As sophomore Shaq Morris left the floor for the final time Wednesday night during a blowout win over Loyola, a sellout crowd rose to give him an ovation.
They are witnessing the transformation of a player and they like what they see.
The 6-foot-8 Morris was in Gregg Marshall’s doghouse just a couple of months ago in Florida, where the injured Shockers were losing three straight games in the AdvoCare Classic.
Morris wasn’t engaged, he wasn’t putting forth the necessary effort and Marshall, who doesn’t have a very long rope in the best of times, was near the end of this one.
Somewhere along the way, though, Morris heeded Marshall’s boisterous message.
He’s a different player now. A better player. The doghouse has been stored away.
Morris had 12 points and six rebounds in the Shockers’ 80-54 win. And he did all of that in 16 minutes as Marshall spreads time around in all of these easy wins.
Still, what Morris is now is not what he can become. You see some of his bursts and you wonder whether if he can ever get to a point where fouls don’t bog him down, what he can do.
Morris scored WSU’s first six points of the second half with a variety of crafty inside moves. He attacked the glass to score and rebound. He blocked three shots, giving him a team-high 15 for the season. And he passed well out of the post.
Morris, who made six of eight shots, is now 14 of 18 in the Shockers’ past three games.
We’re beginning to see a player who could be a force in the Missouri Valley Conference over the next two-plus seasons.
That’s three straight games in double figures for Morris, who has gone from promising recruit to a redshirt season as a freshman to mostly thumbs-down reviews from his coach.
Morris packs 260 pounds. He’s a strong man with skills. He’s like a fine automobile that too often has sat in the garage without a motor.
“We’re really happy for him, really happy for us,” Marshall said of Morris. “But it’s a Catch-22 in that you’re proud of him, but at the same time you know there’s more. There’s untapped potential there.”
For sure, Morris is a player who piques the imagination. What can he do if he’s on the floor more?
“It’s going to be incumbent on (Morris) at sometime in his career to be in the best possible shape Shaq Morris can be in,” Marshall said. “And to not commit so many silly fouls. What kind of numbers would he put up if he could play like Ron (Baker) and Fred (VanVleet) with the same type of vigor, vitality, stamina and verve for 32 minutes?”
We would all like to know.
Morris has reached 20 minutes in a game only twice this season and is averaging just more than 14 minutes. That’s why his numbers — 6.7 points per game, 3.2 rebounds per game — aren’t going to wow anybody.
Imagine, though, if Morris could play 25 minutes per game without huffing and puffing and picking up so many fouls. His 49 fouls are the most on the team. His 275 minutes are eighth.
Morris is a big man in a conference without many quality players to go against him. He’s been the Shockers’ best frontcourt player for the past couple of weeks.
Morris has not only been coached by Marshall during his career but also by VanVleet, the Shockers’ unquestioned leader.
“He’s just growing up, maturing and now he’s been able to do it without people asking him, yelling at him,” VanVleet said. “I don’t think anybody can take credit for what he’s doing besides him. I don’t pat him on the back much, I just try to acknowledge what he’s doing and keep practicing with him and working with him. If he’s able to get that minutes total up, we might even see a little more.”
Morris has spent a lot of his college basketball career frustrating those around him. Now he’s drawing their praise.
Morris found out early in the season that his mother, Tanya Taylor, has cancer. Of course, that affected his concentration and focus.
“I felt like I had my back against the wall,” Morris ssaid. “I didn’t know how to deal with that at the moment.”
He said his mother is undergoing chemotherapy and that he’s optimistic.
He’s finally optimistic as a player, too.
“I’ve been at the very bottom of the barrel here,” Morris said. “I’ve had to learn and mature and try to grow a lot. I started playing for my teammates instead of trying to make Coach Marshall happy. Now I’m just trying to make our team better.”