KING OF PRUSSIA, Pa. — Dwayne Morgan knew he had elevated his basketball game to another level two years ago when he finally dunked on an unlikely challenger: his mother.
The act would have been an odd show of affection if his mother were not a 6-foot-6 former Clemson center who responded with a smile. Having once ended her own career after two college seasons because she lost the love for the game, Tabitha Chambers was delighted to see her only child play with such passion.
“Mentally,” Chambers said, “I was trying to prepare him.”
Now 6-7, Morgan showcased the same on-court demeanor — this time against male teenagers — during the recent Under Armour Hoop Group Jam Fest outside Philadelphia, where he sprang off legs as thin and explosive as pogo sticks to block shots and convert dunks in front of a crowd that at times included hundreds of college coaches.
Ranked as the nation’s eighth-best small-forward prospect in the high school class of 2014 according to Scout.com, the Baltimore City College sophomore already has scholarship offers from North Carolina State, Nevada-Las Vegas and Seton Hall. But he said no school is recruiting him as hard as Maryland has been under Coach Mark Turgeon.
“They are really coming after me,” said Morgan, who attended four Maryland games during the season. “It’s a good feeling when you go to a Maryland game and they know who you are when they give you tickets.”
After securing a much-needed, highly regarded recruiting class in his first full year in College Park, Turgeon has his sights set on landing elite prospects from the region, many of whom took part in the Under Armour event. Maryland assistant Dalonte Hill witnessed the only game played by fast-rising Philadelphia guard Rysheed Jordan before Jordan withdrew from the event to spend time with his ill mother. The D.C. Assault summer league program, which won both the 15-under and 16-under tournaments, also had several standouts in action.
But among the most intriguing players was Morgan, whose game bears some resemblance to that of a young Rudy Gay — another Baltimore area product whom Morgan models his game after. NCAA rules prohibit college coaches from commenting publicly on unsigned prospects, but one coach from the region called Morgan a “high-, high-major talent.”
Alex Kline, a New Jersey high school senior and recruiting analyst who has been profiled in Sports Illustrated, said Morgan is “the one guy in Baltimore ready to break out” and that some of his skills “do not directly translate on the court right now, but you can see the potential.”
Morgan also said North Carolina and Texas are heavily recruiting him. In addition to liking assistant Russell Springmann, Morgan is fond of the Longhorns because of the offensive freedom they granted Kevin Durant during his one season in Austin. Though he may still be growing, Morgan fashions himself more a forward with emerging perimeter skills than strictly an interior player like his mother was in college nearly two decades ago.
“That is going to be a big part of my recruitment,” Morgan said. “Are coaches going to let me play [outside of the paint] and let me do more in the offense?”
Morgan has athletic genes — his father played football at Clemson — and started showing potential at 6 years old, when he’d bounce himself off the cement wall in Chambers’s home like a ping-pong ball. Chambers, who raised Morgan as a single mom, soon enrolled her son in the Bentalou Bombers summer league program, where he quickly excelled.
He began attracting the attention of national recruiting analysts this past fall, when he authored a breakout performance at the Elite 75 event in North Carolina. And up next is the USA Basketball Under-17 team trials in Colorado Springs in mid-June.
While some of his offensive skills need refinement, analysts and coaches said, Morgan plays with unrelenting energy. Even while holding his lower abdomen during part of one game (cramps), Morgan quickly raced to the other side of the basket to swat a shot attempt out of bounds with the other arm.
Chambers knows that type of athleticism attracts hangers-on, handlers and street agents in a city notorious for them. But she is thankful for the presence of — in addition to other mentors — several of the coaches and parents on Morgan’s summer league team, B’More Finest, to help keep Morgan from “all the riffraff.”
And because Chambers saw her own love of the game wane late in her teenage years when basketball seemed more business than fun, she has a keen eye on Morgan’s passion for it as the pressure, distractions and stakes mount. She often tells him, “‘Whenever you don’t feel like playing anymore, let me know because the pressure is not going to turn off. It’s going to come even more.’
“He’s been handling it so far. . . . I am not living my dreams through him. This is something he wants to do.”
Meantime, the mother-son hoops clinics continue, often on Baltimore’s outdoor courts. Though the slender Chambers still looks and talks like she can score against her son, Morgan said he’ll never dunk on his mom a second time.
“Now,” he said, “it’s not fair.”