Morgan continues to develop
Illinois head coach John Groce's system relies heavily on guards. That's easy to see after the first 11 games this season.
Illinois fans can watch two players who will directly correlate to that style at 8:30 tonight on ESPN when Chicago Simeon High School senior guards Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate take on DeSoto (Texas) High School and Duke commit Matt Jones.
But what about the future of Illinois' frontcourt?
With Sam McLaurin and Tyler Griffey out of the picture after this season, that means Nnanna Egwu will be the only returning post player who has logged significant minutes going into the 2013-14 season. Mike Shaw and Ibby Djimde could factor into that rotation, but so could Maverick Morgan, the 6-foot-11, 240-pound senior center from Springboro (Ohio) High School.
The Class of 2013 signee has certainly delivered on early returns this season.
Morgan is leading the Greater Western Ohio Conference, comprised of 18 schools located in and around the Dayton-Cincinnati area, in scoring (25.5 points) and rebounding (12.3) heading into this weekend.
"He has improved his perimeter game drastically," Springboro interim head coach Jay Byrne said. "He can score from inside, from 17-18 feet and on the fastbreak consistently. We run some stuff that will get him a jumper because he's improved so much."
And Morgan is not doing it against slouches. Springboro is in Ohio's Division I, which has the biggest high schools in the state.
Springboro has nearly all of its games against fellow Ohio high schools, but the Panthers do play Quality Education Academy out of Winston-Salem, N.C., on Sunday, Jan. 20, at Kettering, Ohio's Trent Arena as part of the Flyin' to the Hoop Invitational.
"There's not a whole lot of games where he's not going to have to be at his best," Byrne said. "We play teams with guys who are 6-5, 6-6 and 6-7. We played against a 6-8 kid last week. Quality Education Academy ... has got six or seven guys who are 6-7 and above, so that will be a big game."
For those wondering if Morgan can keep up with Illinois' pace once he arrives on campus, indications point out that shouldn't be much of a problem.
Morgan and Springboro (3-1) are averaging 78.2 points a game heading into Friday night's home game against Fairborn (Ohio) High School.
"We try to push the ball," Byrne said. "If we don't have it in transition, the smartest thing to do is throw it to the biggest and best guy on the floor. He's got some really good players around him, too."
Two of Morgan's teammates — 6-2 senior point guard Ryan Murray (16.5 points) and 6-3 senior guard Sean Kennedy (10.8 points) — are averaging in double figures, with 6-4 senior forward Jake Pfahl (9.3) just shy of that mark. Byrne said Murray is attracting interest from Division II schools, and is an Illinois fan.
"He used to live in Illinois," Byrne said, "so he was beyond excited when Mav decided to go there."
Byrne said Morgan's improved jump shot has paid dividends this season, along with his improved play in finishing around the basket with his left and right hand.
Byrne said when Groce visited Morgan this summer, working on his jump shot was a point of emphasis.
"He passes the ball extremely well, too," Byrne said. "He's a much better post passer than people give him credit for. He blocks shots so far without fouling, and just has the ability to score in different ways."
Springboro had a tumultuous offseason. Veteran head coach Troy Holtrey, who coached the program for 21 seasons and had more than 300 wins, was not rehired for the 2012-13 season by the school board in late July.
Byrne, who was an assistant at Springboro for the past five seasons, was named interim coach in early September.
Byrne said Morgan will need to work on his strength and continue honing his jump shot, but thinks the added perks — a training table, individual workouts with the Illinois coaching staff in practice and extra attention in the weight room — will help grow Morgan's game.
"Maverick is just an outstanding kid," Byrne said. "He's a great basketball player, but I think he's a better kid and has a laid-back personality. I think that's what Coach Groce and Illinois fans are really going to like about him."