AMES — When the bright lights gleamed last March, Monte Morris’s profile — and minutes — rose.
As a freshman for Iowa State, the skilled and error-averse 6-2 point guard set an NCAA record for assist-to-turnover ratio in a season at 4.79-to-1. But once the NCAA Tournament swung into view, Morris diversified his game.
He hunted shots, notching a career-high 15 points in the 93-75 second-round win over North Carolina Central. Morris then matched his previous career scoring high by dropping 13 on North Carolina in a comeback 85-83 win in the round of 32. He followed that up by totaling 12 points while guarding all-American Shabazz Napier in the 81-76 loss to eventual national champion UConn in the Sweet 16.
That’s some run — but it’s not enough.
“It makes you hungrier for the next year,” Morris said.
Morris showed throughout last year’s tournament that assists merely form the foundation of his on-court repertoire. His presence served as a mirror pressed against the spotlight. The brighter it got, the more his game glowed.
“He’s just one of those guys that does whatever he needs to do to help your team win,” Cyclone coach Fred Hoiberg said on media day. “I’ve told him this a lot: I thought he had as big an impact on our team winning last year as anybody that we had.”
Including the “Big 3” — senior all-Americans Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane, and star junior-to-be Georges Niang?
“I’d put Monte up there as having an impact on winning as much as any of those guys, especially at the end of the year,” Hoiberg said. “He had to be on the floor for me because of his ability to defend. He always had the best perimeter offensive player. And when he needed to score the ball he scored it. When he needed to pass it, he passed it.”
This season, of course, Morris will be asked to do all of those things and more. And if 2013-14 is any indication, he’ll thrive beneath a microscope just as he did under the spotlight.
“Most everything starts off with me,” said Morris, who will see Hoiberg’s offense flow through him even more this season. “I’m able to break plays off to go make a play for myself or others. With Fred’s style of play, I’m going to display my skills.”
His acumen in the passing game is well known. Less known — or less widely praised, anyway — is Morris’s ability to knock down shots all over the floor. In those three tournament games last season, Morris made six 3-pointers, including one during a Naz Long-led 21-11 run that capped the comeback win over the Tar Heels.
But how many deep jumpers did Morris miss in those three games, you ask?
One. That’s it. One.
And here’s the kicker: Morris worked even harder with Long and other teammates in the offseason to improve his stroke and range. That should worry Big 12 foes. It might not, but it should.
“Late nights,” Morris said of his Sukup Basketball Complex sessions with Long.
All of which leads to big nights on the grandest of stages.
“I have to be more aggressive and I’m not really getting catch and shoots anymore,” Morris said. “It’s me coming off a pick and roll and pulling up or creating my own jump shot. So I’d say my shot has definitely gotten better.”
So what’s not to like? Very little, if anything, it seems.
I think his role will definitely increase,” Hoiberg said. “I think a lot of it is just because he’ll have the ball in his hands a lot more. He is definitely ready for that next step.”
Morris was recently tabbed by collegebasketballtalk.nbcspots.com as the No. 2 “breakout star” set to emerge in 2014-15.
He certainly won’t argue with that title, though he may dispute the ranking.
“(Hoiberg) told me told me this day would be here before I know it and it’s here,” Morris said. “We start (in about three weeks) and I feel like I’m prepared and ready to take it on.”