May 3, 2009
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Phillip Morris isn''t the best 3-point shooter.
He didn''t have eye-popping numbers as a senior point guard for the Columbus High School boys basketball team.
But the key for coaches when they recruit is to identify players who have the intangibles, are willing to buy into a team concept, and who are willing to listen and to be coached.
Morris gets a perfect score in those categories, which is why Friday was a special day for him and his family.
Even though he already had signed a national letter of intent to attend Southwest Mississippi Community College in Summit, Morris and his mother, Janet, and the rest of the Columbus High School basketball family celebrated the decision Friday in a ceremony at the school.
Morris visited SMCC two weeks ago and connected with men''s basketball coach Bill Wallace. He said he decided one or two days after his visit to sign his national letter of intent.
"I really liked the coach, Mr. Bill Wallace. He seemed like a nice guy and he made me feel like I was at home," Morris said. "He was really honest with me, and I really like that about people when they are honest with me."
Morris said Wallace explained the financial situation (he is getting a scholarship and what it covers) and his opportunity to gain playing time as a freshman (nothing is guaranteed and he will have to earn what he gets).
Morris, who plans to study nursing, also considered Itawamba C.C., Bevill State C.C., Shelton State C.C., Hinds C.C., and others. He said it was a tough decision and that he ultimately went with the school that gave him the best opportunity.
As for basketball, Morris said Wallace told him he fits the program just like he wants. Morris will compete for playing time with another incoming freshman guard from Louisiana.
He feels he will be able to handle that challenge as well as being more than four hours away from home.
"I can handle myself anywhere there (on the basketball court)," Morris said. "I am able to take coaching. A lot of players don''t want to take coaching or accept their roles. Some people want to be the Kobe Bryant of the team, and sometimes you have to accept your role and do what you have to do to win games."
Morris averaged 9.2 points, 3.9 assists, and 3.0 rebounds per game this past season for the Falcons (17-7).
Columbus High coach Sammy Smith said he is especially proud of Morris because he knows a quality young man is leaving Columbus to make an impact in the world.
Smith said Morris left his mark on the basketball court, even if it always didn''t appear on the stat sheet. He said Morris was an integral part of the team because he was dependable, disciplined, coachable, and a leader.
"People say those things but then to actually do them is a different story," Smith said. "Phillip has always been one of the kids who is first to practice and last to leave."
Smith said Morris handled the college search well considering he had so many schools in mind. He said Morris sacrificed a lot in the Falcons'' team concept and he is confident he will succeed at SMCC.
"From a point guard''s perspective, you want a hard-nosed kid, a very disciplined kid, a very coachable kid right off the bat," Smith said. "I think coach Wallace is getting the total package.
"Of all of the kids I have coached in my life, Phillip is in the top group of kids who tried to do everything I asked him to do at any and all times. He trusted me that if you do these things and back off the selfish things, the opportunities will come. He embraced it. I am not saying he didn''t make mistakes, but he asked questions and he never questioned me."
And even though some players might have had better numbers, Morris'' skill set and his intangibles proved to be the perfect package for SMCC.
"Many people would love to be in my shoes, no matter what school I am going to," Morris said. "It is free school."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.