SALISBURY, Md. — Paul Morgan always knew he was good enough to play varsity basketball, but he just needed to get on the court to show it.
After constantly practicing and dressing with the Wicomico boys varsity team, he finally got his chance to show what he could do when he got on the court during the second quarter of the Indians’ game against Mardela last month. Standing at 4 feet 10 inches tall (or 4 feet 11 inches tall according to Morgan), the freshman point guard was chosen as the final man to fill out the Wi-Hi varsity roster, while dually being the starter on the junior varsity squad.
“Varsity didn’t have a 12th man, so when they told me I was it, I was excited,” he said. “It gave me confidence to know I was good as I thought I was.”
Morgan had played some minutes on varsity, albeit in exhibitions such as Wi-Hi’s Governor’s Challenge game against Edmondson-Westside, in which he whipped the crowd into a frenzy with ankle-breaking dribbles and behind-the-back passes. This time, however, he wanted to make an impression in a regular-season game. Once he got in, the freshman point guard wasted no time making his presence felt as he scored nine points on three 3-point shots and recorded four assists.
While Morgan’s stature, which also includes an 80-pound frame and size 5 shoe, could be compared to a story like the movie Rudy, the only thing that was limiting Morgan’s opportunity on varsity was the rule that allowed him to only play in one game a day. With Mardela not having a junior varsity squad, Morgan was able to be active for the varsity game.
When it comes to the ability Morgan displays on the court, the coaching staff can’t help but gush over his skills.
Doug King, junior varsity head coach and assistant varsity coach for the Indians, said he had been scouting Morgan during his time playing middle school and knows what kind of intangibles he has.
“I knew he could play and I knew he was small, but he knew the game and I knew he was smart and he would help us,” King said. “His passing and basketball IQ are really good, and he’s a student of the game and he knows what to do on offense, and when and when not to do it. He’s a good, good point guard.”
King told longtime Indians varsity head coach Butch Waller about Morgan, and Waller took an interest in seeing the point guard for himself.
Waller was amazed as well.
“I watched him play and this kid could play and handle the ball,” Waller said. “He’s got stuff, that in order to try to make a point guard, would take two-three years to get him to learn what he already knows right now. He knows the game. He knows to set up a defender, he knows to set up his offensive players.”
Morgan said among the things he prides himself on as a point guard are his knowledge of the game and his abilities.
He also spends most Sundays in the gym for seven hours working on layups, dribbling and shooting drills.
“One of the best things I’m good at is being a general on the court, learning how to control the game, knowing the game and the pace of the game,” he said. “Because I’m so small, I have to shoot from a far distance. I have to jump, shoot higher and make sure it has a good arc so I can get it as high as I can to get it over my defender.”
Morgan is not only a skilled as a guard, but also has become someone people rally behind, both fans and his own teammates.
“The players on varsity treat him like he’s a varsity player, and he was almost a full-time varsity player,” King said. “They were the ones who came up with the Paul Bunyan nickname, and it’s kind of funny that it’s stuck with him. It’s a good one because of his size and when you think of Paul Bunyan, and it fits him well.
King said he begged Waller to keep him down in JV because of the squad’s lack of point guards.
“Most of the people that see him play say, ‘aww isn’t that a cute little kid,’ until they see him play,” Waller said. “Once he makes a behind-the-back pass or is hitting 3-pointers from the top of the key, or makes a crossover dribble on a defender and leaves him, people see he can play.”
Only a freshman, Morgan will not only have a chance to grow his skills as a player, but there is also hope that he grows in height as well.
Waller said that if Morgan reaches the height of the average Bayside guard, he could be a special player.
“Let’s say he gets to 5 feet 10 inches, which would probably be the average height of a Bayside point guard, He would be ahead of 95 percent of the point guards around right now if he gets there,” Waller said. “If he gets over 6 feet, then we’re on the phone saying to college coaches, ‘you might want to watch this kid progress, because he’s got some skills.’
“In my 48 years here, I can’t remember any school with a guard that talented, that young and that small. ”
Morgan said he doesn’t know when or how much he expects to grow in the near future, but he does have an ideal zenith.
“If I could be a height, I’d like to be 6 feet 4 inches, because most of your players around the Eastern Shore are 5 feet 5 inches to 6 feet 3 inches, and you won’t see most them much taller than that,” he said. “But right now, I’d like to be 5 feet 5 inches or 5 feet 6 inches.”
Earl Holland also writes for The Daily Times.