Slowly, Morris' star qualities begin to shine

November 18, 1998|By John Eisenberg

COLLEGE PARK -- Steve Francis is the jolt of electricity who will dazzle crowds with his quickness. Laron Profit and Obinna Ekezie are the accomplished seniors who will provide heart and leadership. Danny Miller, Juan Dixon and Mike Mardesich are the reserves who could start just about anywhere else.

But of all the pieces of the Maryland Terrapins' high-flying puzzle, it's Terence Morris, a shy sophomore who has started only two college games, who has the potential to go the farthest in basketball.

"Every once in a while you get a player where you don't see any ceiling to his game," Maryland coach Gary Williams said after Morris scored 19 points in the Terps' 90-62 victory over UMBC last night at Cole Field House. "Terence has a chance to be great, and I don't say that about a lot of players."

Not that Morris, 19, is going to up and carry the Terps this season, although he could make a huge difference if he continues to blossom. He'll certainly help against a team such as Duke, which was too athletic for the Terps in the frontcourt last season.

But being a leader isn't the appropriate role for Morris on a Top 10 team of big-name upperclassmen. Morris, who almost seems to prefer to develop slowly, isn't ready for that. Not every night, at least.

"Sometimes I don't play as hard as I could," he said last night. "I'm still learning to do that."

But just give him time.

"There's not one thing lacking in his game," Williams said, "except maybe he needs to get a little stronger, which should come as he gets older. But in terms of passing, shooting, dribbling and basic running skills for a guy who is 6-foot-9, he's got all that."

He's taller than Ekezie, but also one of the Terps' best three-point shooters. He can take the lead on a fast break and find the open man, but also intimidate defensively in the lane. He's starting at power forward, but he could just as easily play small forward.

Last night, he missed his first four shots, then hit six in a row, including a dunk and three-pointer. Near the end of the first half, he blocked a shot on one end and hit a soft jumper from the foul line at the other. Aside from his points, he finished with six rebounds, four blocks, two assists and two steals.

It's that combination of inside-outside skills that has NBA scouts paying close attention.

"When he's 26 years old, he'll weigh 240 pounds and be a great forward," Williams said. "What he's going to become as a player is basically up to how hard he works between now and the end of his college career, and how hard he keeps working [after college]. So far, he's worked hard. He's done a really good job."

Said Morris: "It's nice to hear people say nice things like that about you. It's a good feeling and a good motivator. But I know I have to keep working hard."

Think of him as, say, a sculpture in progress. He started his college career as a block of clay, and he's going to end it as a fine piece of work. But you can't hurry art. It takes time for the finished product to become evident.

He left a mark last year as the point man in a 3-2 zone defense and an occasional offensive contributor, such as in the &r memorable upset of North Carolina, in which he scored 10 points. He ended the season averaging 7.4 points and 3.5 rebounds -- totals that could double this year.

Some players, such as Joe Smith, are more ready to bloom when they hit campus. It's not that they're more mature. Morris, the oldest of seven children from a single-parent household in Frederick, was mature long before his time. He's just quiet. More comfortable developing at a slower pace.

"I was happy just to be in the flow at all last year," he said. "That's all I wanted. I have more of a role this year, and that's fine."

Said Williams: "We're all built differently. Terence is one of those quiet people. He's very controlled on and off the court. He's never going to be loud. But he's getting more confident all the time."

He's even saying hello to Williams now, as opposed to before.

"Last year, you had to say hello to him first or he wouldn't talk," Williams said. "He's really opening up this year. He's actually saying hello."

And make no mistake, there's a direct correlation between Morris' development off the court and his progress on it. He always had the skill to dominate games, but he clearly didn't feel right doing it last year on a team with older, more established players. This year, he's getting there. And next year, look out.

"You change each year in college, whether you're playing ball or not," Williams said. "Terence is responding really well."

He led all scorers last night, and you get the feeling it's not the first time that's going to happen. Not even close.

"He's 6-9 with a wingspan like Scottie Pippen," teammate Terrell Stokes said. "He can do it all. When he plays hard, he can play with anyone in America."

And is he learning to play hard?

"Oh, yeah," Stokes said with a smile. "He's getting there."

Pub Date: 11/18/98

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