Its time to stop sleeping on Dominique Morrison

0 Comments

TULSA – The Summit League is one of the most underrated conferences in the country. They are rarely mentioned when the conversation of the best mid-major league comes up, yet they sit 12th in the league RPI standings and can claim five of the nation’s top 15 scorers. And to get an idea of just how good Oral Roberts was expected to be this season, think about this: not only were the Golden Eagles the overwhelming favorite to win the league, getting 27 of the 32 first place votes, all five of their starters made preseason first or second team all-Summit.

Yet ORU didn’t exactly kick off their season the way many would have liked. They lost to West Virginia in their opener and followed that up with a loss to UT-San Antonio, one that ended any chance they would play in Madison Square Garden in the Preseason NIT.

Something clicked in mid-December, however, and to the outside observer, Oral Roberts can thank the Crosstown Shootout for the turnaround.

The Golden Eagles had lost two out of three heading into that game on December 18th, succumbing to Oklahoma and Gonzaga while needing what may end up being the shot of the year to knock off Arkansas-Little Rock. And they still had to head to the Cintas Center to take on Xavier and host Texas Tech of the Big 12 before kicking off Summit League play with three road games. Throw in the fact that Dominique Morrison, their star forward, was struggling to find his rhythm early on, and the situation was far from ideal.

But ORU smoked the Musketeers, winning 64-42 — a final that didn’t even accurately represent their dominance — against a Xavier team playing without Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons and Dez Wells, following that up with a 16 point win over Texas Tech before jumping out to a 10-0 start in league play.

Head coach Scott Sutton, however, places the credit elsewhere.

“It started with the UALR game,” Sutton said after a 92-83 win over Oakland in front of a raucous Mabee Center. “We didn’t play well in the first half and came back and hit the shot. For that shot to get the attention it did was big. Then we went up to Gonzaga and played well in a loss and beat Xavier.”

“We carried that momentum into the first weekend of conference play.”

With all due respect to Coach Sutton, my money says the spark that changed the Golden Eagle’s season was the change in Morrison.

Over the past month, Morrison has been as good as anyone in the country. In his last 11 games, Morrison is averaging 24.7 ppg and 4.5 rpg while shooting 58.2% from the floor, 60.2% (35-58) from three and 88.2% from the line. Oral Roberts is 11-0 in that stretch. Prior to that stretch, he was averaging 15.1 ppg while shooting a career-low 41.4% from the floor and 23.5% from beyond the arc.

That’s quite a swing.

What changed?

“We had a meeting. Coach told me he didn’t think I was playing up to my abilities,” Morrison said, and it was something that he took to heart. “I had to look my self in the eye and say ‘you aren’t playing up to your abilities.’ I just went to work even harder. I was in the gym even more and was even more dedicated. I was already dedicated but I had to do even more because I knew was letting myself down. … I didn’t want to let my coaching staff down or my team, either.”

Oral Roberts hasn’t lost since.

——————————————————————

Dominique Morrison has made a career out of getting overlooked, and that started well before he enrolled at ORU, a Interdenominational Christian school with an enrollment of less than 4,000 students.

Think about this: Morrison is a guy that is on pace to score more than 2,000 points in his collegiate career, yet he was the fourth — yes, the fourth — option on his AAU team. Normally, this wouldn’t exactly be a glowing compliment for anyone, but Morrison played for Kansas City Pump-n-Run, one of the best AAU programs in the country. Missouri’s Marcus Denmon and Steve Moore and Kansas forward Travis Releford joined Morrison in that team’s starting lineup.

That was a blessing for Sutton, who took advantage of the fact that recruiters from the high-major programs looked past Morrison.

“I think Dominique was a late-bloomer, number one,” Sutton said. “He played on a team like that where he was the fourth option, and I think sometimes kids like that get overlooked.”

There was more to it than simply not getting enough touches. Morrison simply doesn’t look like he’s going to be great athlete. Standing 6’6″, Morrison is long and lanky with big feet and an awkward gait. He’s not really a guard and he’s not really a forward, either, which pigeonholed him in that dreaded “tweener” category. Throw in the dreadlocks that are now hanging down to his shoulders, and its actually not all that difficult to see why the bigger schools in the area passed initially.

Looks can be deceiving, however. So Sutton swooped in, but as it turned out, he didn’t really need to do all that much recruiting.

“The funny thing is, we came down here for the Mullen’s Tournament,” said Morrison, whose accent can hardly be considered a drawl given how fast he can talk. “I was walking around and I was like ‘this place is cool, I can see myself here.’ And my AAU coach was like ‘you know they’re recruiting you?'”

He didn’t.

“Coach came to watch me play when I was here, and coach kept watching me and watching me. Then I came down here on a visit, and I fell in love. But I also saw them play when I was a junior and senior in high school and I saw Caleb Greene play for two years. That attracted me a lot too. But when I came down here, I fell in love.”

Morrison isn’t exaggerating when he says he fell in love, either.

He signed with ORU prior to his senior year in high school and proceeded to have a sensational final season. He averaged 25.6 ppg and 6.0 rpg, leading Raytown HS to a season-long No. 1 ranking in the state of Missouri and an undefeated regular season; they eventually were knocked off in the state playoffs.

In the process, he caught the eye of a couple of programs that realized they whiffed on a talent in their backyard.

“After we signed him early in that period, he went on and had just an outstanding senior year,” Sutton said. “I think a lot of folks, Big 12 folks included, were like ‘man, we may have made a mistake. He’s a heck of a player.'”

Sutton thought right.

“When I had already signed, Missouri started showing me interest,” Morrison said, “but it was too late. My mother was like ‘No, you’re going to Oral Roberts’, so I didn’t even think about it. I didn’t second guess anyway.”

“Missouri was my dream school but I fell in love with Oral Roberts. Dreams go away, but love stays.”

——————————————————————

The main reason that Morrison is such a dangerous player is his efficiency.

Simply put, he doesn’t take bad shots. Its incredible when you watch him play. He doesn’t force the issue at all. Everything that he gets comes in the flow of the Oral Roberts’ offense. Whether he’s being isolated on the block of running off of a double-screen, Morrison doesn’t need to dribble the ball 15 times and dominate possession in order to manufacture a good shot.

Defining Morrison as a “tweener” is probably accurate, but it would be unfair to associate him with the negative connotations that go along with that word. Morrison can step out and hit a three and he can also be effective when he catches the ball with his back to the basket. But where he thrives is in the mid-range. He is pull-up jumper is lethal. He’s got a soft touch and his length, athleticism and high-release point allows him to get the shot off regardless of the defense that is being played on him. He’s also dangerous when he’s allowed to curl off of a down-screen.

His game is reminiscent of Texas A&M’s Khris Middleton, only Morrison is a touch more athletic and has a head of hair that would make the Marleys jealous.

Heading into Saturday’s game, Morrison was second in the country in efficiency rating for players considered major contributors (those that use at least 24% of their team’s possessions), behind only Weber State’s Damian Lillard and ahead of tempo-free favorites Mike Scott and Doug McDermott. But after scoring 24 points on 14 shots against Oakland, Morrison was no longer second on that list.

Why?

Because his usage rate dropped too far. Morrison may be the best player on ORU’s team, but he’s too efficienct and unselfish to actually be considered a “major contributor” to the stat-heads.

“He doesn’t force shots,” Sutton said. “He played IUPUI and he only had 12 points. He wasn’t going out there and tried to out duel Alex Young, who he was guarding. He scored a bunch of points, but he worked for every bucket he got.”

The game that Sutton is referring too happened last Saturday. Alex Young is a star guard for IUPUI and one of the five players that is averaging more than 20 ppg. Morrison, in the midst of this month-long hot streak, spent all 34 of the minutes that he was on the court guarding Young. Young went for 27 points, although it took his 27 shots to get there.

Morrison?

He had only 12 points, allowing his teammates to do the damage when defenses focused on him instead of worrying about getting drawn into a one-on-one shootout with the conference’s Preseason Player of the Year.

“Its all about taking good shots,” he said. “The coaches get mad when we take bad shots. I don’t look to force shots. If its there, its there, but if not, I’ll pass the ball.”

That’s part of why Oral Roberts is able to thrive. Morrison doesn’t need to have the ball in his hands on every possession for this group to win, and he understands that. In the game we saw, Warren Niles snapped out of his season-long shooting funk to get for 27 points and hit 7-12 from long range. Michael Craion, Steven Rountree and Damen Bell-Holter are all capable of going for 20 and 10 on a given night. Roderick Pearson has a knack for making big plays for this team.

There is plenty of talent on the ORU roster, and Morrison knows that. He embraces the fact that, at times, he’s the most valuable playing the role of decoy.

“He’s a great team guy, he’s a guy that its not all about him,” Sutton said. “I think he’s developed into a very good leader. The best thing I can say about him is he’s just a winner. He’s one of the biggest competitors I’ve ever coached. Whether its playing Oakland or playing a pickup game, he just wants to win.”

——————————————————————

Despite the season that he is having, I’d be willing to bet that there are a very limited number of fans outside of Tulsa that know who Dominique Morrison is. The number of experts that would be able to break down his skill-set probably isn’t all that much higher.

That’s part of the problem with playing in the Summit League. The games aren’t on national TV. The game we went to was broadcast on tape delay on a local Fox Sports channel. That’s part of the reason that, despite the way he has been playing over the last month, no one seems to mention his name.

Not even the efficiency gurus seem to have embraced Morrison, even though he is precisely the kind of player that they would love.

“He’s played as well as anybody in the country the last month,” Sutton said. “You look at his stats over the last three or four weeks, and its pretty amazing.”

After the game, reporters had to wait a good 45 minutes to get a chance to interview Morrison.

This had nothing to do with Morrison’s ego, mind you. This wasn’t the result of a player getting a big head. He wasn’t hurt. He wasn’t even showering.

He had actually spent the entire time up in the Mabee Center’s main concourse, signing autographs and taking pictures in a school-sponsored event. After signing around 250-300 posters that were given out at the game — and countless other pieces of memorabilia, including one kid’s hand — Morrison finally made his way down to the press room.

“Everybody loves me,” Morrison said with a smile that didn’t off as sheepish as much as it did a kid that’s living in the moment. When you play at Oral Roberts, its not every day that you get showered with adulation. What kind of person wouldn’t eat up that moment and that attention? “They started clapping when I walked up.”

“I’m not trying to put myself on a pedestal, but when I was walking around up there everyone was saying they’re going to miss me. I am going to miss being here. I love being here. It was a different thing, it was a culture shock how nice people are. I’ve never been a part of this, people just opening up doors for you and always speaking. It changed me as a man, it helped me grow up.”

The kid that always gets overlooked was finally getting the attention he deserves.

Now its time to wait for the rest of the nation to catchup.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

ncaa
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
2 Comments

The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
2 Comments

SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

uconn
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
0 Comments

STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.