LAWRENCE — It's a weekday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse, and Kansas assistant coach Joe Dooley has stepped onto the floor to speak with Marcus and Markieff Morris, who are there shooting 500 jumpers apiece.
Dooley has heard the rumors. Marcus and Markieff have been coming into the building at all hours and, at times, have been forced to put up shots in the dark. It's either that or get lucky and find a maintenance person. The Morris twins apparently have not felt it necessary to bother their coaches.
"Two days ago, Coach (Bill) Self walked in the gym and the lights were off, and me and Kieff were in here shooting in the dark," Marcus recalled. "He said, 'Where are the lights?' I said, 'I don't know where they're at. Nobody cut them on.'
"It's not gonna stop us from shooting. We can see the rim, and we can see the ball. That's enough. I feel like if you can knock shots down in the dark, you can knock them down in the light."
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Two years into their KU careers, Marcus and Markieff — who have never been bashful about their lazy tendencies — want to be ringleaders. Ever since the Jayhawks' season ended shockingly against Northern Iowa in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the twins have been trying to put in twice the work they did last offseason. Marcus says it is not rare for them to shoot 500, go back to Jayhawker Towers, take a nap and come back to shoot 500 more.
"Growing up, I didn't think I'd ever get into it like I am now," Marcus said. "I feel like I'm locked in."
Tyshawn Taylor feels it, too, about Marcus and himself. They are two-year starters, and they know the pressure has shifted to their shoulders.
"Basketball has been on my mind since we got back that night (after the loss)," Taylor said. "The only thing I think about these days is basketball. I wish I could say we didn't have to lose for it to get like this, but I guess every team has to go through something to get better and build off that. I'm hoping this is our thing."
If this isn't the motivating factor KU's returning players need, what else could it be? The Jayhawks were No. 1 in the country for all but four weeks of the season and were named the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, only to lose to the strong and sturdy Panthers of the Missouri Valley Conference.
The magnitude of the loss was such that it sent Mario Little, who redshirted the season, to the floor of the Ford Center. Your average college basketball fan saw the footage of Little and likely wondered who he was, but the Jayhawks knew Little as the player who sacrificed a chance to play on the No. 1 team to make them better each day wearing a red jersey in practice.
KU fans will be glad to know that Little was back on his feet on Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse, flashing smiles and giving a little perspective on his reaction to the Northern Iowa loss.
"I just hate to lose," said Little, who will be a fifth-year senior in the fall. "I know I should have kept my emotions in. It was just hard. That's how I am. I was thinking about a lot of stuff, how hard we worked. The red team practiced hard. I was thinking Sherron (Collins), like 'Damn, man, Sherron went out like that?' "
Little remembers the experience well. He walked back to the locker room and just kept repeating, "Northern Iowa?"
"The three games we lost, I felt like if I was playing that wouldn't have happened," Little said. "I felt like, 'Man, what did I redshirt for?' I could have helped."
With one year left to show what he can do, Little sees only one way for him to stop thinking about it.
"Only time we're gonna get that taste out of our mouth is by making the Final Four next year," Little said.
Every athlete gets over defeat differently. Marcus didn't watch the rest of the NCAA Tournament and claims he didn't watch any TV for two or three weeks (this is a Morris talking, so hyperbole could be at play).
In the heat of the moment after the loss, Marcus vowed that he would become a leader to make up for the departures of Collins and center Cole Aldrich. Marcus would be a logical choice for that role, considering his emergence last season as the Jayhawks' most consistent performer down the stretch. He has proven he can play, and now he has to elevate everybody else.
"He's been a great leader since the end of the season," Taylor said, "vocal as well as doing it himself. Our team feeds off him a lot. You see it in pick-up. He's so hungry to score and play better than guys, it pushes everybody else. I always knew Marcus could play, but I think he's a lot more mature than when we first got here. I can see a lot of change in him."
Marcus wants to be a captain, but he also sees a scenario where the Jayhawks would have more shared leadership — the 2008 national title team went this route — instead of counting on a singular leader like Collins.
KU's returners see themselves on a path to become "one" by the beginning of the season. They want to be a better defensive team and believe they can accomplish that with Markieff playing center because of his lateral quickness and ability to recover after taking a risk.
"We're gonna be able to trap screens and do things that Coach really wants to do," Taylor said. "With Cole, we had to play back a little bit because he was bigger. He couldn't get out and trap as much and do things like that."
Self's Jayhawks won their lone national title starting 6-foot-8 Darnell Jackson and 6-foot-9 Darrell Arthur in the post, so there is certainly precedent to suggest the twins could succeed as starters together.
One thing that is easy to forget —given the losses of Collins and Aldrich — is that next year's team will be KU's most experienced since 2008. The Morris twins, Taylor, Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed have been rotation players for two years. Guys like Little may not have logged a lot of minutes, but they have been around and bought into Self's system.
"Coach learned from his mistakes just like we did," Little said. "Coach isn't gonna let this happen twice... have a good team and let it go down the drain like that. We've just gotta be men about it and keep going."