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Putting the muscle in Michigan: The rise of Showtime Morgan

BY LUKE PASCH
Daily Sports Writer
Published February 13, 2011

Jordan Morgan savors this moment.

He just set a pick at the top of the key for his point guard Darius Morris, and the play worked to perfection. As Morris dribbled around the screen, Morgan’s defender made the switch to cover him, but Morris’s man didn’t switch off. By the time the defense notices, it’s far too late — Morgan has already rolled back down to the post, all alone, waving his arms frantically enough for Morris to notice, but quietly enough to lull the Indiana defense to sleep.

Morris rockets a no-look scoop pass around both defenders and hits Morgan in the chest. And now, with the rock in his hands, everything slows down. The pick and roll didn’t take more than two seconds, but with open space and the rim above him, Morgan takes his sweet time and makes sure he has your undivided attention.

He waits for all five Hoosier defenders to whip their heads around and groan in frustration — they’ve scrutinized this play a hundred times in film study, but they still can’t stop it.

The typically raucous fans that pack Assembly Hall become eerily silent, just how Morgan likes them. As he squares to the basket, he makes sure he can hear the photographers snapping away on the baseline, ready for tomorrow’s front-page shot.

Yeah, I’ll get the photographers paid with this dunk.

He lifts off, the ball held in a deadbolt grip with both hands held high above his head, and he slams it through the hoop.

Morris and the rest of the Wolverines are jogging backcourt to play defense, but for Morgan, there are too many people watching for the play to be over so soon.

All 6-foot-8, 240 pounds of the redshirt freshman center hang on the rim for an extra second — long enough for him to lean his back into it and have his feet fly up in the air like he’s a kid again, swinging on the monkey bars with his brothers. But when you look at his face, you don’t see the infectious smile he sported on the playground as a child — you see someone pissed off, someone trying to make a point.

Jordan Morgan doesn’t just dunk for two points on the scoreboard. He dunks to deflate his opponents and make sure they pay a price for leaving him unguarded in the post, even for a split second. He dunks to prove that he didn’t peak in high school like so many said he would. He dunks to show he belongs in Division I, playing with the big boys.

And maybe, just maybe, they’ll realize my teammates don’t call me Showtime Morgan for nothing.

***

Jordan and his father, Jim, used to wrestle in the living room of their Detroit home.

But those days came to an abrupt end when Jordan was 16 years old, and his mother Meredith came home one day to an unpleasant surprise.

“We kind of awkwardly body slammed each other at the same time, kind of just landed on the couch,” Jordan said. “I heard a piece of wood snap, and just looked at my dad, really worried. My mom was pretty mad.”

It was the last time Jordan and Jim tussled at home, and in hindsight, Jim admits that accidentally breaking the couch was probably for the better — Jordan was getting too big for him to handle. Entering high school, he was already 6-foot-6 and drawing attention from some of the top basketball programs in the nation.

Gonzaga knew Jordan well — they’d been sending him letters since eighth grade. Xavier jumped on board soon after. And in his freshman year of high school, as Michigan State made its run to the 2006 NCAA Tournament (only to become the first victim in George Mason’s Cinderella run to the Final Four), he was contacted several times by Spartan coach Tom Izzo.

But to the surprise of the family doctor and to the dismay of recruit-hungry coaches, Jordan didn’t grow much in high school. He topped off at 6-foot-8, and gradually, his sky-is-the-limit label came crashing down to earth.

“I talked to Izzo for a while, and I went to a couple football games there my freshman year,” Jordan remembers. “He told me that he doesn’t recruit people he doesn’t feel have NBA potential.