Standing Alone

Maryland: Terence Morris has emerged as one of the game's top NBA prospects, but the Terps' home-grown talent from Frederick shuns publicity and favors substance over style, so he's stepping reluctantly into the national spotlight.

November 16, 1999|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff

COLLEGE PARK -- When Tom Dickman, the basketball coach at Frederick's Thomas Johnson High, took in the Maryland-West Virginia football game in September, the people he knew at Byrd Stadium wanted to discuss one matter: the whereabouts of his greatest gift to the state.

"Every person I talked to asked, 'Is Terence around?' " Dickman said. "You know something? You won't see Terence at a Maryland home football game until they start playing them at the Francis Scott Key Mall."

Morris can't remember if he spent that afternoon hanging out at one of his favorite Frederick landmarks. Perhaps he checked in with his mother. Maybe he just remained on campus in his dorm, testing a video game or cracking on his roommates.

Whatever he did, Morris stayed far from the madding crowd at Maryland. The Terps' publicity machine will push him for national Player of the Year, and he is rated as one of college basketball's top NBA prospects, but he wishes the microphones, minicams and talk of money would just go away. In a big-time atmosphere, Morris remains a small-town kid.

Large on fundamentals and small on flash, the 6-foot-9 junior forward is the perfect symbol for Maryland basketball in 1999-2000. The Terps took on a atmosphere last season -- See Steve Francis and Laron Profit shot from a cannon! -- but with Morris as the core, this season is more like a walk through the cow palace at the state fair.

It won't be loud, but there's still a lot to see.

"I don't think those guys minded the spotlight last season, but it caught up to them," said Matt Hahn, a senior guard who is one of Morris' roommates. "With Terence, it's almost like he's oblivious to it. He lives in his own world. It's him, his teammates, his PlayStation and his artwork. He stays in his realm, and he's happy there. He doesn't ask for the attention."

If Morris were to pass on his senior season, he could be in line for one of the three-year, $9 million contracts that are bestowed upon the top picks in the NBA draft.

Joe Smith and Francis left early. Maryland fans study Morris and hope for a different outcome. He's a 20-year-old who has never lived farther than 50 miles from home. Maybe, just maybe, they rationalize, Morris will want to stay in his college cocoon one final season.

Other than to say he "will look my options up at the end of the season," Morris will not talk about the future. Morris has not read up on Phil Jackson's philosophy of Zen basketball, but Terps coach Gary Williams admires the way that he lives in the now.

"Terence is one of the few great players that I've coached who lives in the moment," Williams said. "He's very happy being a college basketball player this year. He's not thinking, 'If I play really well this year, then maybe I can go to the pros.' I'm not saying that won't happen, but in terms of how Terence thinks, his comfort level, he likes being on a college campus.

"It took him a full year to get out of Frederick and enjoy being on our campus. He's that kind of kid. College Park is where he feels comfortable. I just want him to really enjoy his junior year and see what happens."

Morris had nothing to compare to Maryland, because he never visited another college campus. He committed to Maryland in September of his junior year at Thomas Johnson. During his Michael Jordan phase, he dreamed of wearing Carolina blue, but how would his mother have checked up on him in Chapel Hill?

Before Morris bought a Honda Civic that has about 125,000 miles on the odometer a few months ago, Roxanne Bright would drive down Interstate 270 on a phone call's notice. The oldest of her seven children would nap on the way home to Frederick on Saturday afternoon, and on the way back to College Park Sunday night.

That was the routine nearly every free weekend during his freshman and sophomore seasons. It's "The Waterboy" without the sick jokes: Morris loves his Mama, and she loves him.

Parade All-Americans typically come with entourages. Morris' consists of his mother and some of his siblings. He had limited exposure on the AAU circuit in high school, and Dickman said that Morris "doesn't have that feeling of entitlement that a lot of kids have."

"Terence has lived without a lot of the things that a lot of kids have," Dickman said. "When he was a senior, he took the bus to school. He was probably the biggest, oldest bus-riding kid at Thomas Johnson. It's a status symbol, driving or having someone pick you up, but that's not Terence. He's not into instant gratification. He sees the big picture."

There are more tattoos and earrings on the Maryland beat writers than on Morris.

"A couple of summers ago, down Ocean City, I was going to get one [a tattoo]," Morris said. "I don't want to put anything on my body that's going to be there forever. You have to think about things like that."

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