teammate of both McLemore and Wiggins, four-year KU contributor and Wichita native Perry Ellis, became a consensus second-team All-American in his senior season, a few years after McLemore and Wiggins each picked up that same distinction, too.
Self said this past week there are not hardline requirements for which players get their KU jerseys retired. And Self also pointed out some unnamed Jayhawks who weren't Big 12 Player of the Year or a first-team All-American have delivered "pretty impressive" careers worthy of consideration.
Jayhawks who possess those accolades and are deemed by Self and KU to have made a meaningful impact on the program are going to be recognized with one of basketball's highest honors.
Monday night Morris experienced his reward. More Self-coached players will eventually do the same. Self knows better than anyone who deserves to get his jersey retired and who doesn't.
Would Self have loved to honor Markieff in the same way? Of course. But Marcus' twin didn't have the same numbers or awards on his resume. So, unfortunately for the other big Morris from Philadelphia, there will be no spot for him alongside his brother in the viewable history books above the court.
None of that lessened the moment for Marcus, who had Markieff, his "partner in crime," at his side as he watched his No. 22 go up next to Collins' No. 4 on the south end of the fieldhouse.
And at least for a few minutes, no one was arguing about his merits.
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