Maryland's Morris rises at own rate Terps: The ballyhooed freshman from Frederick shows he has all the moves, but forcing the spotlight on himself isn't one of them.

December 21, 1997|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- He's not Joe Smith.

He never said he wanted to be.

Terence Morris is perhaps the most highly touted basketball recruit Maryland has secured in nine seasons under Gary Williams, but his first game at Cole Field House in 1994 consisted of looking good on the bench during the state high school playoffs.

The smooth 6-foot-8, 199-pound freshman forward was rated the nation's eighth-best college prospect by one of the more reliable recruiting gurus last winter. Four seasons before that, Morris didn't even start on his middle school team.

The reminder that it took time for Morris' talent and instincts to surface in Frederick should relieve Maryland fans who have fretted while he's floated through the Terps' first eight games. Morris' history is that he hasn't forced himself on situations, and in that regard, he's apropos for a team that's still looking for somebody to take charge.

"Most players like attention," Williams said, "but I'm not sure how much Terence wants. That will change, but right now, that's who he is."

To get Morris' opinion, you'll have to wait until the start of the second semester in late January, when a ban on one-on-one interviews with the freshman ends. After one too many early doses of in-state-player-bound-to-make-good stories, Williams limited Morris' media exposure to post-game interviews, not the most in-depth environment.

Four years after Smith arrived, Maryland doesn't need another savior. Williams is angling to become the first Terps coach to work five straight NCAA tournaments, and he was determined to stop the Morris hype before it started.

"I saw it happen with Joe Smith," Williams said. "What had happened was that Terence Morris was going to be the whole story, and that's not fair to the other guys. Our situation is different now than it was then. We need good players every year, but to say he [Morris] is the focal point, that's wrong.

"The other thing is that he's a quiet kid. He's coming from a situation where there wasn't much media attention to one where there is an incredible amount. We're doing it [no interviews] to protect him."

Grades over camps

Morris has been cloistered before, at Thomas Johnson High in Frederick, where he was a compliant part of a program that one day could make coach Tom Dickman the state's winningest public school coach.

The Patriots' defense was funneled to him so he could block shots, and the offense came through him, unless he was breaking a press, but Morris was never bigger than the team.

Sure, Thomas Johnson won the state Class 3A championship last year, but by Dickman's standards, he's having a bad decade. Morris doesn't hold a single school record at TJ, where the legacy includes four state titles in the 1980s alone.

"We weren't going to change everything just because Terence Morris was here," Dickman said. "I tried not to make him anything special."

In an age when some distinctive prep players vault directly to the NBA, and AAU programs have made the next layer of talent practically uncoachable, the Thomas Johnson program seems rather quaint. Dickman's players don't do the all-star route in the summer, they stick together.

Morris did get extra attention, in the shape of several years of badgering from Dickman about his schoolwork. In the summer of 1996, adidas talent-broker Sonny Vaccaro wanted Morris for a week, but Dickman decreed that the SATs were more important than the high-profile ABCD camp.

"I told Sonny that I would bring him up for Saturday and Sunday, but he had to be in summer school come Monday morning," Dickman said. "If he had stayed there, he would have been a first-team All-American, because that's where they make them. I didn't care if he made first-team All-American. I wanted him to be able to play this year."

Mom is a force, too

If Dickman had a hand in Morris being eligible this year, his mother is one of the reasons he chose Maryland as early as he did, just a few weeks into his junior year of high school.

"He asked me what I thought," Roxanne Bright said. "He wanted to go to North Carolina at first. He said 'Mom, if I go to North Carolina, will you come visit me?' I said 'Terence, I don't know. I don't have the money to do that.' "

Morris is the oldest of seven children in a single-parent home. Bright is divorced, and she said that Morris has little contact with his father. She later added that Dickman "was like the father Terence never had."

Bright is a contractual employee in computers at the Department of Energy in Germantown, and she cleans offices in the evening to make ends meet. Terence helped her on cleaning jobs and saw to his siblings, but otherwise he could be found on the playground at their Frederick apartment.

"He had three Michael Jordan [video] tapes," Bright said. "There was one tape called 'Aircom.' He'd play it, rewind it, play it again, rewind it, and then go outside and play."

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