KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Entering last year’s Big 12 men’s basketball media day in Kansas City, there was one major narrative: How will anyone stop Buddy Hield, Georges Niang or Perry Ellis?
The three players were the elder statesmen of the conference and, really, college basketball, in general. Now, they’ve all left their respective schools as Big 12 legends.
That means it is time for a new crop of players to step to the forefront. This is an opportunity for someone new to step forward and become the face of the Big 12.
Leading the pack with the spotlight focused squarely on him is, conference preseason player of the year, Monte Morris.
“I’m going with my point guard, man,” Iowa State senior Naz Mitrou-Long said when asked who he saw as the face of the league. “I’d say there’s not a better player in this league than Monte Morris. There’s a reason he was preseason player of the year. I think we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure that he gets that. I think he’s proven it more than anybody in this league and that’s who I’m going with.”
The high-praise of the floor general from Flint, Mich. didn’t stop there. The same words came up time and time again with every person I interviewed.
Poised, composed, talented.
Those three traits are what have made Morris the early front-runner to become the best player in the Big 12. Heck, those traits are what’s made him a candidate to become the best player in the country.
“Last year, I guess, he was kind of in Georges’ shadow,” Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard, formerly the head coach at Arkansas-Little Rock, the Cyclones’ opponent in the second round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, said. “I remember vividly preparing for that game, I watched, maybe the first half of the first game late that night after we beat Purdue, and I was like, ‘This guy might be their best player.’ No disrespect to Georges, but this guy, we were really worried about him. He’s a special player.”
Beard is far from the first opposing coach to say he’s worried about the 6-foot-3-inch senior. He struck fear in the hearts of opponents all last season while averaging 13.8 points and a Big 12 leading 6.9 assists per game.
But, the really scary thing is he’s supposedly even better entering his last year in Ames.
“I’ve seen too much of him on the floor,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. “We’re waiting for him to go to the league. One of the premier point guards in the country. He can shoot it, he can get to the paint, he can finish at the rim, he gets his teammates involved. He had a great summer, a lot of scouts have been talking about him. I know it’s not fun coaching against him, but you like watching him play.”
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins put it rather simply.
“He doesn’t turn the ball over,” Huggins said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. His ball security is absolutely terrific.”
Poise, composure and talent. They’re the three traits that are making people take notice of Monte Morris as one of the best point guards in college basketball.
They’re the same three traits that keep him from feeling the pressure of being one of college basketball’s best.
“I waited my turn, paid my dues,” Morris said. “I’m not nervous. There’s no pressure. I put in the work, the time over the summer. Work’s done, I just got to go out and perform.”