Adam Morrison Biography
Gonzaga University Basketball Star Takes the Shots and Trounces on Diabetes
By Howie Stalwick
SPOKANE, Wash. -- Gonzaga University basketball star Adam Morrison deals with a potentially lethal disease every day of his life. Of course, it's hard to tell what causes Morrison more anguish: The insulin shots he takes during games for type 1 diabetes, or the verbal shots he takes from coaches and teammates for occasionally being a different type of pain.
"He's stubborn and surly to begin with," assistant coach Bill Grier deadpans. "You can tell (when diabetes affects Morrison's energy level), because then he gets REALLY surly!"
"Sometimes he doesn't know what he's talking about," teammate Sean Mallon adds, "but that doesn't stop him from having a strong opinion."
No one seems capable of preventing the fiery Morrison from firing away with his wicked tongue or his equally wicked jump shot. He leads NCAA Division I (the "major leagues" of college basketball) with 28 points per game, and he also ranks among the national leaders in talking trash and doing anything and everything else to help his fourth-ranked Bulldogs win games. "You know me -- I'm not bashful," Morrison says with a cocksure grin.
A 6-foot-8, 205-pound junior forward, Morrison is engaged in a tight race for national Player of the Year honors with Duke senior point guard J.J. Redick. Morrison and Redick, good friends and cross-country video game rivals, were the only amateurs picked to join National Basketball Association pros on the preliminary 23-man U.S. national team roster for the 2006 World Championships and, potentially, the 2008 Olympics.
Morrison has become something of a local legend in his hometown of Spokane, a city of 200,000 that has produced NBA legend John Stockton (a Gonzaga alum), baseball Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg and former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Mark Rypien.
Thanks in no small part to Morrison, all but one game at Gonzaga's 2-year-old, 6,000-seat arena has sold out (83 tickets went unsold when students were on Thanksgiving break in 2004). When Morrison led the 27-3 Bulldogs to their third consecutive West Coast Conference Tournament championship in Spokane recently, Gonzaga students held Morrison aloft in celebration. Asked if he was worried about getting injured, Morrison smiled and said, "No. They're great fans. Not to sound arrogant, but whoever dropped me would probably get killed in Spokane."
Morrison has made the cover of "Sports Illustrated" and "Sporting News" magazines, and his feeble attempt at a mustache ("I've never been able to grow one before, so it's staying") prompted rival fans to attend games with fake mustaches of various sizes attached to their faces. Gonzaga fans soon joined in on the fun, complete with accompanying posters ("You can't stop the 'stache").
Morrison plays down his daily battle with diabetes -- "It‘s just something I have to deal with" -- but he has to check his blood-sugar level periodically during games. He usually injects himself with insulin at least once a game. "It depends on how my body reacts to the food I ate the day before," said Morrison, who wears an insulin pump off the court. "The importance of the game, the adrenaline, the pace of the game, so it all depends. I've had games where I've taken five shots and games when I've taken none in college, so it depends on the situation and how well my body and I prepare for it."
Morrison said his diabetes gives him an advantage in one way: "You have to be a little more disciplined when you're a diabetic," he said. "You've got to be disciplined every day."
"He's kind of a hard-headed kid," Grier said. "That makes him both good and at times difficult, because he will fight coaching and things around him. I suppose a lot of it is from being a diabetic. That's a tough situation. You've got to have that big chip on your shoulder to survive in life."
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, that chip has done nothing to hamper Morrison's shooting touch. He can score from anywhere, anytime, and his clutch shooting feats are legendary at Gonzaga.
Gonzaga center J.P. Batista averages nearly 20 points a game and shoots layups almost exclusively, but he said, "If I had one shot at the end of the game, I would want it in his hands."
"He's probably the best competitor we've ever had here," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. Morrison's fiery style of play sometimes leads to exchanges of words and elbows with opponents. Batista, a gentle giant, tries to keep Morrison in line. "Adam is Adam," Batista said. "He's his own person.
"My job is to get the balance. Coach Few says, ‘Adam is extreme and you are the guy who's going to balance everything out.' So that's my job. Whenever he gets fired up, I've got to go be there and go, ‘Hey, calm down buddy. We need you.' "
Morrison does not deny that he can be difficult to deal with on occasion. This is a young man who, on occasion, will gladly offer his opinion on everyone from Karl Marx to Malcolm X to Winston Churchill to Allen Ginsberg. "He'll debate anything … he's so competitive," Few said.
"Sometimes, it's hard for me to listen to coaches -- in a good way," Morrison said. "It's not like I'm tough to coach, but sometimes you get frustrated. You've got to be stubborn in life to get ahead." That attitude has served Morrison well so far, but the West Coast Conference Player of the Year will face new and greater challenges next season. If he returns to Gonzaga, he'll be a marked man. If, as expected, he turns pro, he's projected to go high in the NBA draft, so he'll have another type of pressure.
"He'll go to the next level and score a lot of points," said Pepperdine coach Paul Westphal, a former NBA player and coach. "He's very gifted." He's also very confident, so don't expect Morrison to play the role of the demure rookie and be afraid to take shots. Lots and lots of shots. Grier jokes, "Adam's philosophy is: When in doubt, shoot. And always be in doubt."
Howie Stalwick is a freelance sports writer in Post Falls, Idaho. An award-winning reporter for several Pacific Northwest newspapers, his articles now appear in newspapers and magazines across North America.
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