Gonzaga basketball star Adam Morrison deals with a serious, potentially fatal disease every day of his life. Of course, it's hard to tell what causes Morrison more pain: The insulin shots he occasionally takes during games, or the verbal shots he constantly takes from coaches and teammates.
"He's stubborn and surly to begin with," assistant coach Bill Grier deadpans. "You can tell [when diabetes affects Morrison's energy level] because then he gets really surly."
Insulin shots are pretty much the only shots that Morrison does not cherish. The 6-foot-8 forward, labeled perhaps the best shot-maker in college basketball by ESPN's Rick Majerus, shoots like the rotund Majerus eats -- constantly and with plenty of enthusiasm.
"You know me -- I'm not bashful," Morrison says with a sly grin.
"Adam's offensive philosophy is," Grier explains, "when in doubt, shoot. And always be in doubt."
Morrison has left no doubt that he is one of the premier scorers in college basketball. The shaggy-haired sophomore leads the 17th-ranked Bulldogs with 17.8 points per game and, not coincidentally, 14.1 field-goal attempts per game.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Morrison sometimes seems determined to permit the man he's guarding to match him basket for basket. Morrison's role in a miserable Gonzaga defensive effort in last Thursday's loss at San Francisco earned him a seat on the bench at the start of last Saturday's victory at San Diego.
"He's kind of a hard-headed kid," Grier says. "That makes him both good and at times difficult, because he will fight coaching and things around him.
"I suppose a lot of it is from being a diabetic. That's a tough situation. You've got to have that big chip on your shoulder to survive in life."
"Sometimes, it's hard for me to listen to coaches -- in a good way," Morrison says. "It's not like I'm tough to coach, but sometimes you get frustrated. You've got to be stubborn in life to get ahead."
Long before Morrison was diagnosed with diabetes after losing 30 pounds off his tall, gangly frame in the eighth grade -- "I was down to about 110 pounds, maybe 100" -- he already played basketball with a rare combination of ferocity and determination.
"He can be difficult and stubborn," Grier admits, "but the bottom line is, he wants to win. He's going to do what it takes."
"He's a wild kind of guy; he does his own thing," says Gonzaga point guard Derek Raivio, a close friend of Morrison. "What happens, happens."
Morrison grew up a gym rat, the son of a former small-college star and European pro who later coached at the junior college level. Morrison was in the fourth grade when the family moved to Spokane, and if Morrison wasn't hooping it up in the gym, he was playing on the street in front of the family home not far from Mead High School.
John Morrison coached his son's youth teams -- often insisting that Adam match up with older boys -- and son says father definitely knew best when it came to basketball. Morrison averaged 24.2 points per game as a junior at Mead; he set a Greater Spokane League record with his 27.7 average as a senior. He also broke the GSL career scoring record set one year earlier by current teammate Sean Mallon of a Ferris.
Still, no one but GU recruited Morrison, and even Morrison says he wasn't all that surprised.
"I was smaller, only 6-5 or 6-6 my junior year," he explains. "I was kind of slow."
No doubt some recruiters were scared off by Morrison's diabetes. Morrison, who wears an insulin pump, says he believes that dealing with diabetes has made him tougher mentally, on and off the court.
"You have to be a little more disciplined when you're a diabetic," Morrison says. "You've got to be disciplined every day."
Morrison will never be a speed demon with his herky-jerky running style -- "I'm obviously not the most athletic guy" -- but he can certainly fill the basket in a hurry with a variety of shots from a myriad of angles and distances. In an era of ever-declining shooting percentages, Morrison has buried almost 51 percent of his shots in college.
"With most players, it's just shoot 3's or drive it all the way to the rim," Grier says. "He's kind of a throwback that way; he's got that mid-range game. And he gets the ball up so high."
Morrison averaged 11.4 points and 4.3 rebounds as a freshman on last year's senior-laden squad that went 28-3 and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Coming on the heels of a 28-1 senior year in high school (Mead lost to Franklin of Seattle in the 2003 State 4A title game), that means Morrison's last three teams have gone 70-8.
Morrison led this year's Bulldogs (14-4) in scoring in three of their four games against Top 15 teams. That helped him earn a spot on the 12-man Midseason All-America team of CollegeInsider.com.
Morrison was so impressive during a 26-point effort in a win over third-ranked Oklahoma State that legendary Cowboy coach Eddie Sutton wrote a letter to GU coach Mark Few after the game. Sutton enclosed a copy of a Tulsa newspaper article about Morrison and his battle with diabetes.
"What a wonderful young man he must be, and what a great player he is," Sutton wrote.
Raivio calls Morrison "an NBAer," and Morrison says an NBA career is just one of the basketball dreams he hopes to turn into a reality.
"If you're a confident person," Morrison reasons, "you always expect stuff out of yourself."
The Gonzaga Bulldogs, playing at home for just the third time in nearly nine weeks, take on Portland at 8 pm on Saturday at GU's McCarthey Athletic Center. All Gonzaga home games are expected to sell out this season, but all home and away games are televised live locally -- including Saturday's game, which will be nationally televised on ESPN2.
Publication date: 1/27/05