By DOUG TUCKER
AP Sports Writer
LAWRENCE (AP) — Without the Tyrel Reeds and the Brady Morningstars of the world, it would be nearly impossible for any college basketball team to be truly exceptional. Including No. 2 Kansas.
There simply aren’t enough NBA-bound superstars to go around. Lottery picks Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry and the spectacular Morris twins have dominated headlines the past two seasons while Kansas rang up a 60-5 record.
But for four years, Reed and Morningstar have contributed to the Jayhawks at every turn, something savvy fans know well. There’ll be a thunderous ovation for them and the other senior, Mario Little, when they’re honored tonight during the traditional Senior Night send-off following the final home game.
“Having guys like that are essential to having your best teams,” said coach Bill Self. “These guys probably fill their role as well as anybody we’ve had around here, period.”
Tonight could be especially memorable for Reed and Morningstar, two 6-3 Kansas natives. A victory over No. 24 Texas A&M would clinch at least a first-place tie with No. 8 Texas for the regular-season Big 12 championship. That would be seven in a row for the Jayhawks (27-2, 12-2) and mean that Reed and Morningstar were conference champions every year they played.
“That would be awesome,” said Reed, who grew up 90 minutes away in Burlington. “That would be the best-case scenario, to come here and win the Big 12 four times in a row.”
As a player — and with one more promising postseason looming — he’s already won 124 games and lost only 16, averaging 31 wins a year and counting. He was a part of two Big 12 tournament titles and a national championship. He will finish his career in Kansas’ top 10 for 3-pointers made, and 3-point percentage.
Reed graduated in December and has been accepted into Kansas’ physical therapy school. He’s made the commissioner’s honor roll every semester since he first enrolled as a nervous, unsure freshman with a great deal to learn about basketball, life and Tyrel Reed.
As a freshman, he went 6 for 7 from the floor and grieved over the one miss. A chewing-out by the coach in practice left him in agony and self-doubt, even though he’s the son of a high school coach.
“I was just so nervous. I didn’t know how to approach coach,” he said. “I thought he was always on me. I didn’t know what to do.”
Then, about halfway through his sophomore season, he figured something out.
“There’s no such thing as a perfect basketball player,” he said. “You know you’re going to make mistakes and you just have to forget about them and go make the next play.”
He also grew very close with Self.
“I realized that just comes with the territory and he really loves all his players,” he said. “Now we joke around all the time.”
As his college career winds down, Reed is playing some of best basketball of his life. He’s scored in double figures in three of the last four games and leads Kansas with 56 3-point buckets. He’s also the Jayhawks’ third-leading scorer in conference play behind the Morris twins with 10.4 points per game.
There’s bound to be a powerful tug of nostalgia when the son of Stacy and Debbie Reed runs out of that tunnel for the final time Wednesday night.
“I’ve cherished every time running out of there,” he said. “It was a dream come true, really. I grew up idolizing all the (Kansas) players, wanting to some day be one of them. I’ve got to live out my dream as a Kansas kid. It’s been a great ride.”
It’s not always been a smooth ride.
“You’ve had the ups and downs — a freshman, not playing much — just going through growing pains, being away from your family,” he said. “But in the end, it’s one big family here. I think that’s what I’m going to take from it. The tradition here is awesome. I have loved being part of it.”
As usual, Stacy and Debbie will be in the crowd.
“My dad hasn’t missed a game since I’ve been at KU, road or home,” Reed said. “He’s been to every game. I think he’s kind of living his dream as well. My mom comes to as many games as she can.”
He added, with a big grin, “She probably doesn’t love the game of basketball as much as me and my dad. But she definitely loves me.”
For everybody concerned, it’s been a great four years.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” Reed said.