As Ja Morant absorbed everything that was part of Ja Morant Day on Monday at Crestwood High School, there was one thing that was very obvious: he was very comfortable in the moment.
And one could say Morant should be comfortable in the moment by …
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And one could say Morant should be comfortable in the moment by now. He's been having to deal with much more attention than this since the start of the just completed 2018-19 college basketball season. The former Crestwood High School has gone from a well-known player to Ohio Valley Conference fans to a media sensation in a year that ended up with him being a consensus All-American for Murray State in his sophomore season.
However, when you sit back and consider exactly what has transpired with the 6-foot-3-inch point guard over the past year is really mind-boggling.
He was expected to have an impact at Murray State in his freshman season, and he did. He averaged 12.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.2 assists on a veteran team that reached the NCAA Tournament. A nice season for sure, one good enough to earn him a spot on the All-OVC first team. It wasn't good enough though to help him garner the OVC Newcomer of the Year award.
Fast forward to the start of the '18-19 season. With several starters gone, an increase in numbers were practically a certainty for Morant. To double your scoring average though and become a social media sensation because of your leaping ability came out of nowhere.
Morant averaged 24.6 points and 10.0 assists per game, becoming the first player in college basketball history to average at least 20 points and 10 assists since assists became an official statistic in the 1983-84 season. He also averaged 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals. He shot 50.3 percent from the floor and 81 percent from the free throw line.
I saw Morant play many times in high school, and he was an outstanding player. When he signed with Murray State, I expected him to have a nice career and perhaps get a shot at the National Basketball Association - after his senior season.
But all of this? He's gone after his sophomore season, and this isn't done with a hope and a dream that someone will draft him - a la former University of South Carolina point guard P.J. Dozier and so many others.
Morant is practically a guaranteed top five pick in the NBA draft this summer and more than likely will become the face of one of the rebuilding franchises. He needs to add a little bulk to his frame to absorb the pounding that an 82-game season will bring upon you as you play point guard, but Morant has all of the athleticism and the skill set that is needed to be an impact player in the NBA.
And fortunately for Morant, he is comfortable in dealing with all of the hoopla that comes with this. He has always been more than confident in his abilities as a basketball player; some might say he has a cockiness about him, but it has never come across that way to me. He's always been supremely confident in what he can do with a basketball in his hands.
Perhaps the one thing about Morant that let's you know he is prepared for what is getting ready to come his way is how he handled himself as a freshman at Murray State.
Even though he had the basketball in his hands a great deal of the time as the starting point guard as a freshman, it wasn't even close to being all about Ja. He deferred to his veteran teammates and filled his role - a very big one, mind you -- on the team.
Morant doesn't mind being the center of attention. That was obvious when Ja Morant Day ended with him going through an array of his dunks using his father, Ronnie "T" Morant, and his uncle, Phil Morant, as props.
He has the personality - that infectious smile - to do things far and beyond just being an outstanding basketball player. We could see a Sumter County native with his face plastered all over media outlets.
It doesn't appear as though the attention is what drives him though, that it is something he has to have at all times. Ja appears to be siemply reveling in what all has come his way for himself and his family, and the opportunities that are out there.
Here's hoping that just more great things are coming his way.
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