On April 2, a few days before the Final Four, Engineering graduate student Jordan Morgan was supposed to be on a plane to Dallas. That was the plan, anyway.
But as consolations go, an acknowledgement from the President of the United States, Barack Obama, isn’t too bad.
“I want to congratulate Jordan,” Obama said, before mentioning Morgan’s undergraduate degree in engineering and the master’s degree in manufacturing engineering that Morgan will receive next month. “That’s the kind of student-athlete we’re talking about.”
Obama was visiting Ann Arbor in attempts to rally support for increasing minimum wage, an issue which hit close to home for Morgan.
“I’d like to take my manufacturing education and really commit to making a difference within urban communities, to find a way to implement sustainable manufacturing that would provide livable wages, not just minimum-job wages, but actually address the issue of the corporate structure of most companies in the United States, where you’ve currently got a majority of workers fighting for what’s left — the scraps,” Morgan said.
His talk is big — a daunting challenge, it seems, but Morgan lays it all out smoothly. He knows a thing or two about being doubted.
After committing to Michigan as a high school junior in December 2007, Morgan had to listen to experts and fans alike say that he didn’t belong in Ann Arbor. Even though the Wolverines, at the time of his pledge, hadn’t made an NCAA Tournament in nearly a decade, it was a near-consensus that his size and athleticism were better suited for his next-best offer, Central Michigan.
Morgan faced the same questions — welcomed them, even, to prove a point — until the day his playing career ended. Time and again, Morgan answered his doubters, to the tune of 120 starts in a program-record 140 games played, a 62.7 percent field goal mark — also a Michigan record. Now, a month away from graduation, Morgan has won more games — 118 — than all but two Wolverines.
What he gave up in stature — he was undersized in nearly every game he played, often by three-to-four inches and thirty-to-forty pounds — he compensated for by being the smartest and hardest worker on the floor. Never consumed in individual statistics, his prize accolade was being named first-team All-Big Ten Defensive last season.
He recently signed with an agent and plans to play professionally, likely overseas.
He’ll leave Michigan not as a superstar, but with a legacy. Following in the line of Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., Morgan will be the last player that we can point to and say, ‘He laid the foundation for what is now an elite-level basketball program.’
“In the last five years, I’ve really changed the way I want to go about my life,” Morgan said. “I’m so different than when I got here. As a person, my focus on life is so much less about myself than when I got here.”
While the Wolverines will play on without him, Morgan’s time rebuilding in the state isn’t over. When his professional playing career is over — when that is, not even he knows — he’ll return to the town that raised him to embark on a challenge much larger than resurrecting a fallen basketball program.
“Being from Detroit, seeing all the hurt — it’s so barren in some areas, so many homeless people, high school students not valuing education — it’s hard to see all that and understand why,” Morgan said. “But then, when there’s no type of economy to support really anything in these communities, that leads to struggle.”
“That would be the main focus of anything I do.”
In that journey, too, he’s bound to hear from the critics again. They’ll tell him, ‘You can’t,’ but, just like he did so often these past five years, he’ll answer with humility, a smug grin and powerful results.