Morris' reserve proves to be a strength Maryland finds strength in Morris' reserve

College Basketball

March 09, 2001|By John Eisenberg

ATLANTA - Think Terence Morris' pro stock dropped during a season in which he went from a national Player of the Year candidate to a third-team all-conference selection?

Think the Maryland Terrapins' senior forward needs a strong postseason, beginning with tonight's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament opener, to save his NBA future?

Think again.

Here's what one NBA scout said about Morris after the Terps demolished Virginia last weekend: "He's a very nice player. There aren't many guys his size who can do the kinds of things he does. He has three-point shooting range and can handle the ball and defend at any of the three frontcourt positions. He's probably going to go somewhere in the middle of the first round."

And here's Ryan Blake of the NBA scouting service: "Terence is on a team with a lot of go-to guys, which has affected his numbers. He's a talented guy with a lot of variety in his game. You never know where a guy might get drafted because there are so many factors today, like international players. But Terence certainly could be a first-round pick."

You're not alone if you envisioned a little more juice for Morris and his sweet combination of size, skills and wingspan, particularly after he decided to come back for a fourth season at College Park. But the scouts seem to have grasped what Morris is about, perhaps better than anyone who has followed the Terps through their up-and-down season.

He just isn't going to be the primary go-to guy, the out-front offensive presence - not often, anyway. He isn't comfortable in such a role with his quiet, reserved personality, and obviously, at this point, he never will be comfortable in such a role.

But he's very comfortable steaming around in the shadows, rebounding and playing defense and chipping in with some offense, and he's a formidable asset in that role.

That's what he's doing for Maryland now that Juan Dixon has risen up and taken over the scoring spotlight with Lonny Baxter close behind, and it's no coincidence the Terps are playing their best ball of the season.

Morris is a tall, terrific Tonto when someone else is the Lone Ranger, as Duke and Virginia learned in Maryland's last two regular-season games, when Morris totaled 27 points, 25 rebounds and four blocks.

Dixon was the out-front scoring star with 28 points against Duke and 21 against Virginia, but Morris' behind-the-scenes contributions were equally important, the backbone of the Terps' effort.

It's the same role he played as a sophomore, when Steve Francis was taking bows for the Terps on the way to becoming the second pick in the 1999 NBA draft, the only difference being that the older Francis demanded the spotlight then and Morris has all but ceded it now to younger players.

Did you notice how he took - and made - a three-pointer at the start of each half against Virginia, then settled into the background and went to work? He was almost being paternalistic, it seemed, making sure the team got off to a good start before letting the younger guys take over.

Could he have scored more? No doubt. But other players on the team can score just as well, if not better, and no one can defend and rebound as well as Morris.

It's just the role he relishes, and if pro scouts value him for the way he fills it, maybe Terps fans and followers should, too.

That's not meant as an apology for a season in which Morris clearly has struggled offensively, with his scoring average dropping almost three points from last season, his overall shooting percentage dropping from 49.3 to 44.1 and his three-point shooting percentage dropping severely, from 36.5 to 28.8.

Don't think the pro scouts haven't noticed that, too, as well as his inability - or maybe just his reluctance - to put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket. A player with his ball-handling skills should be able to do that more.

But potential has been a sword dangling over Morris' head from the day he set foot on campus as a painfully shy freshman with as many skills as any Terps recruit since Len Bias. While others have continually expected more, he has sought to cast himself differently and fashioned a way-above-average career.

As Maryland coach Gary Williams has said repeatedly: "You can't make someone what they're not."

He certainly could raise his draft profile with a string of big games in the coming weeks, carrying the Terps deep into the ACC tournament and the NCAA bracket. It wouldn't shock anyone if he did that, knowing his abilities and the talent surrounding him on this team.

But four years into a college career in which he has found comfort as a formidable role player rather than as a headliner, it's far more likely that he slips on that comfortable, old shoe of a job as the Terps try to make more noise than usual this March.

He is who he is, and if that's not what you expected, well, you can continue to monitor his progress when he's making good money in the NBA next season.

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