Ex-Lakers pick Darius Morris, an L.A. product, seeks his NBA foothold

Written By kolimtiga on Kamis, 11 September 2014 | 12.56

There is a fine line between carving out a niche in the NBA and becoming just another young ex-player. At 23, Darius Morris, the former Lakers and Clippers guard, is close to the tipping point.

After being drafted in the second round by the Lakers in 2011, he played two seasons for them. Last season, though, he sped through stints with three NBA teams and closed the year in the Development League. The Portland Trail Blazers signed Morris to a non-guaranteed contract, so he'll go to training camp competing with seven other guards and is a longshot to make the team.

With the way his basketball career has gone, though, Morris has learned that the only way to advance is to focus on the things he can control.

"I haven't given up because I've been in situations like this before," Morris said. "I always have the faith that with my hard work, one day I'll find the right situation for me, with people that believe in me. That's what motivated me, no matter how many cards are stacked against me, no matter how many coaches I have, how many teams I've been on, no matter how many opportunities where they chose someone else. Just keep pushing."

Before Morris started his freshman year at Windward High, he told people he'd be able to dunk and that his team was going to win the state championship before he graduated.

Never mind that he then weighed around 100 pounds and could barely touch the bottom of the net. Or that his Windward coach, Miguel Villegas, said that Morris was "fragile" and had to shoot the ball two-handed to build up enough power.

In his junior year, Morris dunked for the first time. His senior year, Windward won the state championship.

Morris grew up in Carson, and Windward is in Los Angeles' Mar Vista neighborhood. School started at 8 a.m., but the commute doubled if Morris left his house later than 7 a.m. Plus, his father had to get to work at the post office in Venice. Morris got to school around 6:30 a.m. Some days he beat the janitor, and would have to wait outside for the gym to open.

The hard work continued at Michigan, where Morris became Coach John Beilein's first major recruit. The school is a perennial power now, but the Wolverines went 15-17 in Morris' freshman year, 2009-10.

Michigan started the next season 1-7 in Big Ten Conference play. Morris now says that if Michigan hadn't turned its season around, there "definitely would have been some changes at the end of the year."

So Morris headed back to where he was in control — the gym. Before class, he would run a mile to the basketball arena and make 500 shots. It was the same routine after class and team practice. On weekends, he'd shoot some more. Beilein had to tell Morris that he wasn't allowed to sleep in the facility.

After starting Big Ten play in that slump, Beilein adjusted his system to capitalize on Morris' talents in the pick and roll. Michigan went on a tear and finished fourth in the Big Ten, while Morris led the team with 15 points per game. A Wall Street Journal study found that Morris either scored or assisted in 53% of Michigan's total scoring output.

After two seasons at Michigan, Morris entered the NBA draft. Some expected the 6-foot-4 guard to be a late first-round draft pick. But he dropped to the 41st overall pick and was selected by his hometown Lakers. His two seasons with the team had their ups and downs, as the Lakers adjusted to the Mike Brown-Mike D'Antoni coaching eras. Morris was in the rotation, then assigned to the D-League, then was up again.

His older teammates helped put things in perspective. Kobe Bryant, whom Morris calls an older-brother figure, taught him that even the best players have to fight through personal battles. He learned court vision from Steve Nash. Defense from Metta World Peace. Professionalism from Derek Fisher.

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, but the Lakers were blown out and would be swept in the series.

Morris left L.A. for Philadelphia last season because the 76ers offered him a partially guaranteed contract. He played just 12 games for the 76ers, though, then had two 10-day contracts with the Clippers and another 10-day stint with the Memphis Grizzlies. He finished the season in the D-League, where he tallied 51 points and 18 assists in an overtime playoff game, the latter a single-game playoff record.

Morris is a tall point guard and is considered a good perimeter defender, but his shooting (39.9% from the field in 94 career games) needs work. He could score in the paint in college, but it's harder to create that separation without a consistent jumper in the NBA.

Whatever happens in his fourth pro season, Morris says he'll be prepared for it. He's been here before, and has learned that there are gyms everywhere.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

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