Wichita State Shockers

Shaq Morris was nearly kicked off Wichita State. Now he leads it into the tournament

Wichita State's Shaq Morris answers a question during the NCAA Tournament media session Thursday in San Diego.
Wichita State's Shaq Morris answers a question during the NCAA Tournament media session Thursday in San Diego. The Wichita Eagle

It is Gregg Marshall's tradition to have an exit meeting with each player in the week following Wichita State's final loss of the season.

For the past four years, Shaquille Morris did not know if he would survive the meeting.

"I never knew if I was still going to be on the team," Morris said. "I didn't know if Coach Marshall would want me back. It was that type of deal."

From nearly off the team completely to leading Wichita State to its seventh straight NCAA Tournament, Morris has made one of the more drastic transformations — as a player and a person — in Marshall's 11 seasons with the Shockers.

As the fourth-seeded Shockers (25-7) prepare to play 13th-seeded Marshall (24-10) on Friday at 12:30 p.m. in San Diego, they do so with Morris as a centerpiece in the post. He has has career-best averages in points (14.0), rebounds (5.5), and blocks (1.6).

"That's the guy I'm most moved by because of where he's come from," Marshall said. "There were two or three years there where we didn't know if he would make it from a day-to-day existence. And now he's a dominant force in our conference and a graduate and a champion."

It's a scenario Morris didn't even see coming.

"I can't even believe I'm here right now," Morris said sitting in front of his locker in San Diego. "This is crazy, man."

Shaquille Morris came to Wichita State from Edmond, Oklahoma with little interest from Division I basketball programs. With steady improvement over the course of five years, he's now regarded as one of the better centers in Shocker history. (Photo

"Like a badge of honor"

A lot of things, maybe too many, came easy to Morris playing high school basketball in Oklahoma, where his 265 pounds and 6-foot-7 frame often went unmatched.

"Growing up he had always been so dominant because of how big he was," said WSU graduate assistant J.R. Simon, who played on the same traveling team with Morris and against him in high school at Putnam City North. "In Oklahoma high schools, it was pretty easy for him to do whatever he wanted."

Then Marshall and former WSU assistant Chris Jans came around. They saw the potential, but what they didn't see left more of an impression with the WSU coaches.

"He was really heavy, somewhat lazy, and the crazy thing about Shaq was he wore the fact that he was lazy like a badge of honor," Marshall said. "That was something that he was proud of. And I had to explain to him that's not something that you need to be proud of. That's something that you need to shed from your personality."

Marshall was willing to gamble on the talent, but even he didn't know how much adversity was coming in the next five years.

"Check out a medical thesaurus"

In less than two months of games, Marshall was already fed up with Morris' time on campus.

Morris was redshirting during the 2013-14 season, but had drawn the ire of his coach with his practice habits.

"He probably missed more practices that year than anyone has ever missed in the history of college basketball," Marshall said before rattling off the list of injuries. "Hang nails and sniffles and whatnot. Out for several days. I think he missed about 35 days of workouts."

Before Morris left for Christmas break, Marshall met with him.

"Son, you need to go by the doctor's office and check out a medical thesaurus," Marshall said.

"What is that," Morris replied.

"You're going to have to come up with some new ailments in the spring semester," Marshall said.

And things didn't improve when Morris started playing.

"He would get kicked out of practices, he would miss road trips," WSU senior Rashard Kelly said. "It was more of Shaq just getting in the way of himself."

"When I first got here and I saw how hard coach was on him and how much he was in the doghouse and I was like, 'Dang, I don't know if this is going to last,'" WSU sophomore Landry Shamet said.

How bad was it for Morris during that time?

"There were a lot of bad times, man," Morris said. "I can't even tell you how bad it was. Just know that it was bad."

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"It's actually a weird relationship"

There were countless of times when Marshall has been ready to give up on Morris and Morris was ready to give up playing for Marshall, but the two have always stuck with each other.

Why?

"It's actually a weird relationship," Morris said. "I use him and he uses me, but we've come to understand each other. I trust him and I think he trusts me now."

When Tonya Taylor, Morris' mother, sent her son off to Wichita to play for Marshall, she knew he had the potential to be the player he is today but his maturity had to improve.

"When your mind catches up with your body, then you're going to be a grown man," Taylor told him. "He's done it. His mind has finally caught up. He proved to me that he can do it and I just love what Coach Marshall has done for him. He was very real with him."

Along the way, Morris and Marshall have clashed more as a player and coach than perhaps any other player during Marshall's time at WSU.

But they both understood what was possible in the end, which has become a reality this season with Morris transforming into a consistent low-post threat and a first-team All-American Athletic Conference player as a senior.

"It's one of those relationships where it's like in the moment, you're thinking, 'Why am I doing this, I'm miserable,'" Simon said. "But at the end of the day, you look back at it and realize it was all for a reason. They butted heads for a while, but I think they both understood it was going to work out well for both sides in the end."

When Morris is playing at his peak, the benefits for WSU are obvious.

"He can take us to another level," Marshall said. "He gives us that shot-blocker inside, that real strong body. He can score around the basket when he's locked in. When he's on, he takes our team to another level."

It's a situation Morris always dreamed of, but was skeptical would ever happen.

Now that it's here, he's ready to write a final chapter worthy of his saga.

"I've changed in so many ways in my time in Wichita," Morris said. "I have a different perspective on life, basketball ... everything. I'm grateful for all of the people who have helped me. To the fans, I definitely couldn't have stayed here if it wasn't for them. They made me feel like a rock star.

"Now we've just got to lock in and go in and make it a special one."

From Viejas Arena on the campus of San Diego State, Wichita state players Landry Shamet and Shaq Morris, followed by coach Gregg Marshall, talk about a variety of subject a day before their game against Marshall.

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