Here is a sentence I never thought I would write. Randolph Morris may be the most underrated player on a major college basketball team in the nation. How many of you had that in your pre-season pools? Well maybe very few, but it is becoming more and more plausible as truth. Morris came into the season with a reputation…..for softness. Coming out of high school, he was all-world, mentioned in the same sentence as fellow Georgia big man Dwight Howard, a person he outplayed in their one national television meeting.
However his early career at UK was slightly below expectations. He never completely geled with fellow post player Chuck Hayes and he was often beaten on the boards, usually because of what seemed to be a lack of effort. Awww effort, the one trait that seemed to haunt Randolph throughout his early career. In part because of his laid-back nature, in part because of his wavering interest level, Morris seemed to never expend great deals of energy, thus making games where he was giving full effort (such as Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament), all the more frustrating as the promise was tauntingly dangled in front of the fanbase. Morris the freshman was a player you knew had the potential to dominate……but it was unreached potential and his soft nature became a frustrating defining trait.
Then came the decision to enter a draft that he could not be picked in. Then came a mysterious fax…..a long suspension…..and a so-so return. Randolph his Sophomore year became like Keith Bogans his junior year…..a good player who had retreated, and in so doing, lost the trust of the fanbase.
But this season is a new Randolph. While there has been much hand-wringing over the guard play and the continued deficiencies at power forward, Randolph Morris has slowly become one of the 3-5 best big men in the country. Yeah read that again. You dont agree? Well who is better? Certainly not Tyler Hansborough, most people’s pick for national player of the year, who was completely dominated by Morris in a battle that one pro scout told me was “a money making game for Randolph”. As a matter of fact I can only think of a handful of big men in the country with better all-around offensive skill sets, and many of those dont have nearly the physical build of Morris. What was once considered his weakness, rebounding and defense, is now a strength. Morris is averaging close to a double-double and is out of foul trouble in virtually every game. Quite simply, he is a new Randolph.
And yet the national media and some in the local fanbase ignore him. Jay Bilas recently wrote that people have ignored Randolph because they already wrote him off and are now missing one of the best performances in the nation. In Kentucky, Morris has hit the “Keith Bogans zone” where past failures have blinded people to his current amazing run of success. Bogans, who was never truly appreciated until after he left, ended up one of the Top 5 scorers in UK history, but he never comes up in most conversations about great all-time players. Morris is suffering a similar fate, receiving no national buzz, even though his individual performances this season put him as a true All-American candidate.
Rumors of Morris going to the pros are simply silly. No professional team is willing to risk the bad buzz to take a player like Morris from a college team in the middle of the season (if it was Greg Oden, that might be different). However it is very likely that this will be the last year Randolph is in Lexington. When he came back to the team, Tubby made him promise to stay through his junior year….the Senior year is gravy. Because after performances like the one versus Hansborough, the NBA will likely come calling this year, this may be the last time you see a dominant traditional big man at UK for quite some time. Enjoy it….and sing the praises to the mountaintops. Folks will always hold against him his seemingly lackadaisical attitude, but like Sleepy Sam Perkins (as Bilas analogized), Randolph just carries himself differently. He is an extremely bright young man and thanks to this year, Randolph Morris is joining the conversation (seriously) for the best big man at UK since Bowie. Folks can make a case for Mohammad, Magloire, Estill, Dent and others…..but Morris is now in the debate…..and its time people recognized.