Scholar Stage

Ja MorantJa Morant

Hometown: Dalzell, South Carolina
High School: Crestwood High School
Major: Undeclared

 

Ja Morant, a sophomore from Dalzell, South Carolina has found his second home at Murray State. This is his story.

Feature from CBS Sports

 

Posted by CBS Sports on Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Your attention, please: the amazing story of Murray State star basketball player Ja Morant has grown throughout the past year in captivating Racer Nation and beyond.

The 2018-19 men’s basketball season for the Murray State Racers will go down in history as one of the best in the 94 years of the collegiate program. Aside from the team success, it will go down as the year of Ja Morant.

The “Morant effect” was far-reaching as this sophomore from the small town of Dalzell, South Carolina, has done more in his two seasons than many have done in four years.

Racer fans have delighted in turning on the television nearly every night and watching Morant on ESPN making another top-10 play and after a while, feeling that it became routine.

Much can be and has been written about Ja Morant, but no matter how they write it, the one thing that makes the explosive guard really good is his consistency. In being named Murray State’s 15th Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year, Morant put on full display a collection of skills that no player before him at Murray State has ever had.

Ja Morant’s basketball career was launched like a rocket into space as he went from a very good player heading into his sophomore season into a great player and eventually a top NBA draft pick.

It’s the stuff that leads to the making of a movie and it all happened at Murray State.

Freshman success and summer fun

Morant was an 18-year old freshman in 2017 and quickly became the starting point guard for the Racers right from the start. The Racers had OVC Player of the Year Jonathan Stark and the best big man in All-OVC forward Terrell Miller. Morant was a facilitator and averaged 6.3 assists per game to rank second in the OVC and help the Racers win the OVC regular season and tournament championships. The Racers went 26-6 and made their 16th trip to the NCAA Tournament. Morant probably should’ve been OVC Freshman of the Year, but was nipped by Austin Peay’s Terry Taylor in a vote of the OVC’s head coaches and communications director.

In collegiate basketball, one of the rarest accomplishments a player can have is the triple-double. This is when a player earns 10 or more points, rebounds, assists, blocked shots or steals in a single game. In most cases, a player records the first three stats on that list. Morant did it in his 13th college game on Dec. 28, 2017 at the CFSB Center against Eastern Illinois. Morant scored 11 points, pulled down 10 rebounds and dished out 14 assists. It was Murray State’s first triple-double since 2009.

Morant’s offseason was going like most in the college game. Spending time at home and at Murray State, playing pick up games and generally relaxing, while taking summer classes. However, his summer got a lot more interesting when NBA all-star Chris Paul invited Morant to attend his summer camp that only the top 20 guards in the college game get an invitation to. Not only did Morant attend the camp, but many NBA scouts who watched him work out against the best said he was the top player there. As school began in August of 2018, Morant’s meteoric rise was launched.

Preseason hype

Racer fans have likely watched Racer Mania in person, or at least seen highlights of it each October. The Murray State teams are introduced, play a short scrimmage and sign schedule posters for the fans. 2018 Racer Mania was unlike any before it when Morant started showing his assortment of dunks. He saved the best for last when he jumped over four teammates and dunked the basketball. Video of his amazing dunk went viral in social media and it just further fueled the momentum that sped the Racers and Ja into the regular season.

Morant was named to the All-OVC Preseason Team and if the rest of the world didn’t already know how good this kid was going to be, his teammates and coaches did privately and as the regular season started, all that was left was to let Morant loose on opponents and enjoy it.

Look, there’s Ja on ESPN again

After scoring 26 points in the Racers’ win over Wright State in the season opener, he earned a triple-double when the Racers beat Missouri State. Morant had his second triple-double at Murray State with 29 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists.

His game at Alabama Nov. 26 marked the first time in the season that a national television audience would be able to see him and he didn’t disappoint. Morant scored 38 points and kept the Racers in the game, but it was his dunk in the final seconds that really opened some eyes. When Morant dunked on two Alabama players late in the game, his effort became ESPN’s best play in its nightly top-10 plays. Millions of fans were getting in on the news that the guard from Murray State was the real deal. On Jan, 10, Morant actually jumped over a UT Martin player and it also gained national attention. Morant was on ESPN daily and he appeared on ESPN’s top-10 a total of six times, and three times, he was selected as the top play of the day. On the night at UT Martin, Sports Illustrated photographer Dave Klutho was there and captured this amazing play, and it was later used to highlight Morant in a double-page spread in the magazine.

National media outlets were making weekly trips to Murray to tell the story of this great player from the small town of Dalzell, S.C. and how he found his way to Murray State. By the time The Athletic, Bleacher Report, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, ESPN and CBS all spent time in Murray, the word was out. Murray State has this kid named Ja Morant and he’s really good!

Morant family & Racer family

When sudden fame is thrust on anyone, it’s easy to be affected by it. But not Morant. Grounded by a solid and loving raising in Dalzell by his father, Tee, and his mother, Jamie, Morant has handled the attention like a seasoned pro. Even as the fans of Murray State’s opponents gave him standing ovations and hundreds stayed afterwards hoping to get his autograph or maybe a picture with him, Morant has been the same throughout.

He truly is a young man with the kind of wisdom reserved for someone with a lot more experience.

“I don’t let myself get caught up in all the hype,” Morant said. “All I am thinking about is where my feet are today and that’s at Murray State. All I want to do is be with my team and win. Winning is the most important thing, because if we do that, all this other stuff will take care of itself.

The last two editions of Racer men’s basketball have been close-knit groups. Morant’s teammates know him as a friend and they enjoy the attention Morant is getting because they know, at the end of the day, Morant is going to be the same guy.

“Hey, we know his situation and we know how big this can be for Ja,” said junior forward Darnell Cowart. “But the thing that helps keep us all together is that Ja has never gotten to where he thinks he’s big time. We’re just one big family and Ja is part of that family. We’ve always kept this about us and what can we accomplish as a team and that’s what makes it special.”

“The unselfishness with which Ja plays means it’s no surprise when he goes out and sets a Murray State record with 18 assists in a game,” said head coach Matt McMahon. “He impacts the game and has an ability to make everyone around him better. Ja is as good as there is in the world at getting the ball to his teammates and they’ve done a good job at finishing the play for him.”

So many records, so little time

Those 18 assists just mentioned came at UT Martin Jan. 10, on the same night when he made that amazing dunk. A Murray State record that had stood since the mid nineties; it’s just one of a list of accomplishments as Morant leaves his mark on the Murray State and OVC record book.

Through regular season play, he's had two triple-doubles this season and 18 double-doubles. He's got 22 games of 20-plus points, five games of 30-plus and one of 40. In assists, Morant has 16 games of 10 or more. With his scoring average of 24.1 points per game and 10.3 assist rate, Morant is trying to become the first player to average 20/10 in NCAA D-I history. Morant is the first and he’s just the 15th player in the history of college basketball to have 300 assists in a single-season.

He has three triple-doubles in his two seasons with the Racers (two this season) and it ties him for the most ever in the OVC. Morant is the 46th Racer to reach 1,000 career points and among two-year players, he is third with 1,076 points as one of only six MSU two-year players to reach 1,000.

The list of awards for Ja Morant is very long and it starts with being the 15th Murray State player to be named OVC Player of the Year. Additionally, Morant became the first player in the history of the OVC to be named as an All-America for the John Wooden, James Naismith, Oscar Robertson, Bob Cousy and Coach Lute Olsen awards.

Story: Dave Winder
Murray State Athletics