Sometimes the players who don’t hog the highlights are the ones who end up becoming most popular with Allen Fieldhouse spectators. The little things they do that play huge parts in long winning streaks give them crimson-and-blue-collar appeal.
Players such as Russell Robinson, Darnell Jackson and Travis Releford drew thundering ovations from the 16,300 basketball junkies who hang on every possession.
Early returns suggest that incoming freshman guard Marcus Garrett from Skyline High in Dallas has the potential to develop into that sort of player, one whose subtle strengths first impress the coaches and then the fans. It took Robinson, Jackson and Releford time to figure out how to earn serious minutes. In time, they relished their complementary roles. Garrett appears ahead of the curve.
Typically, college basketball coaches discussing freshmen spend a great deal of time talking about how much the novices need to learn. Kansas coach Bill Self talked Sunday night about how much Garrett already has learned. Self painted a picture of a smart, unselfish, wise-beyond-his-years basketball player bidding for playing time.
“From a talent standpoint, he’s not as prepared as Josh (Jackson), but from an intangible standpoint he’s about as prepared as we’ve had coming in,” Self said. “He has figured out how he can make a team better and it fits Devonte’ (Graham) and it fits Malik (Newman) and it fits Lagerald (Vick) and it fits Dok (Udoka Azubuike), whereas some people, the way they think they can make the team better doesn’t fit those guys.”
At a perennial powerhouse program, just about everybody on the roster was the star of the show, the No. 1 option, the foremost object of everybody’s attention. Transitioning out of that mode doesn’t come naturally to most. They fight it, they sit, and they might even sulk. Then they figure out the best path to playing time starts with becoming a teammate with whom teammates want to play.
“The object for these young kids is to make sure our best players play better when they’re in the game,” Self said. “And sometimes they think that, ‘No, no, we don’t care about what they do. We care about what I do.’ Well, your six points a game really don’t matter as much as his 18.”
Garrett understands that and understands that it behooves him to understand that because the coach is the one who distributes the minutes. A long-armed, 6-foot-5, 180-pound versatile athlete, Garrett nearly averaged a triple-double in high school. You don’t do that without have some unselfishness in you as well as a willingness to mix it up in the paint.
Self explained how Garrett makes teammates better when he’s on the floor with them.
“He can play 1 through 4,” Self said. “He can switch ball screens. He’s tough. He’s a willing passer. And he knows that he can shoot, but he knows that some guys can shoot it better.”
He knows what he doesn’t know, another good trait. Sounds pretty mature for an 18-year-old.
“Very mature,” Self said. “Very mature. ... That doesn’t mean he’ll always play great, but certainly he’s been impressive to us so far.”
Kansas lacks depth up front, with little size beyond 7-foot Azubuike, 6-10 Billy Preston and 6-8 Mitch Lightfoot. At times, one or two players must play out of position. Garrett won't consider any position out of position as long as he's on the floor.
"Let’s say if he’s in the game with Svi (Mykhailiuk), Malik (Newman) and Devonte’ (Graham), well, somebody has to be able to guard the other team’s four man," Self said. "He’s tough enough that I think he can be more than adequate doing that.”
If Garrett stays on the path he's on, his play will supply a nice road map for others seeking minutes. For example, Sam Cunliffe won't be eligible until the game at Nebraska on Dec. 16. That will give him plenty of time to witness how to earn minutes.