In the age of social media, it is hard to fly under the radar. This is especially true when you are a transcendent athlete who will be a future top pick in the NBA draft. With the one-and-done rule in the NCAA still in effect, most of the top NBA prospects are determined by the time they are juniors and seniors in high school. Guys like Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Nassir Little and Cam Reddish were well known long before their college debuts. Some, like Williamson, were internet sensations, despite being just juniors in high school. The top of the 2019 NBA draft board looks incredibly similar to what it looked like before most of the prospects were in college a year ago.
However, there is one newcomer that has shaken the basketball world over the past four months. He has been compared to Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and other explosive guards who have helped shape the modern point guard. He is almost a surefire top three pick in 2019, and a year ago, nobody knew his name.
Temetrius Jamel “Ja” Morant became one of the best stories in college basketball this season. Although he attends Murray State, a mid-major school in western Kentucky, he was constantly shown on SportsCenter highlight reels with his incredible dunks and lethal scoring ability. However, he is not just an incredible athlete and a scorer.
After Murray State’s season ended in the NCAA tournament second round against Florida State, Murray officially ended the year averaging over 20 points and 10 assists a game, the first ever college player to do that over the duration of a season. He showed how versatile he is on a national stage during the first round of the tournament, when he recorded the first triple double in March Madness since Draymond Green in 2012. Murray was the Ohio Valley Conference player of the year, and will likely be an All-American selection. All of this success for Morant begs the question: Why was he ever at Murray State, and not a dominant program like Duke, Kentucky or UNC?
Morant grew up in South Carolina, and he was always fighting for relevance on the basketball court. He played AAU for a while with Zion Williamson and a couple other future Division I players that constantly overshadowed the small guard. Although he is 6’3” now, he was only 6’0” for a majority of his high school years. He claims he was not able to dunk until his senior year in high school, something that fans who have seen his highlight dunks find almost impossible to believe.
While Morant enjoyed success in high school, as his school’s all-time leading scorer and multiple all-state honors, he was not recruited by big programs. In fact, he was not a ranked prospect on any of the major recruiting sites. He was only offered by Murray State after their assistant coach accidentally started watching him play a pickup three-on-three game and was impressed. Once he arrived in western Kentucky, however, people began to realize they had a special athlete.
In his freshman season, Morant had to overcome more talented teammates at Murray State like he had to on his AAU team in high school. Seniors Jonathan Stark and Terrell Miller were both established college players and took most of the responsibility on offense for the Racers. Although Morant still had a very productive year, averaging 12 points, six assists and six rebounds on his way to first team All-Ohio Valley Conference honors, he was seen as a role player to other coaches around the league. Nobody outside of the Murray State program saw him as a top NBA prospect the next year. However, that is exactly what has happened over the course of this season.
There are at least six NBA franchises that are actively tanking to achieve a higher pick in this upcoming draft. Unlike the other top prospects, Morant has shown that he has the ability to lead a less talented team to overachieve, something he will most likely be asked to do in the NBA after he is drafted by one of the worst teams in the league. He has remained humble even with all of the attention he is now getting, and currently has no red flags character wise. He says he will make a decision on his future soon, a decision that will almost certainly lead him to the NBA next season. This is an announcement that many franchises will be look- ing forward to, as Ja Morant has become without a doubt one of the biggest prizes in this upcoming NBA Draft class.
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