HomeEntertainment NewsAdam Morrison Talks Gonzaga, March Madness Emotions And More

Adam Morrison Talks Gonzaga, March Madness Emotions And More

Adam Morrison, former Gonzaga men’s star player and top-billed NBA draftee, has long since put his ghosts to bed. Still, they tend to take a joyride this time of year, given that one of Morrison’s poignant career moments came after Gonzaga’s crushing loss to UCLA in 2006’s NCAA tournament. Morrison, who’d watched his team’s lead and title chances slip away in the final seconds of the game, laid down on the court alone at the buzzer as UCLA’s players swarmed the floor around him. His face was covered by his shaggy black hair but when he lifted his head, in the brief second before he yanked his jersey up over his face, it was clear he was crying. It was a genuine display from the roil of emotions that now we’d clock as hard-won and easily empathize with, but at the time Morrison was harangued for it.

While Morrison went on to be drafted third overall in the same year, made an All-Rookie Second Team, won two NBA titles and another championship overseas, the what-if moments still occasionally trail at his heels. Expectations are, after all, a thing that we tend to place squarely on the shoulders of athletes from afar, enjoying the recasting of roles and situational circumstance (with no personal stakes) even after a substantial amount of time has passed. For his part, Morrison has made peace with the past as much as it was something that was up to him to do. He’ll be back alongside Gonzaga, this time as a broadcaster, as the Bulldogs start their latest NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament journey this week.

Dime spoke with Morrison as the tournament got underway about how sports culture has changed for the better, the success of the G League and programs like Ignite in the NBA and how they opens doors for athletes, why some college players struggle in the transition to turning pro, his March Madness AT&T commercial and advice for college players about to do the dance.

Something I’ve heard you be candid about before is how culture has changed, specifically in regards to a moment that’s become synonymous with the end of your college career. Which was that really emotional moment after the Sweet Sixteen loss to UCLA. Watching that clip now, I think the responses might range from it being innocuous to almost sweet, just this genuine show of emotion. I think we’re at a place culturally where earnest displays like that are encouraged and embraced for their honesty — especially from athletes. That was only 17 years ago, and feels like a positive acceleration and change to me. I wanted to hear your thoughts on it, and what else you’ve noticed has shifted or changed in the sport since then?

I think you kinda hit the nail on the head. You see a lot, if you watch NCAA tournament games, obviously there’s only one winner so you see guys getting emotional. I think it was, for me, being the National Player of the Year, or in the running for that type of deal, so it was made out a bit different than it would be today. I think you’re right culturally it’s not as frowned upon, if that’s the right word. I don’t know if it was frowned upon, but the response is different now which I think is more positive. Like you mentioned, to allow people to show some emotion and understand that athletes are trying to fulfill their dreams and once it’s taken away from them, it’s okay to show some emotion.

It’s funny, I remember the response to it feeling on par and now going back, it feels really outsized. It feels like it was way too much of a blowback to what it actually was — you reacting in the moment. Do you feel for athletes now, more, because you can empathize with that intense mix of emotions?

Yeah, I mean it’s one of those things where you work, basically, your entire life on one sport and then it’s one and done in the NCAA tournament. So the idea that you’re supposed to just be stern-faced and move on is, it seems foreign now but it didn’t back then. I think the blowback wasn’t awful in a sense, but there’d be more pushback to the blowback now if that makes sense, if it came out now with social media. But I understand it. It happened 17 years ago, I’ve been over it but working for Gonzaga and doing the radio and stuff, it still gets brought up every March and I’m used to it by now. It’s just one of those things that’s part of my life.

And I don’t mean to dredge it up in that way. I think, to me, your point about the culture shift is something I try and focus a lot on in my work, and I appreciate your being candid about it.

Of course.

I was working on a story last year about developmental pipelines in the NBA, which teams use them best and have had to out of necessity. But researching it, athletes like yourself and Anthony Bennett in Toronto came to mind. The G League was such a new thing when you were drafted and certainly not utilized or connected to parent teams like it is now. Do you think your career might have been shaped or looked different in the first couple years if developmental programs, and the public interest in them, were more fully realized at the time?

That’s a very good point, a very good thought. I had plenty of opportunity my first year, so there wasn’t a lack of a chance to develop, is what I’m trying to say. But I think now, younger players get an opportunity to do the two-way contracts, or if they want to do Ignite and play in the pro system instead of — I wasn’t one and done, but were talking about the developmental aspect of it. I think it is important because it allows you to kind of round off the edges that you need to address being a professional, as far as the professional game. Yeah, that’s a very good thought because I never really looked at it from that perspective of who gets the chances to play, are you allowed to play 20 games per se, play a certain amount of minutes, and you can do that with a minor league system. So I think the NBA’s done a fantastic job of providing that for younger players, and allows players that maybe got overlooked to show that they can play at that level, or that pro style down and then come up and make an impact on the league.

I’m based in Toronto, but the Raptors utilized that a lot with Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam, these guys that were pretty overlooked and are now core members of this current roster.

Yeah, if it was 20 years ago, those guys probably don’t get an opportunity because there was no minor league system, like you said. I think it’s fantastic, and it allows guys to prove themselves and show that they can play at pro-style, I think that’s the biggest thing. Obviously there’s two different styles between college and the NBA, and some are suited for others and vice versa.

You actually just beat me to my next question, but in your own experience, and observationally as someone who’s worked alongside college basketball, what do you think are some factors in terms of college athletes whose careers are able to translate more readily into the NBA versus those who aren’t, or who have a more tumultuous time adjusting?

I think part of it is what style do you play, in high school and in college? I know it sounds funny, but if you play an open pro style, that helps make the adjustment quicker. It’s no different than an NFL quarterback playing a pro style, making those reads, I think that equates to basketball as well. The other factor is situation, too. It’s like any profession, if you’re going to a place that is uplifting and wants to see your success be a part of their success, a lot of guys have a better chance with that.

So some organizations [chuckles] are different than others, but if you’re familiar with NBA basketball then you probably see it where somebody gets drafted or signed somewhere, and you think, Oh, that doesn’t seem like a good fit. And they go somewhere else and immediately they’re a totally different player. It’s the style of play you’re paying coming into the NBA, and then I think situation is a big factor to whether guys can hang on and produce.

You beat me to my next question again, Adam, but I wanted to ask you about the Draft. It’s always struck me as a real roll of the dice, more for the athlete than the organization because of how much any result is situational. A rookie going to a team prepared to build around them versus a rookie going to a team with an established identity — it’s universes apart in terms of end result. I know you just talked about it a little, but I’d love it if you could expand on that.

It’s sometimes, lets just say, player X is going to get picked in the back half of the lottery, sometimes that’s a better option because they might be on a playoff team already that’s going to allow them to work their way into the system and be a part of a winning culture, and winning basketball, than to a team that’s not. I think you see that a lot of times in the NBA. Andrew Wiggins is probably the best example recently, right? He was great in Minnesota but everybody had written him off, he goes to Golden State and he’s fantastic. Second-best player in the Finals last year.

I think a lot of times it’s situational, how you fit into the style and the culture, and that’s just like any other work profession. Like I said, if they’re working toward your success then they’ll find success as well.

On that note, in your experience and at the time you entered the NBA, were front offices candid about expectations of where they maybe saw your trajectory as an athlete?

To a certain degree. I think now, today, there’s more transparency, just because the veil of the media is not there so you have to be more transparent with players and agents. And I think players and agents have more power than they’ve ever had. So I think front offices are probably more up front, but obviously I haven’t been in the league for quite some time. But it seems like they are, and there’s no secrets and they want to make sure guys are successful, and put them in positions to be successful.

You have a spot with AT&T for March Madness, so I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you how do you feel about Gonzaga’s chances going into the tournament?

Really good. It’s a young team that played a really good non-conference schedule. Obviously we won the West Coast Conference, tied for the regular season and won the tournament. It’s a young team that’s playing fantastic right now, Grand Canyon’s a good team that’s trying to play their way in, but we’re on a pretty good streak. I think we have a really good chance but you always have to look at it as two games at a time — obviously one game at a time, but two games at a time to get to the Sweet Sixteen. I think seven years in a row we’ve made the Sweet Sixteen? So I like our chances again coming up on Friday. It’s going to be a fun battle and I’m excited to watch and call the game.

Part of your commercial is rooted in the excitement of the tournament, is it a different feeling watching it — and now calling it — and remembering what it felt like? I guess what I mean is, is it in any way transportive? And do you almost have to turn that part of your brain off because you’re there in real-time calling it?

Yeah, you have to. The NCAA tournament is obviously special, it’s a lot a fun. The excitement’s there. When you play, I don’t know how to describe it. When you play you know what you’re going to do. Being a broadcaster, there’s no pressure on me. There is a little bit, I guess, but I get to show up and enjoy the games. The NCAA tournament’s always fun to call and enjoy all the games, and be in the arena for the games before and after. I feel really lucky and privileged to be courtside and call the games. Like I said, we’ve had a lot of success in the NCAA tournament in recent years so it’s fun to be a part of that excitement.

You touched on this, but your parting advice for Gonzaga players and athletes in the tournament, is it to try and take things, as best they can, game by game?

Yeah, I know it’s cliche, but the old survive and advance is really what it is. You just have to put your head down and focus on the task at hand. And then it’s one game at a time. Every matchup is tough, I know people don’t think that but obviously these are all really good teams and usually playing really good at the end of year. So you have to focus. These guys are ready, Coach Few and the staff do a good job of preparing these guys every year. It’s just fun to be kind of a miniature part of it and being able to be along for the ride.

Being in the moment is good advice — it’s a hard thing to do.

Very hard to do, especially when you’re a young kid.



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