DENVER — A smile cracked across the face of Monte Morris as he sat in front of his locker at the Pepsi Center before practice Wednesday, a far cry from the subdued look and feel that consumed him nearly one week ago.
Not long after, just around the corner on the NCAA tournament-themed court, Morris paused in front of the bench and turned to an Iowa State doctor to proclaim his increased satisfaction with the feel of his strained right shoulder.
“I’m back smiling,” Morris said.
Morris participated in practice Wednesday for the first time since Iowa State’s quarterfinals loss in the Big 12 Championship last week. The health of his shoulder, some 24 hours before Iowa State begins NCAA tournament play against Iona, has reached new heights with one week of rest.
“My health is at an all-time high right now,” Morris said. “I have my legs back under me. I feel a hundred percent of my legs and my shoulder. It's coming along great. I was able to get a lot of shots today. The shots I took — the five on offense — I made all of them. So that’s a good sign. It’s getting better.”
Iowa State will need an improved Morris against the run-and-gun Gaels, whose high-powered offense averages 80 points per game and shoots 37 percent from beyond the arc. The Cyclones have performed best when Morris has acted as a scoring sidekick to Georges Niang, going 19-7 when he scores double figures.
Morris has shot only 25.8 percent from the field in the last four games — including 1-of-9 last time out — a span that stretches even before he banged shoulders with Kansas guard Frank Mason in the Cyclones’ regular season finale.
“When you’re down it’s tough, but I feel like I’m easing my way back,” Morris said. “I feel more comfortable out there with it. I’m just happy. Doc told me I should be two times better than what I feel today.”
And Wednesday, Morris was noticeably improved.
He chirped encouragement to teammates shooting and yelled, ‘No rim!’ even as he released his own shots from the corner. The most encouraging sign? His few words to his doctor midway through Wednesday’s shoot around.
“He was flying around making shots,” Niang said. “The kid looks healthy."
“If he said he's 100 percent, that's great,” coach Steve Prohm added. “With kids, it's a mindset. If his mindset is that he's 100 percent, that's terrific. When he plays well, we're really, really good — we're really tough to beat. If you look at our big wins, he's played well and made big plays in all of them.”