I had a chance to sit down with Monté Morris last week before he went home to Flint, Michigan for a few weeks. He’s certainly going to be someone that continues to grow on the national stage as is evidenced by his inclusion on ESPN.com’s “point guards to watch” list. I think we all feel confident saying that the future is bright with the ball in Morris’ hands.
In this Q&A he answers a number of questions, everything from his thoughts before his first start to his relationship with DeAndre Kane.
Q: Reflect on your freshman season, what did you learn or take away from the year?
Morris: I learned a lot, especially from Kane. Playing behind him for the early part of the season and then with him later, I just watched how he orchestrated the offense. I tried to see how he went about things so I could learn how to get my shots and create for others. You can learn a lot just by watching how he plays the game.
I also learned how to impact the game in other ways than scoring. Impact the game on the defensive end, get stops and get out in transition. I took a lot away from the season but one of the biggest things was how to impact the game by the things I do.
Q: You talked about your relationship with DeAndre. What was the most important thing that you learned from him?
Morris: He taught me a lot of things. One of the biggest things was how to keep my poise out there.
He told me early that all freshmen hit a wall. You know, he hit a wall as a freshman and he said when you hit a wall you just have to keep playing.
DeAndre talked to me early in the season when we were in Hawaii. That’s when I hit my wall. I was second-guessing myself and was scared to make plays. He pulled me aside and said “You’ll be fine, conference play is coming up and you’re just going to play your game and be fine.”
Then in the first conference game I had a big game against Texas Tech and we kind of just went from there.
DeAndre had a lot of knowledge about the game and it helped me throughout the year.
Q: Is that something you look forward to with Clayton Custer coming in?
Morris: Yeah, because I know it is going to be rough early on. It was rough for Matt and I. Even off the court things, like the workouts, you can’t really prepare for this stuff. I thought I was prepared. I did so much stuff and still wasn’t ready for this. I’m ready to talk to Clayton if he needs me and I’d be willing to give him advice since I have been there.
Q: What is the most important thing that Coach Hoiberg taught you last season?
Morris: Everything. He showed me things that I didn’t know coming into college basketball. He taught me how much spacing can stretch the defense. He taught me how to play with tempo, how to trust my instincts and play through all adversity. Coach keeps me calm with his demeanor. He told me after the season that he wants me to play the same way I did, but to be more aggressive. I need to be calm because when I am, my teammates are too.
Q: You talk about being aggressive. It seemed like when Niang was hurt you really became more aggressive.
Morris: It was something that I knew I had to do. When Georges went out, DeAndre and Melvin brought me to the side and said “somebody has to step up.” They knew I was capable of doing more and helping with the scoring a little bit. They wanted me to come in, play my game and know that whatever shot I took they were going to ride with me whether it went in or not. That confidence from those guys really boosted my confidence.
Q: Let’s go back to your first start vs. Oklahoma on Feb. 1. What do you remember about that game?
Morris: I found out that Friday that I would be in the starting lineup. Coach talked to me at practice at Hilton and told me he was going to start me. I had a little bit of nerves that night, just knowing that I am about to start and my name is going to be up there and my face on the scoreboard. It was a goal that I had on my wall in high school, starting as a freshman in college. It is something I can check off on my wall when I get home.
I was a little nervous but I hit my first three-pointer and everything was good. I was ready to go in Big 12 play every night.
Q: You talk about that wall with your goals. What is something you hope to check off for next year?
Morris: Another goal I had was winning the Big 12 Tournament. We won that so that was good. I don’t really have a lot of individual goals because I am a team guy first. Of course, I want to win the national championship and being ranked in the top-5 in the country is another one.
Individually, leading the nation in something, which I did that. Next year, why not lead the country in assists? That would be good.
Q: What was the biggest adjustment to playing at this level?
Morris: For me it was finishing. In high school you aren’t going against guys with size like you are at college. For me it was getting in there and finishing my shots. The game pace is a little faster. It helped me being matched up with DeAndre all summer. Got me ready for the way the game is played.
Q: What are you going to focus on this summer?
Morris: I’m going to work on getting my shot off quicker, coming off pick and rolls. How Steph Curry does it. Just that one dribble and straight up into my shot. I need to get my rhythm better offensively. I need to keep working on my foot speed because I’m going to still be chasing those guys around on defense.
Q: Breaking the assist-to-turnover ratio as a freshman. Is that something you take pride in?
Morris: It was a great accomplishment. I didn’t even know it was a record until I started seeing it on Twitter. Then I was like “man, I’m really doing something special here.” As a child, it was preached to me to take care of the ball. My coaches that were at Madison Square Garden, they taught me when I was little to take care of the basketball. If I had two turnovers early they were bringing me to the bench. It was instilled in my early and I take pride in taking care of the ball.
Editor’s note: Morris had more than two turnovers in a game just once as a freshman. That was against UNC Wilmington in his first career game when he had three turnovers. He had 18 games with no turnovers.
Q: Talk about the future. With the guys coming back, what are your hopes for the team?
Morris: The sky is the limit. We are trying to win every game. Naz and I talked after we lost to UCONN. I said after that game that we need to focus on defense. Adding a rim protector like Jameel (McKay), we have no reason to give up 100 points like we did at West Virginia. We are going to try to get to that big stage, the Final Four, and play on.
Q: Tell us about McKay’s game.
Morris: He’s like DeAndre Jordan of the L.A. Clippers. He plays above the rim. You’ll see me and him in a lot of pick and roll situations, lobs and all that. He’s a great shot blocker. Even if he doesn’t block the shot he’s going to alter shots.
Q: What about Abdel Nader’s game?
Morris: He can score the ball. He fills it up, quick. We play pickup games and go to 11. Abdel will have seven because he has a knack for scoring. With a guy like that and the other shooters we have, I’m just going to be out there having fun. I can’t wait. We have a great team coming back.
Q: And then Bryce Dejean-Jones?
Morris: Bryce has so much bounce. You look at his Twitter picture and half his arm is above the rim. He got a dunk when he was here that shocked me. He can go off the dribble and shoot the ball. We are looking for big things from Bryce.
Q: I’ve seen you tweet #LobCity. Is that what we are going to be calling it next season?
Morris: Yeah, we have to get that going. We’ve got to get Hilton Coliseum hoppin’. It’s going to be great.
Follow Shoultz on Twitter, @mjshoultz.