Morris right where he should be

March 11, 2000|By Ken Rosenthal

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Roxanne Bright leaned over a rail at the Charlotte Coliseum, trying to catch the attention of her son. "Terence!" she screamed. "Terence!" Terence Morris looked up and responded with a happy wave. All was right with his world.

His shooting touch is back. His NBA decision is on hold. And after going from preseason All-American to second-team All-ACC, he seems remarkably at peace, content in the knowledge that everything is coming back to him -- open looks, clutch shots and, yes, the NBA lottery, too.

Sixteen years ago, Len Bias failed to make All-ACC, then played with a vengeance in the conference tournament, earning MVP honors. Morris isn't going to pull another Bias; it's not his nature. But his season -- and perhaps his Maryland career -- appears headed toward a satisfying conclusion.

Morris scored 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting yesterday in Maryland's 82-61 quarterfinal victory over Florida State. A victory over North Carolina State today would lift the Terps into the tourney final for the first time since 1984, when Bias led them to the title.

It's as if Morris scripted his season, resisting the hype, helping Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter become first-team All-ACC, then quietly reclaiming the role he was expected to fill all along. The role of go-to guy. The role of star.

The beauty of this team is that it doesn't revolve around one player -- Baxter led all scorers with 24 points in 21 minutes yesterday; Dixon was the subject of a recent profile in Sports Illustrated. But Morris' shooting touch revival is as positive sign as any for Maryland entering the NCAA tournament.

A year ago at this time, he was in the middle of a 13-for-41 slump. Now, he's on a 21-for-34 tear, and suddenly opponents can't simply focus on Baxter and Dixon -- just as they couldn't simply focus on Morris after those two got hot.

How different Morris would be -- and how different Maryland would be -- if the junior from Frederick possessed more of an ego. Morris might have crumbled emotionally when he struggled earlier in the season. Maryland might have deteriorated around him.

Instead, just the opposite occurred.

Maryland coach Gary Williams publicly thanked Morris and fellow junior Mike Mardesich yesterday for aiding in the development of the team's younger players. That mission accomplished, Morris spent the past week staying late after practice, working on his shot.

Williams noticed the 6-foot-9 forward looking for the basket more in the Terps' final two practices before the tournament. For the first time this season, perhaps it's possible to use the word "assertive" in the same sentence as "Terence Morris."

"If I was critical of Terence for anything during the year, it was for passing up shots," Williams said. "But he worked so hard at allowing the younger guys to be part of the team. You know how older guys are like, `Relax, I've been here awhile, you'll wait your turn.' He's not like that. He's great in terms of looking at the team and seeing how we could be good."

The Maryland sports information department hyped Morris with good intentions, placing four photos of him on the cover of the team's media guide. Little did anyone realize, the attention would prove a disservice to the kid.

It's not that Morris shuns responsibility -- the oldest of seven children, he became his family's male role model when his father disappeared in 1993 and landed in jail. But perhaps because of his background, he seems more comfortable making everyone happy, then finding his way.

"In the beginning of the season, a lot of things fell on me," Morris said. "Teams tried to stop me more than anyone else. It opened things up a lot for Lonny and Juan. Now the tables are turned. They're doing damage, and a lot of teams are leaving me open."

Williams said a turning point occurred Feb. 10, when Morris hit two late three-pointers to help seal Maryland's upset of Duke. But really, Morris has contributed all season. He finished third in the ACC in rebounding, fourth in blocks, sixth in steals and seventh in scoring.

His next step, obviously, is the NBA, and no Maryland fan can begrudge Morris for making a decision that would be in the best interests of his family. After growing up poor, he should not hesitate to begin his earning cycle, especially when he could suffer a Kenyon Martin-type injury.

"It's my life. It's up to me," Morris said when asked Thursday whether his family situation would influence his decision. "Whatever I do will be fine with them."

And right now, it's a concern for another day. Morris' mother piled into a car with a group of Morris' college friends for the eight-hour journey to Charlotte. She also plans to attend the NCAA tournament, if she can get time off from her job with the Department of Energy in Germantown.

Roxanne Bright predicted that Maryland would be crowned ACC tournament champions tomorrow -- "They're the only team that beat Duke. They know how to do it now." Morris, in turn, started beaming when talking about his mother.

"I really can't explain how I feel about my mom," he said. "I love her to death. I wish she could come to every game. It just gives me more confidence to see her face in the stands."

Maybe this is the way the story was supposed to turn out, with the consummate team player collecting his just rewards. Everything is coming back to Terence Morris now -- open looks, clutch shots, the promise of future NBA riches. All is right with his world.

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