The timing of the speculation was what made it odd. Last week, a few days after Terence Morris was shown up by Duke's Shane Battier, Maryland boosters worried aloud that the second-year forward was thinking about turning pro this year.
Wednesday night, after Morris made amends on Tobacco Road and burned Kenny Inge, another member of the Atlantic Coast Conference's class of up-and-coming power forwards, he denied he was considering exploring his NBA options at the conclusion of this season.
"I haven't said anything about that at all," Morris said. "I don't think I'm ready to do anything like that right now. I'm focusing on the college level right now. The fact is, I plan to be here four years. A lot of people say a lot of things, but I'm not leaving. I'm going to stay my four years and try to get better."
Tom Dickman, who coached Morris at Thomas Johnson High in Frederick, said the speculation was news to him. It would be out of character for Morris to leave early, since nothing about his basketball development has been rushed, so what was the basis of the rumor?
Morris is the oldest of seven children being raised by a single mother, and the family's situation is what the NBA had in mind in the days when early-entry pros were deemed "hardship" cases.
Secondly, Morris' performance and potential impressed NBA types during the lockout, and he's only going to get better.
What would have been this year's All-American team is already in the NBA, and a dearth of can't-miss prospects in the upper classes might mean more draft choices being used on freshmen and sophomores.
How many first-year college starters have the upside of Morris, a fundamentally sound, 6-foot-9 20-year-old who can run, jump and shoot?
John Nash, general manager of the New Jersey Nets, said in December that Morris "could be a first-rounder, but I would encourage him to stay."
Morris will play the three spot when he does get to the NBA. As a freshman, he played some wing out of necessity, and there are open-court situations when it's obvious that his ball-handling must improve. At 210 pounds, he needs muscle and seasoning, but so have many other underclassmen who were drafted.
Waiting on Johnson
Maryland remains in the running, along with Connecticut and Cincinnati, for Dermarr Johnson, the well-traveled wing who's concluding his prep career at Maine Central Institute.
Johnson was rated the nation's top prep prospect by some recruiting analysts last summer, before his stock slipped slightly. A member of the junior national team who travels the AAU circuit with D.C. Assault, Johnson is reportedly closing in on a standardized test score that would give him freshman eligibility.
Sam Cassell and Johnny Rhodes are among the players who have come through MCI.
Sad way to exit
The last image of Obinna Ekezie in a Maryland uniform was of him being benched against Virginia, then leaving the Terps' locker room before it was open to the media. It should be noted that Ekezie was the only player requested for interviews who was willing to speak to reporters Feb. 2, the day before the game at Duke and two days after he had struggled at Wake Forest.
The double-double for points (10) and assists (13) by Steve Francis against Virginia was the first by a Terp since Terrell Stokes had 10 and 14, respectively, against Towson during his sophomore season. Morris had 16 rebounds at N.C. State; the Terps' only bigger total in the post-Joe Smith era came last year at the Baltimore Arena, when Rodney Elliott had 17 in a rout of Temple. Maryland has won 10 straight regular-season games over the Wolfpack.
Pub Date: 2/12/99