Where was Dana Morgan in all of this?
Rising at 6 AM in a tiny town called Camden, AR and working out with two of her close friends before heading to one of her two summer jobs of mowing lawns and working at a grocery store before heading to her second work out of the day. Morgan's summer does not sound similar to those of her nationally regarded teammates. However, her summer characterizes the many quality traits that have landed her on the roster of Gail Goestenkors highly regarded Duke Women's basketball team. What started as a vision last year after attending a Duke Women's game has become a reality for Morgan thanks to her persistence, hard work, faith, determination and passion.
Before being a part of the Duke Women's basketball team, the story of Morgan's rise from Camden, Arkansas to Duke University in North Carolina is equally special. To say that Morgan made the most of her time in high school would be an understatement. The oldest of three children, she played three sports in high school (softball, basketball and track and field). Morgan also carried a Grade Point Average of 4.00 and was valedictorian of her Harmony Grove High School Class. One may think that is more than enough commitments for a high school student. However, it did not stop Morgan from also being active in Governor's School, Girl's State Delegate, National Honor Society, Yearbook, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and many other activities that jam pack her Duke bio.
When asked about being involved in so many activities, the humble Morgan shrugs it off and points out that "In a small town, there are more opportunities to do things. It is not uncommon to see a football player go out and play in the band at halftime. It got stressful at times trying to keep up with everything, but I don't think I got into anything I couldn't handle and it proved to be a great prep for coming to Duke."
Realizing that Camden did not offer a lot of opportunities, Morgan set out to attend a school outside of Arkansas. Yet it was not until a high school guidance counselor advised her to apply to Duke did the dream move forward. "I always knew I would go out of state, but it did not cross my mind too much until my counselor urged me to apply (to Duke). When I finally applied I told myself that if I could get in that is where I would go." Morgan is quick to point out the tremendous support her parents have given her when it came time to pick a school. "My parents completely supported me in coming to Duke and they said they would do whatever was needed to help me and they have."
After realizing that club basketball was not enough for her during her freshman year, Dana Morgan sought out the e-mail address of Head Coach Gail Goestenkors.
"I e-mailed her a couple of times and told her I was VERY interested in playing for her team. My parents pushed me through my initial feelings of it being unlikely. Initially I thought I needed to find happiness in my current situation as a Duke student. I quickly realized that was not going to be good enough for me, so I kept e-mailing Coach G."
While continuing her effort to contact Goestenkors, Morgan remained on her club basketball team until she finally heard from Goestenkors after last years Final Four.
"Finally I wore her down", stated Morgan. Goestenkors told Morgan to round up some men's players and she would come watch her play. Goestenkors did not immediately offer Morgan a spot, but what she did do is give her the summer program and advised her to add strength to her body. After spending the summer working her summer jobs and working out, Goestenkors gave Morgan a chance to walk on the team.
Despite significant pick-up game play with the Women's Team, Morgan felt extremely nervous before her first practice as a Blue Devil.
"I called my parents the morning before looking for guidance. They told me to just go to the gym and play ball like I always do. So that is what I did. Coach G has done a great job of making me feel like part of the team, so I did not feel uncomfortable, but I was definitely nervous."
Morgan thrives on the intensity of Duke Practices. "I love how we go hard in every practice. It is like a job, you go in and you have to give everything you have. I can see how much I am improving and how much the team is improving as a whole."
Another thing that took adjustment for Morgan was arriving at a school like Duke.
"There is so much money in this one small area of Durham, "I wouldn't say my family is in financial stress", stated Morgan "but we don't live the lifestyles that a lot of people here do, it took some getting used to."
With the lofty goals and tremendous talent of the Duke Women's basketball team this year, Morgan will likely not see a lot of action this season. However, Morgan has already learned that her role is an important one.
"I am still learning what my role with this team will be, I will not be able to come in and be a leader, but I will do whatever this team needs me to do. I will be very supportive of my teammates and keep working on the things I need to work on. Hopefully, once I improve my strength and ball handling I will be able to contribute even more to the team."
Growing up rooting on the Lady Vols of Tennessee, Morgan obviously shifted loyalty when she arrived at Duke as a freshman.
"Knoxville is the closest big Women's basketball team around Arkansas, so I was a pretty big fan of theirs growing up. I'm very excited to play them now."
While the spotlight may shine brightest on hometown girl Alana Beard when Duke travels to Northwestern State on December 20 in Shreveport, Louisiana, Morgan is equally excited to suit up in front of numerous family and community members who will make the short trek from Camden, Arkansas to see her. "I am looking forward to going there to see all my family and my entire community from Camden."
A fan of major metropolitan areas, Morgan visited Chicago last year for the first time and stated that last year was the first time in her life she did not attend Mardi Gras, but pointed out that their are many enjoyable, yet conservative activities at the event the event that do not get the attention of Bourbon St. "It is something to look forward to, but there are many family oriented activities outside of downtown that were great."
When asked about road trips, Morgan sounds slightly overwhelmed and excited by the accommodations of playing for a national powerhouse like Duke.
"I am not used to taking chartered flights and riding on chartered buses. And everywhere we go there is lots of really great food."
Indeed Dana Morgan's eyes are wide open as she describes the beginning of her first season with the Blue Devils. The humble red head, who gets pumped up with rap music in the locker room and enjoys a little healthy trash talking when playing basketball, is clearly finding her place at Duke.
Before she headed to practice, I ask Morgan for a prediction of the men's game against Michigan State that evening. She smiled and states with confidence that "her men are going to win" before adding that her Campus Crusade for Christ meeting is getting out early so she they can all watch. Yet another activity for Morgan outside of sports and academics. Dana is doing the same thing she did in high school. Some things never change.