Morris gives Terps 1 more ride

Forward will hold off on NBA draft, return for his senior season

Team retains top 8 players

Likely lottery pick aims to improve game

March 30, 2000|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Maryland's basketball season grounded to a halt 12 days ago in Minneapolis. That city will be the host for the NBA draft June 28 and the 2001 Final Four, and Terps fans are delighted that Terence Morris wants to return to the town for the latter extravaganza instead of the first.

Yesterday Morris made official what he nearly concluded last week: The versatile junior forward will return to Maryland for his fourth season.

With Morris in the fold, the Terps will return all eight players from the rotation that was runner-up in the Atlantic Coast Conference and considered one of the 12 best in the nation by the committee that oversees the NCAA tournament. With several additions to the roster anticipated, coach Gary Williams has the makings of his best team.

Morris was urged by some to leave Maryland after his sophomore season, when he was a first-team All-ACC selection. He was a second-team All-ACC choice this season, when his draft stock did not appreciably improve. Last month one NBA general manager said Morris would be a lottery pick -- among the first 13 players selected.

Uncomfortable with that gamble, Morris chose another season at Maryland, where he can play, bulk up and improve his ball-handling. The 6-foot-9, 205-pound Morris needs more strength to be a power forward in the NBA, and his dribbling needs work before he can play small forward there.

"He feels he has something to prove, but people shouldn't read into it that by coming back, Terence isn't that good right now," Williams said. "He could have gone pretty high, but he feels he can be one of the dominant players in college basketball next season. He could have made a lot of money, but that's not his primary concern right now."

A school spokesman released the following statement from Morris:

"I have decided to return to the University of Maryland for my senior year. It is an opportunity for me to complete my education and to be a senior leader on the basketball team. I am very excited about our team next season and have set very high goals for the team and myself. I look forward to being a part of the campus community for another year."

Williams drove to Frederick last week and met with Morris' mother, Roxanne Bright. That meeting followed one nine days ago with Bright, Morris and Tom Dickman, who was Morris' coach at Thomas Johnson High.

"He [Morris] really didn't know what he wanted to do when the season was over," Bright said. "I thought it was important that we meet with him [Dickman]. We value his opinion."

Morris, 21, is the oldest of seven children being raised by Bright, a single mother, and Dickman has been one of his main male influences.

"One of the biggest factors is that Terence is on schedule to graduate next year," Dickman said. "This will give him another year to develop physically, and he may be able to increase his value while getting a degree.

"The first thing Terence will tell you is that he enjoys being on campus, and that he enjoys that team. We talked about the pros and cons of him leaving, and staying. I told him that it was a no-brainer. When he left my house, I was 99 percent certain that he was going to stay at Maryland."

Morris is an Art Studio major.

Dickman said he asked Morris to "think long-range." If Morris were to improve his draft status, the NBA salary scale is structured so that he could more than make up any earnings he will pass on next season.

"The way contracts are structured for the long term," Williams said, "you want to go into the draft in the most powerful position possible."

Morris could have entered his name in the draft and withdrawn it by June 21, as long as he did not sign a contract with an agent. His mother said that Morris did not talk to an agent, but that her home was inundated with mail from people wanting to represent him.

"I didn't read a lot of it," Bright said. "Terence didn't touch it."

In Morris, guard Juan Dixon and center Lonny Baxter, Maryland will have three players with All-ACC credentials. Point guard Steve Blake made the All-ACC freshman team, and the other top four players return. Byron Mouton, a 6-6 transfer from Tulane, will add athleticism, and the Terps hope that Chris Wilcox, a forward from North Carolina, meets the academic standards for freshman eligibility.

Morris' progress was hindered when he broke a foot last April, an injury which cost him a berth on the U.S. team that won the gold medal at the World University Games.

Williams said that Morris, given his accomplishments and potential, will be in line for an insurance policy through the NCAA worth approximately $3 million.

Morris is soft-spoken, and declined to talk to the media yesterday. That's in contrast to the celebratory news conference two years ago that accompanied Richard Hamilton's decision to return to Connecticut for a third season.

Hamilton then led the Huskies to the NCAA title. Maryland has never been to a Final Four, but with Morris back in the lineup, Terp fans can be forgiven if they look past this weekend's climax and toward 2001.

Rookie scale

NBA salaries for a player's first three seasons are predetermined. Here are the salaries that selected draft choices will earn during the 2000-2001 season:

Draft pick Salary

No. 1 $2.95 million

No. 5 $1.93 million

No. 10 $1.28 million

No. 15 $922,300

No. 20 $780,000

Source: NBA

Morris at Maryland

Season Pts. FG% Reb. Blk. 1997-98 7.4 .523 3.5 0.9 1998-99 15.3 .551 7.1 2.3 1999-00 15.8 .493 8.6 2.1

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