Ex-KU forward Marcus Morris wants to guard LeBron; Collison a 'Biggie Smalls' fan?

Marcus Morris (right) and the Boston Celtics will take on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA's Eastern Conference finals starting Sunday. | The Associated Press

By Gary Bedore gbedore@kcstar.com

Former Kansas forward Marcus Morris of the Boston Celtics hopes coach Brad Stevens asks him to guard Cleveland phenom LeBron James during the upcoming NBA Eastern Conference finals.

“Personally, I think I'm probably the best guy defending him in the league, outside of Kawhi (Leonard),” Morris said Saturday, the eve of the series opener in Boston, as quoted by ESPN.com.

The 6-foot-9, 235-pound Morris was matched against 6-8, 250-pound James 55 times during their two meetings in the 2017-18 regular season. James, ESPN.com says, averaged 43.6 points per 100 possessions in matchups against Morris. That’s ninth-most among 39 defenders that matched up at least 50 times against him during the regular season.

"There's not going to be one guy that's going to be able to defend him. He's the best player in this game," Morris said Saturday. ”My thing is just cut down the easy baskets and cut down the other guys that are going to score.”

Morris indicated that when he arrived via a trade with Detroit, Celtics’ general manager Danny Ainge said Morris “was one of the guys they felt as though could guard LeBron. So they really wanted me here, and not only because of that, just the toughness and things like that. But that was definitely one of the major points that he brought up when getting me here.”

Biggie Smalls’ tapes inspired Collison

Former KU guard Michael Lee this week told The Star he used to study former KU standout/teammate Nick Collison’s moves on and off the court. Collison on Thursday announced his retirement from NBA basketball at the age of 37.

“Before every game, I remember Nick sitting in a chair with headphones on, head down, and he’s rapping Biggie (Smalls) like nothing else is going on around him,” Lee, assistant coach for the NBA G-League’s Santa Cruz (Calif.) Warriors, recalled in a phone interview. “He did it every game. As players, we all have our thing. That was Nick’s thing,” added Lee, who arrived at KU as a freshman before Collison’s junior year.

Lee said Collison reached out to him two seasons ago when Lee worked as head coach at Roosevelt High in Portland, Ore.

“Nick helped me with some fundraising efforts for my basketball program. He’s top of the line, a top-notch dude,” Lee said.

Roy recalls recruiting Collison

Former KU coach Roy Williams received a much-sought-after oral commitment from Collison, a McDonald’s All-American out of Iowa Falls (Iowa) High School, in September of 1998.

“I went to see Nick during the last day of the spring recruiting period his junior year,” Williams told The Star. “I asked Dave (Nick’s dad), ‘What’s the biggest negative about Kansas?’

“He said, ‘Coach, it’s just those big-time recruits you always get.’ I said, ‘Dave, this is the last day of the spring recruiting period. Nobody is going to be out again for a couple of months. Every coach is somewhere and I’m here today. That should tell you your son is one of those big-time recruits.’ He nodded and said, ‘I hadn’t thought about that.’’’

Collison chose the Jayhawks over runner-up Duke. He eliminated Iowa State in the summer of 1998 when Cyclones coach Tim Floyd left Ames to coach the Chicago Bulls.

Williams said the “biggest reason” he did not leave KU for North Carolina in 2000 to fill the head-coach opening at UNC was a promise he made to Collison in recruiting.

“One of our competitors told him that I would not be there during his time period, that I would be leaving to go to North Carolina,” Williams said. “I told Nick I would be there. When we came back here (to UNC campus to ponder the Heels’ offer), I told Wanda (wife), ‘Let’s go walk on campus and see if Davie Poplar — one of our famous trees on campus — let’s see if it falls. That would tell me it’s OK to go back on what I told Nick,'” Williams added laughing.

Obviously the tree did not fall.

“I never could find anything that made me feel I could do it,” Williams said of leaving KU after Collison’s freshman season, also the freshman season of Sioux City native Kirk Hinrich.

Regarding Davie Poplar … legend, according to Wikipedia is that “as long as the tree remains standing, the University of North Carolina will thrive. If the tree falls, the university will crumble as well.”

Friday’s Vitale Gala huge success

KU coach Bill Self and fellow 2018 Final Four coaches Jay Wright (Villanova), Porter Moser (Loyola Chicago) and John Beilein (Michigan) attended the 13th-annual Dick Vitale Gala on Friday night in Sarasota, Fla.

The gala, which honored ESPN’s Mike Greenberg, Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh and Florida State basketball coach Leonard Hamilton, raised a record $3.7 million for pediatric cancer research for The V Foundation and brought the 13-year gala total to $25.2 million, Vitale reported Saturday on Twitter.

Hall of Fame center David Robinson, whose wife’s mom died of cancer 10 years ago (his own mom recently won a battle with cancer), spoke at the banquet.

“Who hasn’t it (cancer) touched?” Robinson said as reported by heraldtribune.com. “I just feel it’s about time where we get something done where we can impact these families and make people's lives just a little bit better.”

Of Vitale, Robinson said: “The guy is like a force of nature by himself. I admire a guy with that kind of energy and that kind of passion and that kind of selflessness to get things done for cancer research.”

Next year’s honorees at the gala will be Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney, Alabama basketball coach Avery Johnson and ESPN’s Chris Fowler, Holly Rowe and Lee Corso.

Iowa State player working in Topeka

Iowa State senior guard Nick Weiler-Babb will be working an internship in the Human Resources office at Advisors Excel this summer in Topeka, the Des Moines Register reported.

“It’s close enough — if coach Self will let him go over and work out,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm told the Register, jokingly referring to Lawrence and Allen Fieldhouse.

Self’s response to the paper: “Nick is welcome to come work out here, and if he does, we hope to steal as many trade secrets as possible.”

No. 8-rated Antoine cuts list to five

Bryan Antoine, a 6-4 junior shooting guard from Ranney Prep in Tinton Falls, N.J., who is ranked No. 8 in the recruiting Class of 2019 by Rivals.com, has narrowed his list of schools to KU, Duke, Florida, Kentucky and Villanova, he reported on Twitter.

“Coach Self and coach (Norm) Roberts are always texting me about Kansas basketball players, cool quotes and stats about them,” Antoine told prepcircuit.com. “Coach Self has a calm demeanor and I love how he and Kansas run their program. That really stood out to me because this past year they had Malik Newman and Devonte Graham. Coach Self gave them a lot of freedom and that’s a great look for me.”

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