As excited as Cardinalmaniacs™ are about the returning depth for this Stanford Basketball squad, there is a flip side that is not being very widely discussed. While we can be proud of the two-deep that the Cardinal bring to bear at all five positions on the floor, the playing time available to the freshman is hard to find. Where will Tim Morris find his minutes at the shooting guard, behind senior captain and shooting ace Matt Lottich plus the rapidly improving Dan Grunfeld? How does Fred Washington get on the floor when he has All-American candidate Josh Childress and the versatile Nick Robinson in front of him?
It is tough for a basketball coach to meaningfully play three players deep at a position, and Mike Montgomery already has a reputation for tightening the rotation once he hits the meat of the season in Pac-10 play. Four years ago Justin Davis was faced with the prospect of playing his first year behind the Collins twins and Mark Madsen, and the young forward made the decision to take a surprising redshirt. The move was a surprise because in the world of college basketball, a redshirt carries a negative connotation. Either you are physically meek or you are unable to handle the college level of competition given your high school preparation. Davis was neither, but saw the chance for five years of academic study and four years of greater playing time. He also gave himself the gift of a year with the Stanford coaches to work on his game.
A question has been lingering for both Morris and Washington in this preseason, with both having legitimate situations to take a redshirt this year. While there has been nothing written in the media about this situation, the decision process has been fully engaged between the players and coaches. You may be surprised to learn that for one player, there no longer is a decision to make.
6'5" wing Fred Washington played in the intercollegiate scrimmage a week ago against Santa Clara, which analogous to the UC Davis scrimmage Stanford Football played, begins the competitive year for the program. That means that any players participating in the game have started their year and cannot take a voluntary (non-medical) redshirt. When Washington was approached by the Cardinal coaching staff on the redshirt question, he emphatically declared that he wanted to play this year. That was the end of that exploration, as Montgomery has a policy of only redshirting players when they are willing participants.
But 6'4" guard Tim Morris sat out the scrimmage and thus has preserved his ability to redshirt. That does not necessarily mean he is a done deal to take the redshirt, which is something he is internally debating. He is probable to sit on the bench for tomorrow's second preseason contest, the open exhibition game against Team Nike. Morris could still decide to play this year in the next few days or weeks, but for now he is weighing the pros and cons and continuing to evaluate his play in practices.
"I've noticed a lot of progress," Morris says of his practices the last couple weeks. "As a 'two' I know when to make the strong cuts now in the offense. And as a 'one' I'm getting more instinctive and see the spacing."
It will be welcome news to many Stanford fans that this week marked a big move forward with Morris and the Stanford point guard position. He took a few repetitions earlier in the week, and then more on Wednesday. There was no practice Thursday, but yesterday he spent almost the entirety of the practice running the point.
"One day I came in for Carlton [Weatherby] and felt pretty comfortable," he explains. "I've got confidence at the 'two' and that helps me progress in the offense. I feel I play best facing the basket, when I am attacking the defense. It's harder for me when I have my back sometimes to the basket and am looking to the point guard for the ball."
Morris may have had his best practice of this preseason on Friday, though to be fair it should be pointed out that the offense he was asked to run was a paltry fraction of the playbook. He has mostly been given basic motion to run this week, as he gets his feet wet.
"The toughest thing for me is the timing," he offers. "I have to learn where to get the ball to people where they want it. Also where the wings and bigs make their cuts."
Though there is a long way to go for Morris as a Stanford floor general on the offensive end, he is pleased with his performances on defense. "Defense is way easier because there are core principles," the freshman pontificates. "I was better trained for college on defense because my high school coach was defensive minded."
The possibility that Tim Morris could contribute at the point guard position is perhaps the most intriguing reason for him to play this year. Starter Chris Hernandez is a near-guarantee to miss games and practices this year with his chronic back problems, and there is no great depth behind #2 PG Jason Haas. Sophomore walk-on Carlton Weatherby could help out in a pinch but is not at a point in his development where you would likely want him your second point guard in a Pac-10 game. 6'7" Nick Robinson has been spending some time in practices and scrimmages leading the offense, but it is unclear how he will perform in pressure game situations. After all he has spent the majority of his playing days on The Farm as a power forward.
So we have a possibility that Morris could maybe get some time as the #2 PG in an uncertain number of games where Hernandez is ailing. That may be enough for fans to clamor for his play this year, but the wise freshman is carefully approaching this weighty decision. Five years at Stanford means he could come away with dual degrees, and he could find much more playing time next year after Lottich graduates.
We will continue to follow this story, as well as Morris' progress in practices at both guard positions, and be the first to bring you all the latest...
When Montgomery looks at his substitution patterns for the coming season, I for one hope that he is careful to play Dan Grunfeld and Matt Haryasz together on the floor. There is an uncanny chemistry between the two that needs to be exploited. Witness the practice session Friday when the sophomore pair were suited up on the White squad on offense against the first team Red squad and their 1-1-3 zone defense. After one early stop, the first teamers were shredded by the dynamic inside-outside duo. Haryasz hit an open perimeter jumper off a Grunfeld pass, the Grunfeld on the next series hit a three-pointer. Next play Grunfeld receives a pass in the corner and fakes like he will take a jumper, and instead drives past Justin Davis with a quick move and takes the ball to the hole for an leaping lay-in off the glass. Next series, Haryasz cans a perimeter jumper. To polish off the drills, Tim Morris hit a three pointer at the top of the key.
The team finished Friday's practice with a two-part scrimmage. The first session lasted eight minutes, with the second part going four minutes. The Red squad started with Chris Hernandez, Matt Lottich, Josh Childress, Justin Davis and Rob Little. Jason Haas and Nick Robinson were reserves who substituted in. The White squad started Tim Morris, Dan Grunfeld, Fred Washington, Matt Haryasz and Joe Kirchofer. Carlton Weatherby was the one man for that team on the bench. Hernandez played the first 2:15 before Montgomery pulled him for the remainder. There was also a time when Haas moved to the White squad, and then back to the Red. Further confusing matters, Robinson and Haryasz switched teams during the break between the two periods. With that laid out for you, here are the scoring summaries...
|3-0||Justin Davis drives off the opening tip and takes it to the hole, plus one on the foul|
|3-2||Joe Kirchofer scores a lay-in off a Tim Morris feed from the top of the key|
|5-2||Rob Little catches an in-bounds pass at eight feet and releases it in the same motion for a quick score; pass came from Matt Lottich|
|7-2||Josh Childress steal handed off to Matt Lottich on the break, who fakes the three and fires a pass to a streaking Justin Davis - easy lay-in|
|7-5||Dan Grunfeld cans a three-pointer|
|9-5||Josh Childress scores on a rebound putback tip-in off a missed Matt Lottich three|
|9-7||Dan Grunfeld comes off a high screen and slashes into the lane, then pulls up for a floating jumper|
|11-7||Rob Little draws a foul down low and hits 2/2 free throws|
|11-9||Joe Kirchofer scores inside off a Dan Grunfeld feed|
|13-9||Matt Lottich hits a long jumper with one foot on the arc|
|13-11||Joe Kirchofer tips in a putback off a missed Matt Haryasz 10-foot jumper|
|15-11||Justin Davis catches a feed from Matt Lottich with his back to the basket, quickly turns and lays it in off the glass|
|15-13||Tim Morris strokes an 18-foot jumper|
|15-15||Tim Morris makes a steal on defense and races the distance for a dunk finish in transition - coast to coast|
|17-15||Jason Haas runs underneath and catches a feed from Rob Little in the high post, then puts it off the glass for an easy lay-in|
|End of 8:00; squads break and Montgomery puts 4:00 more on the clock|
|19-15||Justin Davis takes a Matt Lottich feed, makes a quick step to the basket and lays it in|
|19-17||Joe Kirchofer receives a beautiful wrap-around pass from Dan Grunfeld and lays it in|
|19-20||Tim Morris plays a nice two-man game with Joe Kirchofer on the pick and roll, finally getting fouled as he drove to the basket but puts the ball in the basket high off the glass as he is hammered; +1 with the free throw|
|22-20||Josh Childress nails a trey from the top of the arc|
|22-22||Tim Morris scores a reverse lay-up on a 3-on-2 fast break, started by a Nick Robinson steal|
|24-22||Nick Robinson hits a long jumper with a foot on the line, though the possession was defined by a series of Justin Davis offensive rebounds|
|24-24||Joe Kirchofer scores a lay-in from a Fred Washington feed at the top of the arc|
|25-24||Justin Davis is fouled inside with just three seconds on the clock and hits the front end of a one-and-one, then misses the second free throw|
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