As one of the younger kids in a summer camp at the Bentalou Recreation Center years ago, Darryl Morsell looked up to Kam Williams, who was 4 1/2 years older.
“All the better players in Baltimore come out of there, so I had always had seen him growing up, playing at Bentalou. I knew his talent," Morsell, now a freshman at Maryland, recalled Wednesday.
The two grew close over the summers in West Baltimore, with Morsell eventually going to Mount Saint Joseph right after Williams had graduated and went off to play at Ohio State.
While they played each other on the court at their high school when Williams returned the past few summers from Columbus, Thursday will mark the first time they will face each other as college players.
Maryland (14-4, 3-2) will face Ohio State (13-4, 4-0) at Value City Arena.
It’s great that my idol has turned into my rival now.
Maryland freshman Darryl Morsell
Share quote & link
“I think it definitely changed over the years, from ninth to 10th to 11th, I had more success when I guarded him,” Morsell said of their on-court relationship. “It’s great that my idol has turned into my rival now. It’s a great feeling to know that I’m playing against somebody I looked up to.”
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Williams, a fifth-year senior, said he followed Morsell’s high school career, mostly on social media.
“When I saw him playing on the [Amateur Athletic Union] circuit and saw him on Twitter and things like that, he was doing a lot of those same hard-nosed things that he’s probably doing now — [getting] rebounds, 50-50 balls, finishing at the basket,” Williams said. “It’s nothing new to me.”
Williams said Morsell is just the next in line from a long list of players who’ve come out of Baltimore — and specifically Mount Saint Joseph — to make their impact in college basketball.
In doing so, Morsell joined players such as Williams, Villanova’s Phil Booth Jr. and St. Bonaventure’s Jaylen Adams.
“Coming out of an area like that, you play with a chip on your shoulder,” Williams said. “Nobody really expects you to make it out of the city, it’s so tough. Every time we step on the court, we play like it’s our last game. That’s a great trait to have, as bad as it may sound.”
Coming out of an area like [West Baltimore], you play with a chip on your shoulder.
Ohio State fifth-year senior Kam Williams
Share quote & link
In his first season at Maryland, the once under-recruited Morsell has carried that chip proudly. A key reserve at the beginning of the season, Morsell has used his energy, athleticism and ability to guard multiple positions to gain playing time. He will start his eighth game Thursday.
While putting up solid offensive numbers — scoring 8.7 points while making more than 47 percent of his 2-point shots, mostly on drives and dunks, to go along with hitting 73.4 percent (47 of 64) of his free throws — Morsell has made even more of a contribution on defense.
His ability to defend guards and power forwards, which is what he did in Sunday night’s 91-73 win over Iowa and what he will likely have to do against the Buckeyes, has made the 6-4, 205-pound player indispensable to a team that is down to eight healthy scholarship players.
“Darryl’s important to our team because he gives us energy, he loves to play, he’s got great toughness,” Turgeon said Wednesday.
Said Morsell: “Coach Turgeon told me coming in that I would have to bring some toughness, so I definitely embraced that.”
Morsell might be called on to stop not only the 6-2, 185-pound Williams, who is averaging 8.4 points a game and shooting a career-high 46.3 percent on 3-pointers, but also 6-7, 235-pound redshirt junior Keita Bates-Diop, whose 20-point scoring average leads the Big Ten.
Longtime Mount Saint Joseph coach Pat Clatchey said in a telephone interview Wednesday that Morsell is more typical of the guards coming out of Baltimore than Williams.
“He’s versatile, he’s tough, athletic, he definitely has some grit to him,” Clatchey said. “Kam is a scorer, a shooter, very athletic as well, a smooth operator, very smooth in his game. … I would say they have the same type of game [they had in high school], but obviously are at different stages in their careers.”
Clatchey believes that the players’ shared roots and competitiveness will add incentive for Thursday’s game.
“Especially with Darryl involved,” Clatchey said with a laugh. “They’re very different type of guys. Kam is extremely quiet, and Darryl is a very outgoing personality.”
Clatchey recalled sending Morsell a text message earlier this season when the Terps were getting ready to play St. Bonaventure, where Adams is now a senior star. At the time, it wasn’t certain whether Adams would be available because of an injury. He wound up not playing.
“I said, ‘You better hope you don’t get switched off on Jaylen,’ " Clatchey recalled. “Darryl said, ‘That’s the matchup I want.’ I said, ‘Yeah, so does the St. Bonaventure coach.’ ”
Said Morsell, “I like taking on the challenge of playing people who are great basketball players.”
It all goes back to Bentalou. When Morsell was in “the fourth, fifth grade” and he started getting close with Williams, the younger player would often challenge one of the best players at the camp to games of one-on-one.
Nearly every time they played, Williams used the advantage he had in terms of size, weight, age and experience “to push me around a little bit, stuff like that,” Morsell said.
Morsell still can recall the first — and only — time he beat Williams.
“I don’t know if he was trying,” Morsell said, smiling at the memory. I was happy. It was my claim to fame when I was little. I threw up a wild shot and I was lucky it went in.”
That was more than a decade ago. When they see each other Thursday before tip-off at the Value Center Arena, the summer memories from Bentalou and Mount Saint Joseph will likely come back for Morsell and Williams.
Not that those memories will be stirred once the game begins.
“It’s not going to be weird,” Morsell said. “Before the game, I’ll make sure I speak to him, like ‘What’s up?’ I’ll talk to him for a little bit. Once the ball is thrown up for the tip, it’s definitely on. No friends between the lines.”