Anthony Campbell watched Shaq Morris grow up, helped his mom raise him and took his little brother to the playground to watch the older kids play basketball.
Shaq Morris might have been younger. He was rarely smaller. He grew up in Oklahoma City with others’ parents often wanting to check his birth certificate when he towered over their children during a game. He shattered a backboard as a freshman in high school.
Now, as a redshirt freshman at Wichita State, he is trying to put his size — 6-foot-7, 261 pounds — to consistent use for the 14th-ranked Shockers.
“He’s my little baby brother,” Campbell said. “I used to be the guy that helped mom change his diaper. The main thing for Shaq, is that it’s very different playing in high school and playing in college. In the college game, there’s a lot of big guys on the court.”
WSU (17-2, 7-0) plays Drake (4-15, 1-6) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Koch Arena, giving Morris a chance to bring his redemption work full circle. On Dec. 31, WSU coach Gregg Marshall left Morris at home when the Shockers played at Drake, citing Morris’ sloppy habits in practice. WSU won 66-58, but the Bulldogs made it closer than expected in large part because 7-foot center Jacob Enevold rampaged for 12 points and 15 rebounds.
WSU needed Morris that day. He watched the game on TV in Wichita and vowed to change his ways. Since then, his play and practice habits are growing more consistent and he flashes moments of enticing production. He scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds against Bradley. He scored nine points, dropping in two soft hook shots over center Egidijus Mockevicius, in a convincing win at Evansville. In the six games since the benching, he blocked nine shots.
“As the Morris kid gets better, this team will hit another level,” Bradley coach Geno Ford said. “He’s kind of the X-factor for their team. He’s got a lot of upside. You can’t put a thin kid on him … because he’s just going to absolutely annihilate them in the post. Then he can step out and make a 15-footer.”
That can all be true, if Morris works hard in practice, plays hard during games and keeps Marshall happy. Pulling the potential out of Morris is a day-to-day job and Marshall won’t count Morris as a consistent part of his plan yet. It remains a challenge for Morris to pull himself out of a bad stretch of practice and correct course.
“There’s just certain times when he’s really motivated, and those are the times he usually plays his best,” Marshall said. “When he’s not so motivated, he’s kind of average.”
That describes the mystery that is Morris. How to unlock his potential? How to motivate him? How to convince him that playing a significant role on a nationally ranked team is there for the taking, if he offers maximum effort and focus? Marshall isn’t interested in average.
Morris’ family portrays Shaq as a fun-loving kid, the baby of the family of seven children, a good kid who followed instructions as a youngster.
“He was basically raised up in church all his life,” said Tonya Taylor, his mother. “I always said he was going to be a preacher, because his daddy was.”
He played football until his freshman year in high school, when he quit because of injury concerns.
“They were attacking his legs because he was so tall,” Taylor said. “I took him out of football.”
Morris talks to both Taylor and Campbell when things go badly at WSU. When the weather and work schedules allow, they come to games. They are convinced he is on the right path to consistent production at WSU after a series of stops and starts that date to his redshirt season.
“Our relationship is so close,” Taylor said. “I told Shaquille, ‘Shaquille, you’ve got play harder. You need to work harder. You’ve got to show that you’re interested in basketball to the coaches.’ He knows I’m behind him.”
Campbell, who is 13 years older and six inches shorter than Morris, watched his brother dominate in AAU and high school because of his size. When he arrived in college, his size no longer guaranteed success.
“He thought he was going to get the ball and score,” Campbell said. “He gets comfortable doing the easy things. When you’re the big guy in high school, and you’re breaking backboards, he might have started thinking he accomplished something.”
Morris is unfailingly polite and candid when discussing his shortcomings. He sees himself working harder and playing harder and says that he wants to be the kind of player Marshall can count on.
“Throughout this whole time, the ups and downs, I’ve been trying to keep my head positive, screwed on,” Morris said. “Most of all, I’ve been trying to bring the energy off the bench. It’s definitely concrete, it’s consistent. I feel like I’m on the way up.”
His teammates are encouraged, in part because Morris is finally seeing rewards for his work. He receives regular playing time. He receives praise for his contributions. He watches film and see how much he helps the Shockers.
“It’s been safe to have confidence in him,” WSU junior Fred VanVleet said. “I wouldn’t crown him or give him any type of title. He doesn’t need that. He needs to keep his head down and keep working. If he keeps the same mindset and work ethic, good things will come.”
Perhaps most importantly, Morris said, he is beginning to enjoy working hard in practice.
“The harder you go, your teammates respect you more,” Morris said. “Coach (Marshall) stopped me (after practice) and said ‘Doesn’t it feel good to have this respect from your teammates, respect from me?’ I love it, so I want to keep it going.”
Morris’ varied skills make WSU’s lineup bigger and more dangerous. He can score in a variety of ways and make nifty passes out of double teams. His size makes him the Shocker best equipped to deal with hulking centers such as Enevold or Illinois State’s Reggie Lynch. When he plays, senior Darius Carter moves to power forward, where his skills are often best utilized. It helps Carter avoid foul trouble when he isn’t required to bang against bigger players.
“I’ve seen that coming from Shaq,” Carter said. “We’ve all seen it and he’s just got to bring it every night. They can’t really key in on me when Shaq is in the game, because he’s another post presence. I love what he’s doing.”
When Morris plays hard, he is easy to love. That love, however, is always conditional on the next trip down the court, the next loose ball, the next practice and the next game.
at No. 14 Wichita State
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: Koch Arena
Records: DU 4-15, 1-6 MVC; WSU 17-2, 7-0
Radio: KEYN, 103.7-FM
Drake at No. 14 Wichita State
Gary Ricks Jr.
Drake (4-15, 1-6 MVC): Ricks is averaging 19.0 points over his past three games and earned MVC player of the week honors after scoring a season-high 24 points at Loyola. He made 7 of 14 three-pointers against Loyola … Drake ranks last in the MVC with a 52.4 scoring average and a 37.7 shooting percentage in MVC games. It allows opponents to make 50.6 percent of their shots, also last in the MVC … The Bulldogs broke out with an 84-78 win over Indiana State last week when they 12 of 17 threes and shot 61.5 percent from the floor … The Bulldogs out-rebounded WSU by nine in the first meeting and grabbed 12 offensive rebounds.
Wichita State (17-2, 7-0): Baker scored 13 straight points and 15 of WSU’s final 18 in the first meeting, a 66-58 Shocker victory on Dec. 31. He finished with 23, his second-highest total as a Shocker. Cotton scored 17 points, 15 in the first half … WSU has won 26 straight home games and 12 straight MVC home games. It also holds a modern-day MVC record with 25 straight conference wins … WSU leads the series 99-47 and has won six straight.
RPIs as of Saturday: DU 254, WSU 11.
Shockers at 7-0 in the Valley
Here we go again with another unbeaten streak to start MVC play for Wichita State. What starts well, not surprisingly, usually ends well.
Final MVC record: 18-0 (First)
Postseason: NCAA Tournament third round
Final MVC record: 11-3 (First)
Streak-buster: After an 8-0 start, the Shockers fell at Tulsa 75-64 on Feb. 18, 1965
Postseason: NCAA Final Four