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The best playing out west?

Adam Morrison may be the top player in the game

Posted: Wednesday November 23, 2005 2:49PM; Updated: Wednesday November 23, 2005 11:17PM
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A 'stache-bearing Adam Morrison has Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational finals after posting 43 points in the Zags' epic 109-106 triple-OT win over Michigan State on Tuesday night.
A 'stache-bearing Adam Morrison has Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational finals after posting 43 points in the Zags' epic 109-106 triple-OT win over Michigan State on Tuesday night.
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First, he was the Diabetic Kid. Then, he was the Slow White Kid With the Funky Throwback Game.

Now, he may be the best player in college basketball.

But long before he tossed in a preposterous 43 points in Gonzaga's 109-106 triple-OT classic against Michigan State on Tuesday, Adam Morrison announced himself to the world on his first collegiate touch.

The scene was Madison Square Garden, November 2003, Gonzaga vs. Saint Joseph's on national television. Morrison, a freshman, grabbed a rebound, zipped coast-to-coast and drained a ridiculous fallaway 18-footer. Everyone on press row, the 'Bag included, did a double-take. Who was that guy?

Mo, for his part, remembers that night for something else: Being so clueless that he didn't know any of the Zags' plays. "We were doing this one play and I kept messing it up," he says. "After the fourth time, [Blake Stepp] was like, 'Do you know the f---ing plays?' I go, 'No, I don't.' And he says, 'OK, just go out, get open and shoot.'"

He hasn't stopped shooting since.

It's probably impossible for Mo to top his Michigan State line when Gonzaga meets UConn in the Maui Invite final Wednesday, but who cares? Tuesday's game vaulted him into a select group of players who have the chance to earn a spot in college hoops folklore. (Perhaps the only number more surprising than Morrison's 43 points was his 52 minutes, considering Gonzaga coaches used to worry his diabetes might limit his playing time.) Which brings us to a question from reader Kurt of Ottawa, who writes:

So I see that Gonzaga's Adam Morrison has a moustache. How long does the 'Bag think it will last? And who was the last moustachioed player to win national Player of the Year?

How soon we forget, Kurt: Utah's Andrew Bogut was sporting a droopy 'stache while taking Player of the Year honors last season. Contrary to most observers, we love Mo's mesmerizingly funky new look, which is of a piece with his mesmerizingly funky (and effective) game. In fact, we might just try growing a patchy 'stache of our own (unless the 'Bag Lady catches wind of it and puts a stop to the whole thing).

Anyway, I could write an entire ode to Morrison's unique style, which has had 'NBA' written on it from the moment he landed on the Gonzaga campus two years ago. There's the ultra-high Bird-ian release, of course, but there's also the herky-jerky, put-myself-in-the-right-spot positioning; the money mid-range game; the freakish hoops intuition and the nasty streak that may or may not be related to his fluctuating glucose counts. (Top assistant Billy Grier once told me that when Mo is low on blood sugar, he'll start snapping at teammates and even coaches in practice.) For a guy who's as slow as Houston rap, the kid sure can fill it up.

(Plus, you have to like any guy whose favorite band of all time is Rage Against the Machine.)

On to the 'Bag...

Of all the kind words about Duke in SI's preview, there was one line (in the Enemy Lines scouting report) that cut straight to the heart of every Dookie's fears, because we're secretly thinking the same thing: "Josh McRoberts is very, very good, but so was Shavlik Randolph in high school." The racial aspect of this makes me queasy, but let's face it. Ever since Christian Laettner, we've had a lot of big white guys come in with huge promise and fizzle out in a hurry: Erik Meek (I know, he got hit by a car, so it's not fair), Greg Newton, Taymon Domzalski, Chris Burgess, Randolph. 1) Rank the Duke stiffs in order of disappointment, and 2) Tell me if we should genuinely believe that McRoberts will be different.
-- Devin Gordon, New York City

You left out Crawford Palmer, who somehow won an Olympic silver medal with the French national team in 2000. (Those battles against Freddy Weis in practice must have been epic.) These guys are tough to rank, considering their career stats at Duke are almost all identical (from 4 to 7 points and 3 to 5 rebounds a game), but we'll give it a shot:

1) Randolph. Shav is a good guy who dealt with a ton of injuries and other health issues, but so much more was expected of him. Remember how UNC recruited him by having Michael Jordan pose in a T-shirt that read SHAV COUNTRY?

2) Burgess. He was supposed to be the jewel of the freshman class of '97-98, but then he ran into the buzz saw that was Elton Brand and ended up transferring to Utah.

3) Newton, Domzalski, Meek. I don't remember much about these guys, only that Newton had some cool piercings. None of them had the same hype as the Randolph and Burgess, though.

As for McRoberts, I was surprised during my recent four-day stay in Durham to hear how much the Duke coaches (including Coach K) compared him to a freshman Grant Hill. I don't think they would be doing that if they thought he had a chance to be a stiff. And while McRoberts hasn't lit it up so far in his first three games (averaging 5.3 points and 5.0 boards), I was struck by his smoothness and athleticism during the practices I saw. We'll see if he starts to assert himself more as he gets comfortable with his role.

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