The summer basketball circuit is no stranger to biting criticism. Worries about shoe company influence, the corruption of hangers-on, and the individual style of play have had a large part in turning many off to the entire process. While much of that concern is warranted, we should be careful not to lose sight of the very positive people still involved in that realm of high school hoops, and the very positive benefits it can have for many of the players.
Consider this. At no other time are coaches, reporters, or fans (for that matter) able to see the top basketball players in the country match up against one another to get a broader account of their skills. It offers the players a chance to measure themselves. Furthermore, summer performances can make a kid's recruitment. Perform well against the best, and your stock skyrockets. Players have the freedom to display all of their talents, and that certainly was the case with Canton McKinley's Raymar Morgan
The 6-7 210-pound combo forward is one of the most versatile players in the country. He can stroke it from the outside, take it off the dribble, and get it done with his back to the basket. After showing his wonderful array of skills this summer, the attention he received exploded. The interesting thing to those that have watched him the closest over the years is the talents Morgan showed this summer aren't anything new. In the subjective area of talent evaluation, his previous status outside of the top 30 players nationally seems to be one of the more vast oversights in recent years. According to his AAU coach Percy Robinson, there are a few very clear reasons why.
"I think [coaches and scouts] were so hung up on the other payers out of Ohio that they just totally went to sleep on him," Robinson said. "One of the biggest reasons they slept on him was he was playing the four spot with his high school. A lot of coaches hadn't seen him play AAU. They were figuring that he's 6-6/6-7 post player. That wasn't his most comfortable position even though he can play it very well. Canton McKinley had a team full of little guards…and they're good little guards. So they didn't need a 6-7 guy out on the wing when they had smaller guys all over the place that can handle perimeter. So that left Raymar in the post."
Some players get discouraged by lack of recognition or appreciation for their talents. That, however, has never been an issue for Morgan. Noted as a young man that puts the team before himself, he made personal sacrifices to ensure collective success. Though he admittedly prefers the wing, his willingness to play in the post helped lead McKinley to the 2005 Ohio state title. Through it all, many around Morgan, including Coach Robinson, kept assuring him that people would eventually start to realize how truly talented he really is.
"I always told him that the cream rises to the top," Robinson said. "All he had to do is continue to do the right things. Play Raymar basketball. I told him, 'I'm going to push you to get everything you have in you. You'll probably hate me at times, but that's ok. In the end you'll love me for what I'm trying to do.' The truth is, it wasn't me. This was always in Raymar. He had it in him all along. He wanted to do these things. When he got the opportunity, he did WELL!"
Saying that he played "well" this summer just might be an understatement. Morgan was down right dominant at times. His performance at the 2005 Nike Camp was one of the top five showings in Indianapolis. He scored with ease from both inside and out, but also showed impressive passing ability, and displayed a willingness to do the dirty work on the boards. Robinson could see the storm coming. According to the veteran coach, the work his star pupil put in when it's NOT game-time foretold the things to come.
"Basically his whole game stepped up another level," Robinson said. "There were a lot of people saying that they hadn't seen him play facing the basket. I don't know why they were saying that because all last year he was playing facing the basket…but just for me. Not at his high school. When I got Raymar, one of the things I told his mom was I was going to try to help him be a total player. When kids come to me at the beginning of the summer, I let them know in no uncertain terms that I'm going to teach them, they will be disciplined, and they will be obedient about the game. Respect the game, and my job is a lot easier. When my kids are on the floor you don't ever see them with their pants hanging down to their knees and you don't see their underwear hanging because I don't play that. It's about discipline. You've got to be disciplined. If you're going to be good at something, you've got to be disciplined and you've got to be obedient. Those are the two main things I try to instill in these guys. I always tell them if they learn that here, once they leave the court they will have those same things."
"I'm old school! (Laughing). If they don't want to work and don't want to play organized basketball, then they are not going to play for me. When I have a practice, we practice! Everybody is involved. There's no profanity. They don't hear me swear, and I don't allow them to. I've had good players leave my team because they didn't want to be bothered with the discipline part of it. If we're going to be a team, we ought to be like family. You've got to believe and trust in each other. Once you get a player to buy into what you're trying to do with them and with the team, then you can coach them. They'll listen and respond to what you're telling them to do. Raymar has done that."
Look for parts two and three of our four part feature on Raymar Morgan tomorrow.