Christmas came early for several middle school and high school students in the Sumter area on Tuesday when former Crestwood High School standout and Memphis Grizzlies rookie point guard Ja Morant gifted backpacks full of goodies to several students …
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Christmas came early for several middle school and high school students in the Sumter area on Tuesday when former Crestwood High School standout and Memphis Grizzlies rookie point guard Ja Morant gifted backpacks full of goodies to several students at Crestwood.
While Morant couldn't make the event dubbed the 'Ja Morant Holiday Slam Dunk', his father, Tee, and uncle, Phil, were there to give out the backpacks to students from various local schools.
Each Nike backpack included a new pair of Nike sneakers, Panini trading cards, a Nike headband and water bottle, JBL headphones and several additional items, including gear from the Memphis Grizzlies.
Tee Morant spoke to the crowd of children before the early Christmas gifts were given out, imploring them to focus on school, and if they're passionate about the game of basketball, to truly dedicate themselves to it.
"If you love it, and that's what you want to do, then dedicate yourself to it, and you can do the same thing (as Ja)," said Morant. "Use the basketball as a tool to get a scholarship, that's first, and then you worry about what comes next."
Crestwood principal Shirley Gamble also spoke to the kids, telling them, "Certainly it's very special have a young man like Ja come through this school and now do great things in the NBA. We're very proud of him. He was a very special young man. As great as he was an athlete, he was also a great student. So keep that in mind; you have to be a student first. Ja definitely was a student-athlete."
Morant has adjusted well to the NBA, averaging 18.8 points and 6.5 assists per game for the Grizzlies, prompting several NBA experts to proclaim him the leader in the race for the NBA Rookie of the Year award.
Even dad has been surprised at how his son has acclimated himself to the NBA.
"I can't say that I did (see his success coming so quickly), as far as how he's doing it," Tee said. "I knew it was going to be special, and I knew it was going to be something to watch, but he's just making it (look) easy."
While Morant has been terrific on the court, he was recently forced to miss several games because of back spasms. He returned to the court on Dec. 9, and has led the Grizzlies to four straight victories, but Tee admitted that it wasn't easy to get Morant to miss time during his rookie campaign.
"You pretty much got to save Ja from himself," said Tee. "Even through the injury, he still wanted to play, and he wanted to be out there with his teammates. He took it, but he didn't like it."
The Morants have also adjusted well to life in Memphis.
"We love Memphis," said Tee. "Memphis reminds us of South Carolina because it's slow, laid back, nice people. They've embraced us with open arms and we're just loving it."
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