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Grant Wahl
January 19, 2004
Gonzaga's Adam Morrison, who does daily battle with diabetes and the limits of conventional thinking, is a most refreshing freshman
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January 19, 2004

Counter Puncher

Gonzaga's Adam Morrison, who does daily battle with diabetes and the limits of conventional thinking, is a most refreshing freshman

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Do Adam Morrison a favor. Don't make him a poster child. � Check that. Don't make him a poster child for diabetes. Oh, it's part of his life, and he's happy to talk about it, but there are so many other posters you could design for Gonzaga's trippy freshman forward. Revolutionary posters, boxing posters, hoops posters. (Who knows, maybe even a WANTED poster.) Countless basketball players decorate their walls with posters of Larry Bird, but how many hang pictures of Che Guevara and Karl Marx? How many can recite their favorite Allen Ginsberg poem? How many would defend their dormitory's honor in a prizefight one day, then go and drop 20 on Stanford the next?

"You don't want to be stuck in the world of conformity," Morrison says, lounging in his DeSmet Hall dorm room below a red Che banner with the slogan HASTA LA VICTORIA SIEMPRE (Always, until victory). "Some people think I'm a Communist, but I'm not. I just like to see the other-side-of-the-fence point of view." Hand Morrison a copy of Jon Lee Anderson's 813-page book, Che, and the response comes quickly: "Already read it." The Autobiography of Malcolm XI Already read it. The Communist Manifesto? The Wealth of Nations? Read those too.

Talk about throwbacks. Which decade is this kid from anyway? The 1960s? Or the 1840s?

Truth be told, Morrison has been rebelling since he arrived on the Gonzaga campus, which is in his hometown of Spokane. You want subversive? Subversive is infiltrating a senior-dominated rotation, going from surefire redshirt to sure-firing gunner for the No. 16 Bulldogs. Subversive is flying under the recruiting radar, committing to Gonzaga in April 2002 as a 6'4" waif and showing up this past August as a sturdy 6'8" forward (who may still be growing). Most amazing of all, Morrison has crashed the short list of the nation's top freshmen—at week's end he was averaging 12.0 points in just 22.3 minutes a game—while waging war against a deadly disease that afflicts some 18 million Americans.

"We see him as such a vibrant part of our basketball family," says Gonzaga coach Mark Few, "but then you remember: This is a life-threatening deal." That's an easy fact to forget for anyone who is captivated by Morrison's precocious playing style, which is just the way he likes it. "I'm just a normal player with something on the side," he says. "I've never said, 'I have diabetes, so I can't bust my ass on this play.' " His maturity extends to embracing his role as the Zags' sixth man. "We've got five seniors who have put in the time, so I'm better coming off the bench," says Morrison. "My job is to provide energy, rebound and play defense. Scoring is extra. The best advice I ever got was, Don't worry about your numbers."

Well, that's not entirely true, for there are certain numbers that consume Morrison's attention, numbers he depends on for his very survival.

By now Morrison has the routine down cold. Using a spring-loaded lancet, he pricks one of his fingertips and squeezes a drop of blood onto a test strip in a small device called a glucometer. Within five seconds it registers a number. If Morrison's blood sugar level is between 100 and 150 (measured in milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood), he won't do anything. If it's too low, he'll drink some fruit juice or swallow some peanuts or glucose tablets. Too high and he'll pull up his shirt and give himself an insulin shot in the abdomen. There's little unusual about the process—up to a million Americans have type 1 diabetes—except for where it's taking place.

On the Gonzaga bench. During a timeout. In the middle of a game.

"Pit stops," Morrison calls them, and with the help of Bulldogs trainer Steve DeLong he has trimmed the ritual to around 40 seconds, leaving enough time for him to hear last-minute instructions from the coaching staff before returning to the court.

Type 1 diabetics like Morrison have high levels of glucose, the body's major fuel source, because of an autoimmune disorder that renders the pancreas unable to produce insulin, the hormone that pushes glucose out of the blood into the cells of the body. Even with insulin therapy, the disease can be devastating. By age 55, 35% of type 1 victims have died of a heart attack, and in the 15 years after diagnosis 80% suffer significant damage to their eyesight. Type 1 has a strong genetic link, and Morrison counts diabetics on both sides of his family tree. His maternal grandmother, Mae Hames, died at 51 of diabetes complications, while a paternal great-grandfather, Jim Morrison, lost a leg as a result of the disease.

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