Well-traveled youngster Darius Morris getting a chance in Brooklyn
By Steve Simineri
The Brooklyn Nets announced that Deron Williams fractured the cartilage portion of his 12th rib on the left side during Wednesday night’s embarrassing loss to the lowly Boston Celtics. He is out indefinitely and the Nets are left with just Jarrett Jack and Darius Morris to keep the position occupied. Jack, however, has played a ton of minutes lately – to the point where coach Lionel Hollins held him out of practice Thursday, which means the 24-year old Morris will get a chance to play more.
“All I can say is we’re going to play Darius Morris some more because he’s on the roster,” Hollins said.
Morris, a 2011 second-round pick who is on his fifth team in four seasons, hails from Los Angeles, California. He attended a small private high school in Mar Vista, called Windward Preparatory School, where he became close friends with Malcolm Washington, aka “Denzel’s son,” and helped lead the Wildcats to four straight league championships, a California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Southern-Section Championship, and a Division-5 California State Boys Basketball Championship.
Despite being recruited by traditional basketball powerhouses like Kentucky and Arizona, as well as USC, Morris chose Michigan — a low-end Big Ten program that by the time he signed hadn’t made the NCAA tournament in more than 10 years. He was Coach John Beilein’s first major recruit, but he struggled mightily his freshman year, averaging only 4.4 points and 2.6 assists as Michigan finished 15-17 despite beginning the season ranked in the top 25.
During his sophomore campaign, he was named to the All-Big 10 Third Team after averaging 15.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game, and helped the Wolverines to a 21-14 record and a trip to the NCAA Tournament third round. He recorded the largest margin of improvement in scoring in the Big Ten, jumping from 4.4 points per game as a freshman to a team-best 15.0 per game this past season. Additionally, he broke the U-M season record for assists with 235, becoming just the third Wolverine to record 200-plus assists in a season.
Many thought that another year in college would have catapulted Morris into the first round of the 2012 draft, but he ultimately decided to enter the draft after his sophomore season. Some expected the 6-foot-4 guard to be a late first-round pick, but he dropped to the 41st overall pick where he was selected by his hometown Lakers. It’s was a “special” feeling to be drafted by the team he rooted for growing up, especially after spending so much time away from his family during college.
“It was kind of surreal leaving L.A. to go to Michigan, and then getting drafted back with my family there and everything was a pretty cool experience,” said Morris, who made his first visit to the Lakers’ training facility as a 12 year old, when he tagged along to watch his older brother DeWayne tryout for the team. “I learned a lot there, especially from Kobe and those guys and the coaches that I had while I was there. It was a just a good overall experience.”
As a rookie he appeared in 19 games, averaging 2.4 points and 1.1 assists in 8.9 minutes per game. He also saw action in the D-League and in four playoff games, scoring 10 points in eight minutes. In his second season, Morris appeared in 48 games (17 starts), averaging 4.0 points, 1.2 rebounds, and 1.6 assists in 14.2 minutes per game. In the 2013 playoffs’ first round, with the Lakers dealing with a slew of injuries, Morris scored 24 points and had six assists in Game 3 against the San Antonio Spurs. It was the best game of his career and he averaged 10.5 points as the Lakers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs with Kobe Bryant recovering from surgery.
In the off-season, Morris left L.A. for Philadelphia because the 76ers offered him a partially guaranteed contract and he thought he’d have a better opportunity with the rebuilding Sixers. Instead, Morris was buried behind two other point guards also acquired by the Sixers last summer: First-round draft pick Michael Carter-Williams and Tony Wroten. After 12 games with the 76ers, averaging 6.9 points and 2.6 assists in 16.1 minutes, Morris was released.
He then signed two 10-day contracts with the Los Angeles Clippers, appearing in 10 games, and one 10-day contract with the Memphis Grizzlies, seeing action in five games. He finished the season in the D-League, where he averaged 17.1 points, 6.7 assists and 4.3 rebounds in 29.3 minutes per game over nine appearances with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the D-League.
“The D-League was just a really humbling experience. Being in the league and going to the D-League is kind of different in terms of everything else, the travel and the competition,” said Morris, who exploded for 51 points and 18 assists in an overtime playoff loss against the Iowa Energy, the latter a single-game playoff record. “I think that’s where I really built a lot of character.”
In July, Morris joined the defending champion San Antonito Spurs for Summer League, and a few weeks later the Portland Trail Blazers signed him to a non-guaranteed contract, but he was among the team’s final cuts. About a month ago the Nets picked him up to help fill the third point guard void left by Jorge Gutierrez who was shipped along with Andrei Kirilenko to the 76ers. On Wednesday his contract was effectively guaranteed for the rest of the season, and he now has a prime chance to show why he belongs in this league.
“Everything that happened to me good and bad is just a part of my development process,” Morris told me in the Nets locker-room. “I like to look at it like a movement and I just keep moving through it. So hopefully every time somebody sees me out there in a situation they can say I’ve gotten better or he looks a lot better than he used to.”