WEST DES MOINES
Monte Morris exceeded even the highest of possible expectations for his freshman year. He moved into the starting lineup, played crunch time minutes on the biggest stages and even set an NCAA record for assist-to-turnover ratio.
He did it, though, while sharing the backcourt — and point guard duties — with one of the nation’s top players. This coming season, it’ll be Morris’ job to run the show.
He got a taste of re-emerging himself into a traditional point guard role this summer playing with an American team in France.
“I was the only true point guard on the roster,” Morris said after a recent Capital City League contest, “so I had to always come back to get the ball. Playing with that 24-second shot clock (in France), it made me get used to playing on the ball more than off the ball.
“That experience, that’s what (the ISU coaching staff) wanted me to go over there for, just to get back to being that leader and a natural point guard. I feel like it helped me big time.”
Morris (Flint Beecher) averaged 6.8 points per game along with 3.7 assists against just 0.8 turnovers. He became one of the most consistent Cyclones throughout the season, rarely having an off play, let alone an off game.
It was a remarkable performance for a freshman, but his role was, in part, defined by DeAndre Kane, a fellow point guard who earned All-American honors.
Playing in France allowed Morris to get back into the role of floor general, one he played to perfection during back-to-back high school state title runs in at Flint (Mich.) Beecher.
“It gives him a game-real feel when he doesn’t have a DeAndre Kane out there with him to kind of take over,” ISU assistant and Morris’ lead recruiter Cornell Mann said. “That’s kind of his deal now. He has to be the guy that takes over and leads guys and that sort of thing.
“I think from that aspect, it’s really going to help him and give him a little of his own identity without his Iowa State teammates. I think that’s a really good thing.”
Morris has known for some time that his chance to take the reins of the team was coming.
“(ISU coach Fred) Hoiberg told me in his office before the (NCAA) tournament, I’m playing a role off the ball now but this time coming up, I’ll be on the ball just as much as DeAndre,” Morris said.
“He’s going to need me to look for my shot also. So, out here I’m trying to look for my shot (this summer) a little more than I did last year.”
The slight-framed Morris also got to play a more punishing brand of basketball overseas.
“It was a lot more physical than even college basketball,” said Morris, who famously took a hard hit from West Virginia’s Eron Harris last season.
“They were stronger and faster. The experience of playing against them, I feel like it’s going to make me work that much harder.”
After weighing in at 150 pounds a year ago, Morris said he’s up to 172 this summer.
“That helped a lot with me going down there finishing at the rim,” he said.
“I know I’m not going to make a whole bunch of my (jump) shots later in the season with my legs tired, so I’m going to have to learn how to finish at the rim.
“I’m not going to gain too much weight because this is my frame, but I’m going to get a lot stronger, and I have gotten a lot stronger.”