Gonzaga needs to keep Morrison in limelight
On the night of Dec. 10, ESPN-TV counted down its nightly "plays of the day." Three. An NBA highlight. Two. Something from the NCAA Division...
Seattle Times colleges reporter
On the night of Dec. 10, ESPN-TV counted down its nightly "plays of the day."
Three. An NBA highlight.
Two. Something from the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs.
One. "Yup," said the host, Neil Everett. "America's team."
Whether facetious or factual on that count, he narrated Adam Morrison's improbable 20-foot bank shot to win at the wire for Gonzaga against Oklahoma State's suffocating pressure.
Now, can Morrison become America's guy?
This week, Andy Katz of ESPN.com handicapped the rumbling race for national player-of-the-year honors between Morrison and Duke guard J.J. Redick, writing that they've become "the runaway favorites."
Adam Morrison's 2005-'06 statistics:
Points per game: 27.5.
Field-goal percentage: 53.1.
Led team in scoring: nine of 11 games.
High-scoring game: 43 points, twice.
A week ago, Morrison was splashed on the pages of both ESPN the Magazine and Sports Illustrated. He has bolted into the national hoops consciousness with 43-point games against Michigan State and Washington, in addition to plunging the wild dagger into Oke State.
"It's Adam's world," said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, shaking his head after that shot.
Who knows what materializes in January and February, but this could: Morrison retreats to the backwaters of the West Coast Conference, where 30-point outings will become lost across three time zones and better competition. And Redick plays the high-profile games of the ACC, abetted frequently by the shrieks of Dick "Dookie V" Vitale, who probably won't get west of Memphis for a game this year.
This is where Gonzaga comes in.
It's almost ludicrous to think that seven years ago the program hadn't yet won its first NCAA tournament game, and now it might have a player of the year on its hands, somebody more compelling than anyone Connecticut or Carolina or Duke can throw out there.
Gonzaga's prominence was grown the only place possible — on the floor, and that's where Few figures Morrison's prospects lie.
"If he keeps playing the way he's capable," Few said, "and if we keep winning ... it all comes down to winning."
Well, most of it does, fortunately. But there's another element to this, and that is getting the message out.
This is not something the Zags naturally do as well as, say, feeding the post. An extra 20 minutes of three-point shots is sometimes prized above a scheduled phone interview.
But in this case, Gonzaga needs to savor the moment, realize that winning and Morrison's availability and happiness aren't mutually exclusive, and take some advice from those who know.
"The thing we tell our guys is, 'Embrace it, enjoy it, use it to your advantage,' " said Tim Tessalone, sports publicist at USC.
Nobody has married the phenomenon of performance and access like the Trojans' football program. It has won 34 games in a row, accepted three of the past four Heisman Trophies and, surprise, managed not to harrumph at the media like a combination of Woody Hayes and John Thompson.
Make no mistake, Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush won that hardware on the field. But it didn't hurt that they were encouraged to get their story out there.
If there can be such a thing as a cuddly colossus, it's USC. Tessalone said the intent is not to win awards, but to get athletes used to open practices and open locker rooms. Coach Pete Carroll is wholeheartedly on board, and oh, by the way, could it be those Heismans suggest to recruits that this can happen again if they enroll at USC?
Another fellow who knows something about this is Ray Giacoletti, one of Few's best friends. Last season, his first year as Utah head coach, he found himself managing the buzz around big man Andrew Bogut.
With Bogut, there was not only his abundant skill, but his Australian and Croatian roots.
"We had every major magazine and newspaper, world media, all of a sudden, bam, it was here," Giacoletti said. "We talked about this a couple of times as a staff: 'It's going to affect him.' "
Funny thing. Bogut seemed to thrive on it.
"He got better and better," Giacoletti said. "It was the most amazing thing I've ever witnessed. I was sure we were going to have to put an end to it. We never did."
The trick is to manage the time demands on Morrison so that they don't burden him, or infringe on the real goal, which is Gonzaga winning basketball games.
There's a way to do it: You set up a weekly, half-hour conference call with him and direct media requests to it. It serves the player, in that it consolidates the demand, and it provides access for a large number of media. And if Time Magazine wants to carve out its own hour with Morrison — not so farfetched, given the swath he's cutting — you make it work.
"That's a great idea," Few said, referring to a conference call.
Unlike football, where the Heisman is preeminent among individual honors, basketball has a flock of player-of-the-year awards — the Naismith, Wooden, Associated Press, U.S. Basketball Writers.
Does winning them matter? It can be debated, but, as Giacoletti said, "I don't see how it can hurt."
For Gonzaga, a mom-and-pop operation not too many years ago, it would be a stunning declaration not only of how far it has come, but a statement on where it might yet go.
Morrison has something going for him that Redick doesn't. He has a sort of rough-cut, rock-star appeal, from his coping with diabetes to his leftist political riffs with teammates to the mere fact he's at Gonzaga and not a traditional purebred like Duke.
In other words, he's a better story. Now Gonzaga needs to make sure it gets out.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
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