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Men's College Basketball
Quiet star Adam Morrison has become quite a star
Seattle Times staff reporter
And on the fifth day in Maui, Adam Morrison rested.
After Maryland and Michigan State and Connecticut, he went to the beach with some extended family, 10 of them, and kicked back. A bunch of them trooped off to Costco, hunted down some steak and chicken, and they celebrated Thanksgiving Day in style with a barbecue in Lahaina.
You'd have to say he earned it, scoring 86 points and winning MVP honors in the Maui Invitational, even though Gonzaga didn't win it. He was first such player since 1992, when Memphis State's Penny Hardaway shared the MVP title with Bobby Hurley of triumphant Duke.
Coming to Edmundson Pavilion on Sunday night is the most intriguing player who will visit Washington all season. He's a little bit of Pete Maravich, a little of Larry Bird, a little of Jim Morrison of The Doors fame — dark, shoulder-length hair flapping behind his dribble — and a whole lot of Adam Morrison.
What he did in Maui — especially dropping a career-high 43 points on rugged Michigan State in three overtimes — seemed to catapult him to the head of the national consciousness as a candidate for player of the year. Suddenly, he wasn't doing this against San Diego and Portland, it was happening against D.J. Strawberry and Maurice Ager.
Not that it seems to matter to him.
Sunday: Gonzaga at Washington men, 7:30 p.m., FSN
"My wife asked him about the plaque, the MVP," said John Morrison, his dad. "He said, 'I don't know.' It's probably at the bottom of the locker somewhere. It's nice to be recognized, but I think he'd rather have won the game."
One of the beauties of college hoops is that it's not so BCS-driven as football, wherein the Heisman Trophy must go to a guy from USC or Texas. In fact, in recent years, you're better off playing outside the BCS leagues, where some winners like Andrew Bogut (Utah), Jameer Nelson (St. Joseph's) and David West (Xavier) have called home.
That puts Morrison squarely in the crosshairs of the national awareness, a spot that he seems to embrace only grudgingly. He's a reluctant interview, someone who would rather be where his folks found him a couple of weeks ago — jumping up and down on a bed with his 4-year-old niece.
He does like to win, however, evidenced by an almost sullen demeanor on an interview dais after Gonzaga's 65-63 loss to Connecticut in Maui. There, he was asked whether the spellbinding, endless game against Michigan State had worn down the Zags.
"If we're going to use that as an excuse," Morrison said stonily, "we shouldn't even be here."
He also seems to realize that Gonzaga's best chance of success means he needs to keep firing, early and often. Go ahead, try to stop him — a challenge the Huskies surely will take to heart.
It's been a long time since anybody really shut him down. He went 4 for 11 against San Diego last Feb. 17, and even on nights like that, you're not certain it's the opponent as much as it might be the energy swings associated with being a Type 1 diabetic.
Since that night, Morrison has:
• Averaged 25.5 points against four West Coast Conference schools.
• Put up 52 points in two NCAA-tournament games.
• Shot an even 50 percent in Maui, including 7 of 13 on threes, while averaging 42 minutes.
Oh, the question about three-point shooting, prompted by his 31-percent success last year? Forget it. Most of Morrison's offseason work centered on recognition of screens and space, knowing when to drive and when to pop the three, and focusing on mechanics.
He's 10 of 22 on three-pointers this season, including a couple of severely deep ones in Maui.
"I spent some time with him myself," said his father, a former junior-college coach. "More than anything, he's getting that high release and holding his follow-through. What's happened in the past ... you can't fade away on threes. It's just hard to do."
Washington now faces the dilemma everybody else has: A big man isn't usually quick enough to stop Morrison's drives, and a smaller player has trouble contesting the high release. What Morrison saw a lot of in Maui was multiple defenders, a kaleidoscope of styles designed both to throw him off and to keep those opponents from wearing out one of their own.
There's also the school of thought to take the opposition offense to Morrison, who isn't to be confused with the game's great defenders.
Lorenzo Romar, the Washington coach, recalls seeing the Franklin-Mead state 4A title game of 2003, when Aaron Brooks, now at Oregon, scored 38 for Franklin's victors against Morrison's 37 for Mead.
"I thought, 'After John Stockton, he'll be the next-best player ever to put on a Gonzaga uniform,' " Romar said. "And he hasn't disappointed yet. He's as good an offensive player as there is in the country. Maybe Carmelo Anthony is the last time I've seen a guy that was that good [in college] offensively."
As for defending him, Romar says, "We've always got to know where Adam Morrison is." He admits that's hardly an original thought, adding, "I'm sure in Maui, three times, that's what they said, too."
If the growing awareness of Morrison is to continue, some misconceptions are going to need clarification — not that Morrison will do it. He's hardly cocky, given more to syntax like this referencing Ager after the Michigan State classic:
"I wanted to get a shot at him, and he probably wanted to get a shot at me, seeing that I'm a preseason ... whatever ... All-American ... it doesn't matter."
Then there's the alleged surly side, something that wasn't in evidence when, down the stretch (long stretch) against Michigan State, he spied some familiar media faces at courtside and shared a knowing grin, sensing the special quality of the game.
"I love being around him," said Gonzaga assistant Leon Rice. "I really appreciate his humor, and I love his killer instinct."
They probably liked that as well, the 30 NBA scouts at one end of the floor in Maui, people like Elgin Baylor of the Clippers and Mitch Kupchak of the Lakers. Little is shared publicly about Morrison because he's only a junior, but NBAdraft.net has him ranked No. 2 in a mock 2006 draft behind only UConn's Rudy Gay.
"He's real deceptive," said one NBA type. "He doesn't look like he's a real quick or tough kid, and boom, he's by you."
"I'm sure he's aware of it," John Morrison says, referring to the NBA interest. "But we don't even discuss any of that stuff. Any information we receive, he has never even looked at it. He doesn't want to even think about it until the season's over, so we don't even bring it up."
But now the talk is heating up on Morrison, not only in the NBA but about a collegian who will bring unprecedented curiosity to Gonzaga. His father hears increasingly from his former players, people now in Illinois or Colorado or Wyoming, who remember the kid in diapers who came along on junior-college bus trips.
And the Morrisons hear the idle questions, about whether the son is up to handling the hype and the speculation.
"I'll tell you what," John Morrison has come to answer. "Knowing he has to take a shot every day to live, that's pressure."
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company