Thursday, January 20, 2011
Look At Them Now: Darius Morris
By Sean Ceglinsky
Darius Morris was a standout at Windward High School before moving to play at Michigan.
Year in an year out, the Southland sends a number of boys’ basketball players to college with scholarship offers in hand.
Most move on and compete at the highest of levels -- Division I. Others continue honing their skill sets at institutions a notch below, whether that be Division II or III, or a smaller NAIA program.
Anyway, we figured it was time to check in and provide an update on some of the individuals who first made a name for themselves in this neck of the woods before ultimately deciding to take their talents elsewhere.
One problem, where to begin?
The options are many, seemingly too many to count.
Let’s go ahead and start with Darius Morris. Just yesterday, it seems, the point guard was running the show at Los Angeles Windward High. It was actually 2009.
Things have certainly changed in a short period of time.
These days, Morris is the floor general for Michigan and it appears as if the Wolverines will go as far as the 6-foot-4 sophomore takes them. He leads the Big-10 Conference in assists per game with 7.28, a total that ranks fourth best in the nation.
“Going from high school to college, there’s an adjustment process, but with each game I’m starting to feel more and more comfortable with my role here at Michigan,’’ Morris said. “Expectations are high, I’ve always been that way. You must have a different kind of mindset to do well at this level, and now, I understand the mental aspect of the game, as well as the physical. That’s been big for me.’’
The fact Morris is so doing well comes as somewhat of a surprise considering his playing time was sporadic as a freshman. He played in 32 games for Michigan. His primary role, however, was backing up Manny Harris, who decided to forgo his senior season for the NBA and is now playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
With the window of opportunity wide open, Morris took it upon himself to improve. And reaching out to former Michigan star Demetrius Calip, who helped guide the Wolverines to a national championship in 1989 before getting a shot with the Lakers in the early 1990s, was the first step in the process.
Next on the agenda for Morris was working out during the offseason with John Wall, the No. 1 pick of the Washington Wizards in the 2010 NBA draft. All the while, Calip kept a watchful eye on his new pupil.
“Basically, I spoke with his parents, they wanted me to mentor him, and I was more than happy to do it because I knew Darius was one of the more talented kids from out in Los Angeles when he was in high school,’’ Calip said.
“We got after things from the start, doing a bunch of different drills, shooting, quickness, stamina, etc. Then, I got in touch with trainer Joe Abunassar and we worked with John Wall. That’s when Darius’ game really started to take off in the right direction. Those two went at each other hard, all the time. You could see that Darius was gaining more and more confidence. Now, he’s reaping the benefits.’’
The hard work has indeed paid off, Morris earned a starting gig for the Wolverines this season. Accordingly, he has taken advantage of the opportunity and is averaging a team-leading 15.7 points and 34.6 minutes per game.
When talking about a college program that has successfully captured the imagination of most of the country this season, San Diego State instantly comes to mind. After all, the Aztecs (20-0 overall) are ranked No. 6 in the nation by Associated Press and they hold the same spot in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll.
A pair of former Southern California standouts have been largely, though not completely responsible for the success. Kawhi Leonard (Riverside King HS) and D.J. Gay (Sun Valley Poly HS) have been at the forefront of the resurgence.
It begins and ends with Leonard, a 6-7 sophomore wing who ended up making a name for himself last year and has done little to tarnish his growing reputation this season. Leonard is averaging 15.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game.
Gay is no slouch. The senior point guard, who is one of the more experienced players on the roster, leads San Diego State in assists with 3.2 a game. And make no mistake, Gay can score when called upon. He keeps opposing defenses honest from the perimeter, where he has made a team-high 93 three-pointers.
Here is another one of those names that might sound familiar to some, Julyan Stone. As a senior by the beach at Goleta Dos Pueblos High in 2007, he did a little bit of everything, most of it extremely well. Stone averaged 17 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and more than three steals per game for the Chargers.
One of the more sought-after recruits on the West Coast at the time, Stone seemed to be under the impression that Texas El Paso (UTEP) was the right fit for him. In retrospect, he made the correct decision.
Last week, the 6-7 senior guard broke the Conference USA all-time assist record when he dished out No. 633 to pass South Florida's Reggie Kohn. It is also worth mentioning that Stone surpassed the Miners’ all-time assist mark of 563 back in mid-December, a record previously held by NBA veteran Tim Hardaway.
Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.