St. Frances forward Dwayne Morgan poses with his mother, Tabitha… (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
Potential is a word Dwayne Morgan has sought to vanquish.
The 15th-ranked basketball prospect in the country according to Rivals.com, Morgan wants to be more than potential during his senior year at No. 3 St. Frances. Potential was the word stickered to him throughout his rise to relevance.
It is a word, to him, used to signify doubt.
"I think he's always given these glimpses in the past and it's always been about potential," says Eric Bossi, a national basketball recruiting analyst at Rivals.com. "Now, it's just kind of all come together for him."
The months leading up to last summer were of sweaty workouts in St. Frances' gym until its closing at 11 p.m.; of a diet that held the 6-foot-8 forward's 4 percent body fat in check; of long runs in the morning and of 200 pushups before bed. The result is the player who showed flashes of brilliance at the NBA Top 100 Camp, the adidas Eurocamp, and the LeBron James Skills Academy, among others.
The player trying to prove he's Baltimore's best basketball prospect since Rudy Gay.
"It's very seldom you find kids that can self-motivate themselves, that just want to be the best on the floor," says Bub Carrington, who coached Morgan with Nike Baltimore Elite. "From the experience I've had with him, he's been that guy. He's been that guy."
Sitting in a chair on his porch, Morgan can summon the vision where he's sitting in the green room for the NBA Draft. He swirls the ball between his fingertips in a way that is delicate, as if what is between his palms is a treasure.
"The only person I have to prove myself to," he says, "is myself."
Trial and error
Potential is a mother, Tabitha Chambers, sitting in the same chair on the same porch that creaks beside the same street, outside the same house her parents moved into before she was born in Sinai Hospital, just outside of Park Heights. Thirty-nine years later, she is still here.
As she grew to 6 feet, 6 inches, she was always told that basketball was a sensible pursuit.
"To be honest," she says, "I didn't like sports at all."
Her parents signed her up when she was 13.
Long-armed and able to shoot over competition as easy as she could swat opposing attempts, she came to understand the natural advantage. She came to understand the possibilities, too, with every coach who visited and with every package of letters waiting for her in the office at Walbrook Senior High School.
"It never dawned on me that I could get a college education out of it," she says.
The plan was to get it at Clemson, the dream world that recruited her away from the house and neighborhood she'd always been pinned to. She redshirted her first year.
"My second year," she says, "I wound up coming back home because I got put on academic probation. Fundamentally, I was not ready. I came from a city school, a city setting. Even though I got my work done [in high school], it still wasn't enough for me when I got out on my own. I wasn't disciplined enough to buckle down and do what I needed to do because I was happy just to be away from home."
She says that things happen for a reason. She says life is comprised of trials and errors.
"I have instilled in my son, from my experience …" she says before the rain picks up, drilling loudly against the awning above and halting her words. When she says that she does not want her son to go down her path, she almost has to shout to be heard.
Potential is a father, Dwayne Morgan Sr., silent for a long time on the other end of the phone, searching for what to say.
"Oh man … oh my God … oh my God," he says from Atlanta, the city he was born near and where he was over the summer, working as a truck driver. "I know he needs me. I know he needs me right now. … I miss him."
Before leaving Clemson, Chambers says she fell in love with Dwayne Morgan Sr., who played on Clemson's offensive line before six seasons in the Canadian Football League, before stints with the Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins, before the tendons tore in his knees.
Shortly after their son's birth, they all lived together in Canada.
"Initially," says Chambers, "I tried to make it work."
In November 1996, after four months in Canada, she was back in Park Heights, living in a two-bedroom apartment and sorting mail at the post office to get by. Her boy was going on 1.
As he grew, she says she'd put him on an airplane each summer to Atlanta to be with his father. Whenever the child argued with her, she'd encourage him to call his father. She'd encourage him to call his father whenever, she says.
"As a single mother, when you know you're doing all that you possibly can, when you're trying to keep those lines of communication open, you get tired," Chambers says.
She stops to dab at the tear lining her cheek.
"I've never been one to down my son about his dad," she says. "He loves his dad with all his heart, but I knew that he would see it for himself."
The summer visits ended when he was 14.