Gregg Marshall has often wondered about Shaq Morris and whether or not the big fella, 6-foot-8 and 275 pounds, would ultimately have what it takes to play basketball effectively at Wichita State.
And Morris, a junior averaging 9.5 points and 4.9 rebounds, has often wondered about Marshall.
This wonderment has been a two-way street since Morris arrived at Wichita State after a strong high school career at Edmond (Okla.) Memorial.
Morris couldn’t stay out of foul trouble and it drove Marshall crazy. Morris couldn’t stay in shape and it drove Marshall crazy. Morris didn’t pay as much attention to his studies as he should have and it drove Marshall crazy.
“I’ve probably been ridden — I’ve probably had it worse than anybody here or probably anybody to ever come through here,” Morris said. “He’s always had me in the doghouse and I don’t know if that’s because there’s something he sees in me or what. You know, it’s just always been that way.”
The leash, though, has loosened this season. Morris has had easily his best run as a Shocker, a player opposing coaches have learned to fear.
“He presents a lot of challenges, a lot,” said Dayton coach Archie Miller, whose Flyers face WSU in Friday’s first round of the NCAA Tournament. “When you look at his points and rebounds per minute played, I’m not sure there’s a guy that’s been more effective in his time on the court.”
Morris averages 17.8 minutes, a nice increase from last season’s 15.6 but still not the 20 to 25 minutes Marshall would like to see.
Then again, the Shockers have reinforcements up front. Darral Willis and Rauno Nurger are capable of spelling Morris without a significant drop in production.
“I would say I’m more than fairly satisfied with Shaq,” was Marshall’s reaction to a question about his feelings about Morris this season. “Shaq is one of those guys that kind of got away with some things in high school because of his immense size and strength.
“It’s not just on the basketball court that we’ve had to push him. It’s in academics, as well. But I want to clarify that I’ve told him many times this year as he’s made steps toward being the student and the player that he can be, how proud I am of him and his maturation process.”
Morris has been at his best during the second half of the season, scoring in double figures in 11 of WSU’s past 15 games. He’s reached 20 or more points three times during that stretch.
Since Jan. 17, when he had 17 points and 10 rebounds in a win at Evansville, Morris is averaging 12.6 points and 6.8 rebounds. And he’s miraculously been able to stay out of foul trouble, getting to four fouls once.
“It’s actually pretty amazing to see the transition from Zach’s freshman year to all the way to the product you see now,” teammate Zach Brown said. “Just his body, his mindset. He’s a whole lot more active on defense and he’s being more aggressive toward the rim instead of fading. He’s really, really just being a monster in there.”
Morris acknowledges the changes in his game and his approach.
“I think my work ethic has changed, my body has changed,” he said. “I think being in the doghouse sped up my maturity. I’m definitely more focused on being great for my team and trying to be a huge presence.”
Morris and Marshall are no longer butting heads like two rams in open prairie. I can’t remember the last time Marshall chastized Morris publicly the way he did early last season, when his frustration boiled over in Orlando at the Advocare Invitational. I wasn’t sure Morris would have a seat on the plane ride home.
“He’s giving me a little more wiggle room this season,” Morris said of Marshall. “But for the most part, I’ve always been in his doghouse and everything like that. I’m starting to get kind of comfortable now, but there ain’t no telling with him. You never know.”
Morris did acknowledge that perhaps there’s a method to Marshall’s madness. Sure, the coach has been tough on the player. But look at the player’s development.
“Did I ever think about going elsewhere? I probably thought that every day for the last three years,” Morris said. “But I always knew where my heart was. I love Wichita and I love the people I do this with. My brothers kept me around even when I had my worst days.
“But yeah, there’s probably a method to what (Marshall) does. I’m better everywhere now, just a better overall person.”