Old-school Morris hitting new heights

Maryland: The quietest Terrapin is putting up team-leading numbers as a fundamentally sound sophomore while others get more notice.

January 24, 1999|By PAUL McMULLEN | PAUL McMULLEN,SUN STAFF

It was halftime at North Carolina 10 days ago, and Maryland coach Gary Williams prepared to do some aggressive counseling with his big men.

"We come into the locker room; we're in foul trouble and just trying to survive," Williams said. "I'm all upset with our inside people, and I'm ready to tear into them. Then I look at the stats. Terence has 16 points. He's 7-for-9 from the field. He's keeping us in the game, and that might have been the most important half we've had from a player all year.

"People sometimes overlook all the things he does for us. I do it, too."

Terence Morris is not just No. 4 Maryland's quietest basketball player. He also might be its most complete.

The evidence is right there in the Terps' statistical report. The sophomore forward from Frederick has as many points as Steve Francis. He also leads Maryland in rebounds, shooting percentages and blocks. Among the starters, he has the fewest turnovers, and the only category he lags in is gestures that scream, "Look at me!"

It takes your total attention to appreciate Morris, because he'll be the last one to tell you how good he is.

Dick Vitale's midseason All-American team included Francis. He has bestowed the title of the nation's top dunker on Laron Profit and fawns over Obinna Ekezie.

Morris? He doesn't get much time on "SportsCenter," but he's a natural for the promos on the ESPN Classic. He is as old-school as a sleek 6-foot-9 kid can get.

"Different people have different ways of celebrating," said Morris, who turned 20 two weeks ago. "Some hit shots and won't say anything, but inside they feel good. Some jump and wave to the crowd. They need that."

Morris obviously does not. All he required to establish himself as one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's most solid players was a season of acclimation as a reserve and half of another.

`The sky's the limit'

"He's one of the outstanding young players in our league," Wake Forest coach Dave Odom said. "He has raised the level of his game, from his freshman year to now, measurably. He's a much more comfortable all-court player. He'll be Scottie Pippen-like in the NBA, except that he's taller.

"If he had Pippen's strength, which he'll have one day the sky's the limit."

Last season, Morris was given the nickname "T Rock" by Rodney Elliott, one of last season's seniors. He could have called him "T Bone."

Morris committed to Maryland before he played a game as a junior at Thomas Johnson High. His potential in the Terps' open-court style was evident, even if his body wasn't ready for the college game. Upon arrival in College Park in September 1997, he was 6-8, 195 pounds, and bench-pressed only 145 pounds.

"Strength training was not a priority for Terence here," said Tom Dickman, the coach at Thomas Johnson High. "When the other guys were in the weight room, Terence was working on his academics to get a test score that would make him eligible. If he doesn't get that, it doesn't matter how strong he is. That's how I looked at it."

Morris takes advantage of Maryland's academic support system and is majoring in letters and sciences. He has also grown close to 6-10 and 210 pounds and now can bench his body weight.

His frame might have been thin last season, but his game was not. With Elliott holding down power forward and Profit at wing forward, Morris backed up both positions. He showed off his basketball education, which includes a keen understanding of the team concept.

"A lot of times, guys who play center in high school are a one-man zone on defense, and on offense they just run to the block and try to overpower people," Williams said. "They don't have to learn timing, how to swing the ball. To his credit and Tom Dickman's, Terence had that, coming in.

"The fact that he played away from the basket some in high school and saw the court accelerated his development. He picks up plays so quickly. Not everyone does that."

More often, the Terps run a double screen designed to free Morris. He said, "Teams aren't focusing on me, so that leaves me open," and he doesn't consider the reality that when Maryland can't run, he's a primary option in the half-court offense.

"Most of the time, I think `pass' first," Morris said. "I try to get everyone on the team into the game. By them scoring, and me giving up shots to get them playing well, that helps us a lot. I'm not taking anything away from myself. I don't try to force anything."

There was a gasp when Morris tried a weak fadeaway on the first possession at Kentucky, because he rarely makes bad decisions. That was the only game this season in which he has attempted more than 15 shots, because he and Francis tried to get Maryland back in the game.

Williams said that Joe Smith, another skinny Terp who beat people to the glass, is the only player he's coached who could finish as well as Morris.

Just as Elliott had to learn how effective he could be inside last season, Morris took some time to comprehend how automatic he can be inside.

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