By Rob Gray
NOTE: I typed this up for the blog last summer shortly after now recently-crowned Michigan Mr. Basketball Monte Morris committed to Iowa State. Reading his coach’s words, it’s no surprise he nabbed the state’s top hoops honor. —RG
Monte Morris grabbed his cell phone Wednesday [June 27, 2012], dialed and shared momentous news with Iowa State men’s basketball assistant coach Cornell Mann.
It was a public conversation, chronicled by MLive.com.
Morris, a four-star, 6-1, 195-pound point guard who buoyed Flint Beecher High School to Michigan’s Class C state title last season, told Mann, with a smile, he intended to be a Cyclone.
TV cameras rolled as he announced his decision.
The star point guard’s coach, Mike Williams, brimmed with pride as the just-turned 17-year-old saw D-I dreams materialize.
“He’s a better person than he is a basketball player,” Williams told me early Wednesday evening (I could not reach Morris himself). “He makes everyone around him better. His basketball IQ is off the charts.”
Morris became ISU’s second strong backcourt commitment for the 2013-14 season, joining fellow top-100 prospect Matt Thomas, a shooting guard, of Onalaska, Wis.
Morris helped the Bucs to their first unbeaten season since 1985 — when eventual Iowa star Roy Marble starred at the school.
And, according to Williams, he’ll be a game-changer at ISU.
“I really know what makes him tick and I understand why he made this decision,” Williams said. “He connected with the players who are there and are going to come there, not to mention with the coaching staff. He’s a people person. He’s a kid that stands on his word and does exactly what he says he’s going to do. … He’s a phenomenal kid and I think that’s what makes him special. He makes everyone better and he’ll change the culture of the Cyclone program.”
There’s been a lot of that lately in Ames.
First, the Hoiberg hire, which reaped transfer-fueled, NCAA Tournament dividends in just his second season.
Second, the recruitment of highly-touted preps such as Georges Niang — an incoming freshman who scored 35 points while grabbing 13 rebounds aside NBA-bound Royce White in a recent YMCA Capital City League game in West Des Moines.
“Georges, I’ve never seen hands like that,” said former ISU star Craig Brackins, who scored 34 points in the game. “You could throw anything it him, he’ll catch it. He knows the game.”
Morris, Williams said, also brings unique attributes to Ames.
The coach highlighted a pair of stories to illustrate Morris’s unique talents on the court.
One traces back to the fourth grade and a memorable AAU tournament.
“He played with his AAU team and they were mostly kids who were a little bit older then him, in the fifth and sixth grade,” Williams said. “Well, there was another team there brought down from our community and they were going into the eighth grade. They were the eighth-grade team and the point guard got hurt. So they said, ‘Monte, come play with the eighth-grade team.’ Monte led the eighth-grade team to a tournament championship as a fourth-grader playing the point guard, averaging 20 points. Everybody listened to him. That’s when I said, ‘OK. He’s the real deal.’”
Morris’ ability continued to flower as he reached the varsity level.
The two-time first-team all-stater averaged 19.5 points, 4.3 assists and 4.7 rebounds as a junior last season.
But it was a stretch early in Morris’s freshman season that frames his coach’s second illustrative story.
“We lost our team’s top returning players — they transferred,” said Williams, who has helped revive Beecher’s celebrated tradition. “So when Monte came in as a freshman, we literally had to start him and two sophomores just to fill out the roster. So, we started the year 0-5 and went to play Saginaw Buena Vista and they were ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the state. The one thing I took away from that game is Monte had 29 points and he only shot the ball 14 times. And at halftime, myself and my assistant were almost ready to choke him because — ‘you need to shoot the ball! You’re not shooting the ball enough. Why won’t you shoot the ball?’”
So when the game was over with and I got interviewed, the first thing the reporter asked was, ‘Well, how do you feel about the freshman’s 29?’ I didn’t even see him shoot the ball that much. How can you have 29 points? Where? … It astonished me. And I just walked away saying, ‘Wow.’ To score 29 points in 14 shots, that’s what you call efficiency.”
That, coupled with a high basketball IQ, makes a good point guard potentially great at any level.
“He’s the best guard we’ve had around here since (former Michigan State and Flint Northern star) Mateen Cleaves),” Williams said.
But definitely not hype, Williams said.
“This kid, he can score in bunches but he can still distribute,” Williams said. “He can do it all.”
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