Ja Morant’s sophomore debut in the NCAA Tournament proved to be historical. After losing last year to West Virginia 85-68, the Murray State guard was focused on putting the past behind him. As an underdog 12th seed taking on No. 5 Marquette, the Racers of Murray State played inspired and with nothing to lose. And it was Morant who took the helm in leading his team to a dominant 83-64 victory, marking the biggest upset of the day.
Morant’s 17 points, 11 rebounds and 16 assists earned him the eighth triple-double in NCAA Tournament history, a historical feat that had not been accomplished in the March Madness since Draymond Green in 2012. But to the 6’3 future star, securing the win was the priority.
“It was a lot of fun just being able to go out with this group of guys, and get a win in the tournament,” stated Morant after the game.
Basketball was Morant’s Destined Path
Before Ja Morant could relish the opportunity of playing on national TV, he had a tough mountain to climb in high school. To prove that his skillset was worthy of playing for a Division I program.
For Morant, playing basketball has been in his DNA. Born in Dalzell, South Carolina, his Father, Tee Morant, was a former basketball player. Tee had a chance to play alongside future world champion and clutch three-point shooter Ray Allen in high school. The skills learned in his playing days would be passed onto his son, when Tee retired from basketball to become a barber.
In the backyard, Ja would spend countless hours with his Father, perfecting the fundamental skills of basketball. From practicing his jump shot to learning how to jump on soft land using a tractor tire, Morant was starting to fall in love with the game. His trajectory would see him play for the South Carolina Hornets in the Amateur Athletic Union. He would team up with the then-unknown Zion Williamson, before he took off rapidly in his development.
Morant’s high school career with Crestwood was sensational. He would leave as the all-time leading scorer with 1,679 points. But throughout high school, it became a prolonged exercise for Morant to fully believe in himself. To have the belief he was good enough to one day be a professional basketball player.
“When the recognition started to come in, I guess that’s when I had a little relief like maybe I am [good enough]. I just got a shot. Murray took a shot with me, and I’m really thankful for that,” stated Morant.
Morant Making Noise with Stellar Play
Despite earning All-State honours at Crestwood, Ja Morant was not ranked by any of the premier recruiting services. While it may spell doom for a player’s development, Murray State did not overlook Morant’s potential. They took a chance on the guard and it has paid off immensely, turning Murray State into the model of the Ohio Valley Conference.
“I knew the first day he came on campus,” stated Murray State head coach Matt McMahon. “Morant’s just got some special intangibles to him in addition to the athleticism, the explosiveness, and ridiculous court vision and feel for the game. He’s got unselfishness and competitiveness about him that’s been contagious within our program, in our locker room.”
As a freshman, Morant would turn the program around after the departures of Jonathan Stark and Terrell Miller. His innate ability to score and drive the basket earned him first-team All-Ohio Valley Conference honours. In addition, Morant began to develop an affinity for achieving triple-doubles, a reality that would transition into his sophomore season.
Averaging 24.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 10 APG, Morant would earn the accolade of OVC Player of the Year. He would become the first player in Murray State history to record multiple triple-doubles, making his outcome on Thursday in the NCAA Tournament not that surprising.
Onto to the Round of 32 for Morant
With his performance against Marquette, Morant’s draft stock is expected to soar. Despite being considered a Top-10 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, it is far from the young guard’s mind. When asked to address the hype surrounding his narrative, Morant’s exudes a mature degree of humbleness. His aim is to get his team prepared to take on the No. 4 seed Florida State Seminoles, a squad that has given the nation fits from the ACC.
“I really don’t pay too much attention to the hype,” states Morant. “I just try to go out and play the same game every night. Just try to do whatever I can to help my team come out with a win.”
As the Cinderella run for Murray State looks to extend into the Sweet 16, one certainty has developed. The basketball world needs to take notice and appreciate the talent of Ja Morant.