Terence Morris could do without the attention. If the microphones, video cameras and tape recorders never were pointed in his direction, he would not care less.
And last season, even though he probably was the second-best player on a Maryland men's basketball team that spent the entire winter ranked among the nation's top 10, he could hide. That team had Steve Francis, the electrifying guard from Takoma Park who swooped in from a junior college and became the second player selected in the 1999 NBA draft. That team also had Obinna Ekezie, Laron Profit and Terrell Stokes, four-season mainstays who had grown accustomed to the media.
However, with those four gone, it already has become impossible for Morris, a slender, 6-foot-9 junior forward, to escape national notice this fall. He was one of five players voted to the Associated Press preseason all-American team, and he was selected the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason player of the year.
Unlike many players who go on to such acclaim, Morris didn't come to college having received this type of exposure throughout his basketball career. He didn't even start for his middle school team. He didn't attend any of those big-time summer camps that are sponsored by the sneaker companies. His high school wasn't perennially ranked among the nation's best.
Now, whether he likes it, he will be at the vortex of one of the nation's most visible college teams.
The attention "doesn't really matter," Morris said last week. "That's something that I got a little comfortable doing the last few years, talking to the media after games. It's not a big problem. I don't mind talking to the media after games. But if I had a choice not to, I probably wouldn't."
He also would not mind if strangers did not approach him at the mall to say hello or ask for his autograph. Morris obliges, and his mother thinks the oldest of her seven children is becoming more outgoing -- though that is relative .
"I think he is starting to open up a lot, but he is really shy," Roxanne Bright said. "If you know Terence, you know he doesn't talk a lot. That's how he always was."
A Game Built on Timing
On the court, Morris lets his play do the talking, although he did share a chest bump with freshman teammate Steve Blake after making a basket while being fouled during an exhibition game last week.
Like his off-court demeanor, his game usually is quiet. He makes things look easy. He has the ability to look smooth and unhurried, while at the same time accomplishing things very quickly. When the Terrapins run sprints at the end of practice, Morris never looks to be going full speed, yet he is always one of the first to finish. He is so versatile that he can play shooting guard, either of the forward positions or center, and Williams has discussed letting him bring the ball upcourt if necessary this season. Many times, his full impact on a game does not become clear until the final box score is available.
In an exhibition game Nov. 9, Morris finished with 34 points and 20 rebounds. "I walked off the court thinking he had 20 [points] and maybe 10 rebounds," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "... The way he dominated [that game], it was the weirdest domination I've ever seen."
Though it never appeared he was forcing the issue last season, Morris averaged 15.3 points per game -- second on the team -- and led the team in rebounding (7.1 per game), blocked shots (2.3 per game), field goal percentage (.554) and free throw percentage (.825).
"He is so smooth," Williams said. "There are some older players like Bobby Dandridge and George Gervin that played that way. They just had that timing thing. Terence has unbelievable timing. A lot of guys are good rebounders, but Terence always seems to be at the peak of his jump when the ball comes off the glass. That's not something you can teach. And he seems to get his shot off when the defense isn't ready to react. He has this timing that throws off the defense."
Morris has worked to build strength. He is up to 220 pounds, 20 more than he weighed as a freshman, and with his size and ability to play anywhere on the court, Williams said he is similar to Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett. Still, Williams thinks Morris can improve.
"When he gets to 240 [pounds], look out," Williams said. "As he gets more strength, you won't be able to stop him going to the basket, because he's so quick. Right now, you can stop him if you can bump him and get away with it. It's physical out there."
Big-Time Talent's Low Profile
While it might seem that basketball came easy for Terence Morris, it didn't. While attending East Frederick (Md.) Elementary School, he was known simply as the tall kid who couldn't play. As a seventh- and eighth-grader at Monocacy Middle School in Frederick, he was not good enough to start for the school's basketball team, where Cornelius Williams, now a 6-11 junior center at North Carolina State, was the star.
In fact, very little was easy for Morris, who did much of the cooking and cleaning for his siblings while his mother worked two jobs to make ends meet in a single-parent household.
By the time Morris was a freshman at Frederick's Thomas Johnson High School, Cornelius Williams had moved to Alabama because his mother had been transferred to a different job. Still, Morris was not an immediate star, playing on the junior varsity as a freshman before moving to the varsity for a brief playoff appearance.
Williams does not remember the details of when he first saw Morris play, only that he went to scout another player in a summer league game and that Morris, then in the summer before his junior year of high school, caught his attention.
"The same thing happened with Joe Smith -- you go to see one guy play and you find another guy you like," Williams said.
In the fall of Morris's junior year, he, his mother and his hogh school coach, Tom Dickman, went to Col-lege Park to meet with Williams.
Soon after that meeting, Morris announced he would attend Maryland, becoming one of the earliest commitments Maryland had ever received. Unencumbered by the usual college recruiting crush, he began gaining acclaim as a high school junior, then became a Parade all-American as a senior.
On Court, Second to None
During his first season at Maryland, he was the Terrapins' top reserve and averaged 7.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. Last season, with Francis grabbing the headlines, Morris doubled his production. And when Morris made a game-winning, 18-foot jumper to give Maryland an 81-79 overtime victory at Clemson in late January and tied his career best with 26 points on 9-of-12 shooting, it was obvious Maryland had two stars. The notion was confirmed when Francis and Morris were voted to the all-ACC first team, just the second time in conference history that two Maryland players had been so honored in the same season (John Lucas and Len Elmore were selected in 1973-74).
Morris also began to open up -- at least to people in the program.
Said Williams: "I knew I'd gotten to know Terence pretty well when he came in the office one day and he said hello to me instead of me having to say hello to him. That's just his personality. [But] when he gets on the court, he's got a little cockiness to him, like all good players do. He doesn't back up and he's not afraid to say something once in a while if somebody is bothering him or whatever. I like that about his game."
When Francis announced in April that he was entering the NBA draft, there was some speculation Morris would do the same. But Morris said leaving at that point would not set a good example for his younger siblings, and Williams said he thinks Morris just enjoys being in college.
"Terence values things in college that most people take for granted," Williams said.
So here is Morris, back at Maryland. He suffered a broken bone in his left foot early in the summer, but the injury has healed. Outwardly, little seems to have changed as he tries to continue avoiding the spotlight. Away from the cameras and the microphones, he is among the first players on the team to pull a prank and he often can be found playing football video games or card games against teammates or team managers.
While Morris limits interviews as much as possible, Maryland's sports publicists are doing their best to make Morris well-known. Among their work is having a Web site dedicated to promoting him -- www.terencemorris.com.
"He is so interesting that you could write a novel on him, but he won't give you more than a paragraph," said Maryland center Mike Mardesich, who roomed last season with Morris and then-senior guard Terrell Stokes. "You guys [the media] don't really know him at all. With us, he'll be the first one to cut up. He's really funny and one of the nicest kids you'll meet."