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By the time he was old enough to walk, Adam Morrison was shooting foam-rubber balls at cardboard hoops with surprisingly good form, if not accuracy. "He had a pretty nice follow-through even then," says his dad, John. So it's not surprising that Morrison, a 6'8" junior forward, has taken over as Gonzaga's top scoring threat.
Though he was just a sophomore and the Zags had senior forward Ronny Turiaf, who would eventually be drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers, Morrison emerged as the go-to guy last season, especially with the game on the line. In the first round of the NCAA tournament he rescued the third-seeded Zags from a scare against 14th-seed Winthrop with clutch three-point shooting and drives to the basket down the stretch of a 74-64 win. "I was calling his number every time down the floor," says coach Mark Few. "When he's [hot] like that you have to give him the ball because he can score in a number of different ways."
Once everyone's favorite tournament Cinderella, Gonzaga has become one of the elite programs at which other dark horses now take aim, and Morrison, who downplays comparisons with his childhood idol, Larry Bird--"We're both slow and ugly," he says--faces a similar transition. "I might have had a little element of surprise before," he says, "but I'm sure this year teams will make me a little more of a target."
That extra attention shouldn't slow him down. Morrison, who led the Zags with 19.0 points per game last season, has handled bigger obstacles, including being diagnosed as a diabetic in the eighth grade. When he's not playing, he wears an insulin pump attached to his abdomen, eliminating the need for shots. He also keeps close tabs on his blood-sugar levels and sticks to a strict diet. "It's a pain sometimes," he says, "but it's the hand I've been dealt."
The Zags have an All-West Coast Conference point guard (junior Derek Raivio, who hit 45.8% of his threes last year), a tough inside force (6'9", 269-pound center J.P. Batista) and a lockdown defender (guard Erroll Knight, the conference defensive player of the year). But at crunch time they'll undoubtedly turn to Morrison. "I've always wanted the ball at the end," he says. "If we lose, I want it to be my fault." Something else that he and Bird have in common.
Coach Mark Few relies on Spokane products, such as Adam Morrison and Sean Mallon, but he has recently tapped Brazil ( J.P. Batista), Canada (Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes), France ( Ronny Turiaf) and Australia (Axel Dench).