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A Man on a Mission

You remember when Randolph Morris first came to Kentucky? If you were like me, you were really excited as on ESPN, Morris outplayed Dwight Howard, who turned out to be the first overall pick in the NBA Draft. So I knew that he would dominate for the Cats. But during that first year, while he wasnt bad, he often disappointed. He lacked that “flair” that one needs to be a dominant basketball player. In that way he was a little like “Nature Boy” Buddy Rich….a serviceable wrestler who gave a decent performance, but unlike the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, a guy who didnt have all the tools to become transcendent. For Rich it was a lack of microphone talent, for Morris a tendency to decide to take entire games off from the task of rebounding. But either way, both were frustrating.

But last season, a new Morris occasionally emerged. One who went towards the basket with the knowledge that NO ONE would stop him. I liked this Randolph Morris. And according to Andy Katz, this Morris is coming back. Here are some samples from Katz’s blog interview with Randolph:

The easy thing to do with Randolph Morris was to dismiss his intentions of staying at Kentucky beyond last season. There seemed to be no way Morris would stick it out in Lexington after he returned for his sophomore year only because he wasn’t selected in the 2005 NBA draft.

Well, anyone who doubted him was dead wrong. A year after he spent the summer pleading his case for reinstatement — he ultimately missed the first 14 games of last season after successfully appealing a season-long suspension caused by predraft workout-expense issues — Morris is still committed to Kentucky.

He has also said he plans to finish his college career — something that wasn’t even a reasonable possibility back when Morris played with Dwight Howard and Josh Smith on the Atlanta Celtics AAU team (both went directly from high school to the NBA as first-round draft picks). The working assumption — and clearly Morris’ intention — was that he wouldn’t stay in college long enough to sign a full-year lease.

“Without a doubt, this is different,” Morris said in comparing last summer’s stress level to this summer. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. My college career was in question.”

Morris got into trouble after the NCAA deemed his relationship with agency SFX a violation. SFX set up a workout in Chicago in June 2005 and was the conduit for Morris’ announcements that he was staying in the draft. The 6-10 Morris averaged a rather modest 8.8 points and 4.2 rebounds as a freshman, not necessarily numbers that spell out first-rounder.

Morris’ stock sank and he wasn’t selected. Under NCAA rules, a player can return to school if he goes through the draft without being selected as long as he doesn’t sign with an agent, but Morris’ relationship with SFX was deemed cause for the one-year suspension. He won the appeal because of a predraft fax to Kentucky, found after the fact, stating his intentions to test the process and not obtain an agent.

“I always thought I could have a chance because I thought I was innocent of the agent scandals,” said Morris, who was allowed to practice during his suspension. “When I was reinstated, I saw it as a whole fresh start.”

Morris was instrumental in leading the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament last season. He led them in scoring, finishing with 13.3 points, and also grabbed six rebounds per game.

As soon as the season ended, his teammate, Rajon Rondo, declared early, but not Morris. Under NCAA rules, a player can declare early for the draft only once. A second time means the player loses his amateur status.

“I never contemplated it at all,” Morris said of declaring again last spring.

Morris said he declared after his freshman season in part because he saw the success of Howard and Smith in the NBA. He wanted the same thing.

“Their success pushed me to make a decision and see what I could do,” Morris said. “Now there’s no rush at all. The best way to learn is through experience.”

Now Morris is at ease. He spent most of this summer in Lexington, working on becoming a more versatile offensive threat as well as on his strength and conditioning.

“I have the potential [to play in the NBA] and I have the drive, but I’m sticking to it,” Morris said of his plan. “As of today, I definitely feel I’ll stay [two more years].”

Kentucky desperately needs Morris to be a star this season in light of Rondo’s departure after his sophomore season. The Wildcats likely will be led by guard Ramel Bradley, but Morris will be the anchor in the post — a funny spot for someone who never expected to be in Lexington this long.

Good for the big man. Randolph, find your inner “Nature Boy” and become the “Jet Flyin, Limousine Ridin, Kiss Stealin, Wheelin and Dealin Son of a Gun” that we know you can be.

Article written by Matt Jones