Last season, Spartan junior forward Raymar Morgan entered the year with immense hype surrounding him. After an impressive freshman campaign, fans and analysts thought Morgan was bound to explode as a sophomore.
He finished the season averaging 14 points per game and just over six rebounds, and his play garnered him second team All-Big Ten honors. Yet even with the solid numbers and accolades, many couldn't help but feel that Morgan didn't quite play up to his potential, especially once the Big Ten season got underway.
During the Spartans' non-conference schedule, Morgan averaged just over 17 points and 7 rebounds. After dropping 31 points on Minnesota in the Big Ten opener, Morgan's consistency faltered, and for the remainder of the season, Morgan's numbers totaled 12 points per game and about 5.5 rebounds.
While it was Drew Neitzel who was deemed a preseason all-American, it was Morgan's play that set the tone. As his play faltered, so did the Spartans'.
In Morgan's defense, conference play is always more difficult, and one must remember he was only a sophomore. But as last season attested, Morgan has more to learn when it comes to being the "go-to-guy" and deciphering the schematic aspects of the game.
"I had never had that role," Morgan said recently on Media Day. "Now that I've seen different defenses and different schemes, I think that I should adjust a lot easier and be able to adapt to it."
Morgan and head coach Tom Izzo don't believe that the same circumstances will occur this season. Izzo has witnessed improvement in Morgan, who is a small forward but scores the majority of his points in and around the paint.
"I think he's made big strides this summer," said Izzo. "I think he's improved his shooting a lot."
Improvements in his perimeter game as well as in his ball-handling (turnovers) are important aspects that are needed for Morgan to become a more well-rounded player. These upgrades are imperative for the development of this team and for Morgan, who has aspirations of playing at the next level.
Like last season, the team's and Morgan's success may be determined by the progression of teammates, particularly those in the sophomore class, a class coach Izzo calls the key to the team.
Without a doubt, teams will place added attention on Kalin Lucas. Chris Allen is healthy now, and looked like he regained his athleticism last night at Midnight Madness. And Durrell Summers will be more comfortable with the college game and will take some of the playmaking burden off of Morgan's shoulders.
Morgan credits the improvements in his and his teammate's game to endless work over the summer at the practice facility. He mentioned that on several occasions numerous players slept at the practice facility.
Greatness is built on that kind of dedication.