Senior Class May Be Playing Final Game, But Careers Are Not Over Yet
March 2, 2011
LAWRENCE, Kan. –
One came from Chicago by way of a junior college in Florida. Another came directly from a town 90 minutes southwest of Lawrence. The other returned to his hometown after spending a year at prep school in New Hampshire.
One came in 2008, one came in 2007 and the other, as Mario Little put it, has “been here his whole life,” even though he formally became a Jayhawk in 2006.
Mario Little, Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar came to the Kansas program in different ways and at different times, yet they will all be linked together as the senior class of 2011. Tonight, they will all play their final game in Allen Fieldhouse as the winningest players in all of NCAA Division I for the years they were at the University of Kansas (i.e., KU’s 88.6 win percentage since Reed joined the team in 2007 is the best for any program in the country).
“I don’t really know how to explain the senior class. Two Kansas boys and a kid from Chicago, I guess,” said Morningstar, who has been with the program the longest and is currently the oldest player in the Big 12 Conference. “Everybody’s time comes, whether you come in with a certain group or redshirt and leave with a different group. I’m excited that I can get on with other parts of my life, but it’s sad because I’ve been here so long. I have a lot of great memories. I’m happy to leave with Tyrel and Mario.”
Little has been with the program the least amount of time, but he will leave the Jayhawk program an equal part of the senior class.
“It’s like we’ve all been together for four years,” said Little. “Brady’s been around a lot of people and seen a lot of people go, so he probably feels it the most, but I’ve been here three years, and I feel just as much a part of the Kansas family as Tyrel and Brady. I feel like a senior. I feel like one of the older guys here. All good things come to an end. It’s going to be tough, but you just try to enjoy it and appreciate what you’ve done in your life.”
Reed agrees that despite each of them coming to Kansas as part of a different recruiting class, they have become a close-knit class of 2011.
“We’ve been together for three years now,” said Reed. “We’ve meshed really well together. We’ve had completely different teams every year, but we’ve grown really close, and I’ve grown to love those guys.”
Kansas head coach Bill Self says that their success will tie all three together as a senior class, but he will remember each individual for different reasons.
“This senior class has probably accomplished about as much as any senior class has when you talk about team accomplishments,” said Self. “They’ve all been great ambassadors for our university and for our program and certainly have been a pleasure to be around. Tyrel came in as a pretty highly-recruited kid that we thought could help us over time. All he’s done is become a three-year mainstay. He’s had a remarkable career for us and accomplished just as much off the court as on the court.”
“Brady’s one of my all-time favorites as far as personality, bounce and energy,” Self continued. “Six years ago we were trying to decide if he deserved a scholarship or not. Now I wonder where we’d be without him. He’s been great. Mario has fought injuries and other adversity, but he’s kept a great attitude and has played really well at times. He’s also going to graduate in May. It’s pretty good when you can win that many games and all three players graduate.”
With their time as Jayhawks closing quickly, all three players took a moment to ponder what they will remember most from their time at Kansas.
“I’ll remember the players and the coaching staff, battling and going through stuff together,” said Little. “We’ve been through a lot together. When I first got here, I was coming into a new program from junior college, so it was hard at times. I was just like a freshman. When I talk with the (Morris) twins and reminisce about stuff, sometimes I say ‘our freshman year’ because I was coming in new just like they were. KU is big-time. I knew it was a big school, but I didn’t realize how big it was and how big of a deal everything is around here. KU met my expectations and more.”
“I don’t think there will be one moment that I remember more than another,” said Reed, who was named Academic All-America First Team this season. “I think I will remember my four years collectively and how blessed I was to be on each and every team and to have great teammates that I still keep in contact with. My time here has been great, freshman year we won a national championship. We’ve won the Big 12 (regular season title) the past three years and that’s still our goal this year. It’s been great, especially coming from Kansas. I think every kid that grows up in the state of Kansas idolizes the Jayhawks because of the tradition and how good their basketball team has always been. I was no different. I’ll never overlook any moments I had here because they are all special to me.”
Like Reed, Morningstar will remember a collective set of experiences once his career ends.
“Obviously the national championship year is something that I’ll never forget,” said Morningstar, who has been on the roster for 178 games, including 157 wins, and seen 39 different arenas. “I’ll remember being a part of a lot of different teams, the different types of players and friends I met, all the different sorts of games I played in as far as how close they were, overtime games, players and coaches I got to play against and arenas I got to play in. There are a whole bunch of different experiences I got to have that a lot of people don’t get to have in their life. I’m happy to have experienced all of that.”
Also participating in their final game at Allen Fieldhouse tonight will be senior managers Sean Mulhern and Reid Elsen. A native of San Francisco, Calif., Mulhern has been a part of the program for three years and served as the head manager this season. Elsen has been a manager for the past two seasons and is a native of Wichita, Kan.
While this will be their final game in front of a soldout Allen Fieldhouse, members of the senior class hope they will continue to delight the Jayhawk faithful throughout the month of March before their careers end. Each player had his own way of saying how they want the senior class to be remembered.
“I’d like the fans to remember us for putting our hearts and souls into Kansas, trying our hardest every time we were out there and being selfless,” said Reed. “It didn’t matter if we played any minutes, 20 minutes or 40 minutes, we gave it our all, left it all out there and were proud to be Jayhawks.”
“It’s not necessarily about remembering our class,” said Morningstar. “I just hope they remember this team for some reason and our senior class gets to leave on the highest note possible. That’s what I hope we end on and what we are remembered for.”
Little knows the best way for the senior class to be remembered. He described it when asked if it was cool to know his name will forever be listed on the wall of the west hallway in Allen Fieldhouse with the likes of Wilt Chamberlain and Danny Manning.
“Yeah, it will be cool have my name there, but I want to be on that wall,” said Little, pointing to the mural just outside the locker room that includes images of Clyde Lovellette and Mario Chalmers’ three-pointer in the 2008 National Championship game. “I want to be in the painting, so we need to win to get up there. The other wall’s OK, but I’d like to be in a painting when I leave here.”