Expectations were through the roof for Morris when he stepped on campus, as the Cats had their highest profile recruit since Keith Bogans and Marvin Stone. Many NBA prognosticators speculated that if Morris had entered the 2004 NBA Draft, he would have been a first-round selection and that reputation led Kentucky fans to expect the young man to dominate from his first day on campus. Domination never materialized, as Morris' freshman season showcased some of the difficulty post players have in making the jump to the college game. He found himself encountering centers for opposing teams that were unlike the 6'3"-6'5" members of the Beta Club that he played against in high school.
Early in the season, this frustration was readily apparent in Morris's game. For the first time in his career he saw double teams that blocked his line of vision, causing him to make unwise passes and too frequent turnovers. His confidence seemed to be a bit shaken and most distressingly to the coaching staff, he lost his aggression, spending the vast majority of games simply disappearing from the offensive flow. At one point, it even seemed that Morris was in danger of losing his starting spot to the quickly developing Shagari Alleyne, whose momentary status as fan favorite led to his entry into the games (and the corresponding Morris departure) to be greeted with wild applause.
However like most supremely talented big men, Morris began to hit his stride midway through his freshman season. Where he once ran up the floor on offense, parked himself on the low block and did little else, he now moved into the low post with authority, called for the ball with the defender on his hip and made the correct decision when confronted with a double-team. Morris recognized that one of the more potent weapons in his arsenal could be his teammate Chuck Hayes, and the conference action brought abou tthe insertion of a high-low passing attack between the two big men, which freed up space for the both of them. Morris became an intergral part of the offensive unit, and the team utilized his size and the attention he drew from defenses to free up Patrick Sparks and Kelenna Azubuike for three point shots.
Most importantly from the coaching staff's perspective was Morris's newly found aggression in hitting the boards. While many questioned how a tall player with Randolph's skill could be such a poor rebounder, Morris answered by showing that when he had the desire, he had the talent to dominate the glass. His rebounding numbers went up, helping solidify the weakness that had plagued the team all season.
Morris's improvement culminated during the Wildcats' run in the NCAA Tournament, where he played two of his best games of the season. Against Cincinnati in the secound round, Morris became a primary offensive option down the stretch, making two key baskets in the final five minutes, and converting two three-point opportunities. In addition, he controlled the glass during the latter parts of the game, preventing the supremely athletic Bearcats from getting second-chance points. Morris grabbed two key rebounds, including the one with a minute left that essentially spelled the end of Cincinnati's chances. Many commented that Morris was the MVP after the game, and the performance helped showcase him on a national level. While he got into some unnecessary foul trouble in his heavily hyped match-up with Utah star Andrew Bogut, he made up for his lack of playing time in the Elite Eight, putting on a great performance in a double overtime loss to Michigan State. Morris found himself in the role of offensive go-to guy at the end of the games, making key baskets and crucial free throws during the nip and tuck game. Morris held his own against Spartans' star Paul Davis, preventing him from scoring easy baskets, and forcing Michigan State to hit outside shots.
The Cincinnati and Michigan State games were Morris' two best all-around performances of the year and helped fuel speculation that he would enter the 2005 NBA Draft and cash-in on his likely first-round status. ESPN.com insider Chad Ford has Randolph listed as the second best center prospect in the country behind Bogut, but as of yet, Morris has indicated that he inteds to be a Wildcat next year. If he does as expected and stays in Lexington, Morris could very well be the key component of Kentucky's attempted Final Four run next season. With Chuck Hayes and Kelenna Azubuike gone and Patrick Sparks's jumper a bit inconsistent, Morris will be relied upon to produce big offensive numbers. As the season progressed last year, it was clear that Randolph has that potential, but he will need another large improvement in order to fulfill his role as a first-choice offensive weapon.
One of the hardest adjustments that a college basketball player must make is the move from contributor on a deep team to the main option on a team focused around the player's skills. Next year's Kentucky team will be young and Randolph Morris will be asked to fill the role for which he was recruited. In an age where the big man is rare in college basketball, North Carolina's Sean May showcased that a powerful low-post presence can be an unstoppable weapon. In order for Kentucky to reach its goals next year, Morris must emulate that effort and attempt to replicate Morris's success. While Kentucky is deep at the center position, only one player has the potential to be an unstoppable offensive weapon. If Morris can continue his strong finish from last season and reach his overwhelming potential, the sky is the limit for him and the Kentucky basketball team.