Ex-Wolverine Morris learning from the best: Kobe

Former Michigan point guard Darius Morris is preparing for the upcoming NBA season with extensive work in the summer league in Las Vegas.

The Los Angeles native led the Lakers in scoring and assists this summer, averaging 15.2 points and 4.2 assists in five games.

“Summer league has been going well,” Morris said. “I didn’t get to experience it last year because of the lockout, but I definitely felt like I’ve gotten better from game one to the last game, and I’ve been watching a lot of films, and it’s good to get meaningful game experience.”

Morris, a 2011 second-round pick of the Lakers after two years at U-M, averaged 2.4 points and 1.1 assists in 19 games last season as a rookie. He averaged just 8.9 minutes per game.

Preparing for another year with the Lakers, Morris, 21, is not only learning how to become a better player from coach Mike Brown, but he’s getting advice from his mentor, five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant.

“They teach me a lot, just being around them,” Morris said. “They’ve had a lot of experience in the league, so I’m able to soak up a lot of information from them, especially Kobe, being my mentor, but not only my mentor, but like one of my best friends on the team.”

Brown said the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Morris is “fun to be around” and calls him a “young kid that’s learning the game and learning how to be in the NBA.”

“He’s a big athletic guard that is very strong and has tremendous quickness and court vision,” Brown said. “He�s the kind of guy that can move from baseline to baseline with the basketball probably just as quick as any other player in the league, and he has a lot of upside. He needs to still work on his shot, which he’s done a terrific job of in the last year … a lot of promise.”

Morris might be wearing a different jersey, but he still considers himself a member of the U-M family.

“It was a great experience,” Morris said. “You know my team is there, being a part of a turnaround when I first got there. Meeting everybody and getting established, knowing what Coach (John) Beilein was all about. I think about my time when I left there, I think we had did a good job establishing a new tradition or you could even say revitalizing the old one, on winning traditions. The honor to play there for the fans and for the city of Ann Arbor, I just felt really blessed for being able to do that.”

Morris has high expectations for this season’s Wolverines.

“I think this team this year will probably be one of the best team we’ve had,” he said. “… With Trey Burke leading them, as well as Tim Hardaway and Jordan Morgan, it’s fun … and you got the new guys who are really, really good.”

Next season, Morris hopes to expand his role with the Lakers.

“Hopefully, I can crack the rotation and provide a spark off the bench,” Morris said. “Backing up Steve Nash or just helping out any way they need me to, both for offense and defense, and coming out there and making plays. From my freshman year to my sophomore year, I had learned a lot in college, so hopefully in my rookie and sophomore year in the league, I can show a big improvement as well.�

When asked about how he felt about Nash and veteran Antawn Jamison joining the Lakers, the point guard had only good things to say.

�I�m really excited, in particularly for Steve Nash, because he�s a Hall of Fame point guard,� Morris said. �He�s been doing this for a really high level for a long time. Last year, I learned a lot from Kobe but to be able to learn from somebody that actually plays my position and already will be known as one of the greatest from this decade. I just thank God, it�s a blessing to be able to do that, and I don�t take it for granted. I�m really looking forward to it.�

Lakers guard Andrew Goudelock calls Morris a teammate who can �really help out a lot� and �bring a physical presence.�

�His greatest strength is pick-and-roll because I can use a pick-and-roll and ball handling in general is his biggest strength because he can definitely handle the ball,� Goudelock said.

Goudelock said he has high expectations for Morris and is confident that the player will bring a lot to the team.

�Every time I step on the court with him, or he just steps on the court, I�m always striving to see what�s going to happen because you never know what�s going to come out of him,� Goudelock said. �He has the best personality, and it gets us far because people love his personality.�

With the support of teammates, Brown and his U-M family, Morris is striving to make a name for himself.

�Five years from now, I see myself established in the NBA and working hard to just continue to get better and having a little name in the NBA,� Morris said. �One of the best point guards in the NBA and that�s what you work out so hard for and just a solid point guard in the NBA working hard trying to win a championship.�

Brown said that if he continues to work hard, particularly on his shooting, he�ll have a chance to play in this league for a long time.

The best advice Morris would give to any aspiring basketball player or anyone with a dream is to believe.

“Just believe, believe in anything that’s possible,” Morris said. “… No matter what it looks like, if they have a dream to make it to the NBA or anything in life, you can do it even with temporary defeats along the way that stuff just makes you stronger. So my thing is to always believe and work hard toward whatever you want to come true.”

Morris hopes to accomplish a lot throughout his lifetime, not only as a basketball player but a human being.

�I would say that I just want people to look back at me as a basketball player or off the court that I was just a person that did things the right way and carried yourself with a lot of class,� he said. �I�m a religious person, so hopefully some of my ways don�t affect my beliefs in God. In fact, just inspire others to do good things, especially kids, to inspire them and anything is possible and your dreams can come true.�

Contact: CHARNAE SANDERS at cmsanders@freepress.com.

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