EAST LANSING – As the Flint Beecher players were introduced before Saturday’s Class C state championship game, he stood in the Beecher section at the Breslin Center and cheered each introduction.
After 6-foot-7 sophomore Levane Blake finished off a fast break with a rim-rattling, teeth-chattering, spine-tingling flying slammer, he turned his phone toward the scoreboard screen and recorded the replay for posterity.
When Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian scored its first basket, he shook his head in disgust.
For one afternoon, Monte Morris, a sophomore at Iowa State, was not one college basketball’s best point guards; he simply was a Beecher alumnus cheering on his alma mater as it won its third state championship in the past four years with a resounding 78-52 victory.
Morris was in the area because his grandmother turned 70 on Friday and because he wanted to see his Bucs play for another title after he had led them to their previous two championships.
“This is a great opportunity for me to see a high school game,” Morris said. “I haven’t seen a high school game since I graduated.”
His last high school game was a doozy. After winning a state title as a junior, Morris suffered from food poisoning the morning of the championship game and was in and out of the locker room throwing up during the game before Beecher eked out a one-point victory.
“I appreciate my last game,” he said Saturday. “I didn’t want a blowout for my last game, and I feel like God made everything happen for a reason, and it made me appreciate it more. I think I appreciate the game of basketball more and not take anything for granted. I went to eat at McDonald’s at 2 in the morning, and I shouldn’t have even been up that late.”
Morris now plays for Fred Hoiberg, generally regarded as one of the country’s best coaches. Morris said playing for Beecher’s Mike Williams prepared him for college basketball.
“It’s just his composure,” Morris said of Williams. “He’s been at this level and on this stage plenty of times, and now it’s second nature to him. He’s so calm and collected about the situation. I think that’s what makes him a great coach.”
But what about Hoiberg?
“It’s close with him and Fred,” Morris said. “They’ve got two different styles. Coach Mike’s a good coach; Fred’s a good coach. They’re kind of the same. Coach Mike is still on the guys tough. He hasn’t really changed.”
Morris spoke to the Bucs on Friday and told them to stay in the moment and enjoy the experience.
Williams has a father/son relationship with Morris and many of his former players, and Morris was hardly the only former Beecher player in the stands Saturday.
“We get all kinds of kids coming back,” Williams said. “A lot of the kids who played on the 2012 and 2013 teams were right behind the bench tonight. And they let them know the expectation is to win it all.”
Morris was the 2013 Hal Schram Mr. Basketball Award winner, and as a freshman broke the NCAA assist-to-turnover record at 4.79. This season, he finished at 4.63, well ahead of any point guard in the country.
His last-second basket beat Texas in the Big 12 tournament, but his most impressive accomplishment came when he averaged 37 minutes, helping Iowa State win the tournament without a turnover.
“I trust in my instincts,” he said. “I’ve got great teammates, and I just tried to play my game. I wasn’t a high-turnover guy in high school, really. But at a college level, in that type of atmosphere, seeing teams a third time, you’d think I’d have one.”
Morris will go down in Beecher lore as the most important player in program history, and not just because of the two state titles. At a time when Beecher seemed like a proving ground for players who later transferred to other schools, Morris never left Beecher.
“I didn’t want to leave here,” he said. “Growing up, I always wanted to play here. I just wanted to bring some titles to Beecher. I was able to bring two, and they’ve got their third in four years.”
The transfer situation was so bad that the summer before Morris’ freshman year Reggie Stallings transferred to Flint Carman-Ainsworth, Taron Boose went to Saginaw and JaVonte Hawkins enrolled at Flint Powers.
Williams was upset after losing those three, but the 14-year-old Morris told him: “Coach, don’t worry about them leaving. They left to get out of my way.”
Morris laughed at the memory.
“I didn’t know if I was really going to make it happen,” he said, “but I just had to give him a little hope.”
He gave Williams more than hope; he gave him a championship program.