Adversity builds character, and it certainly furthered Jordan Morgan’s last year. So when Mitch McGary went down earlier this season, the only fifth year senior on Michigan’s roster was ready to step to the fore.
“I think it is a lot of maturation,” said Morgan. “I think that goes into (being a leader) a lot. I’m a very different person. I’m just focused and having fun. That’s the biggest difference, having fun, enjoying playing, playing with this team. You never know when a game could be your last. I’m just trying to make the best of it.”
“I think the biggest thing is just staying within myself. Not overcomplicate things or try to do too much. Just stay consistent. Consistently finish, rebound and just kind of shine in my role.”
It’s impossible not to notice the great deference Morgan’s teammates now show him both on and off the court. Part of that stems from his wealth of experience, but the rest is a byproduct of his abounding confidence these days. One could almost call it swagger.
“His focus level has been tremendous,” Michigan assistant Bacari Alexander stated. “Jordan all season long has been probably the stabilizer for this team in the sense that he not only knows how to prepare for an opponent, but he locks in on their tendencies. He is able to do his job and allow others through his communication do theirs as well.”
“Jordan has really evolved in terms of his leadership on two fronts. I talked a moment ago about the preparation. He is a big time preparer. I think the second part of things is the hourglass effect. As a senior when time is starting to dwindle down, I think he is not only exercised his leadership from the standpoint of having a sense of urgency, but also from know-how. Jordan has been through so many battles throughout the Big Ten race and previous NCAA tournaments. So he almost has the credibility of the locker room to not only express himself but organize guys in game moments.”
He also has the credibility to offer suggestions, and sometimes assurances, to his coaches. That certainly was true last week when the Wolverines squared off with Texas and its behemoth big man Cameron Ridley. He eased the concerns John Beilein and company had about Ridley by notching a double-double (15 points and 10 rebounds) and thoroughly outplaying his young counterpart. There’s a similar circumstance in the paint this week versus Tennessee. Morgan’s approach and confidence is no different.
“You can look at the past year (and) people telling us what we can’t do for three or four years now,” said Morgan. “We’re used to that. Keep telling us what we can’t do. We’ve learned to embrace that and just focus on our basketball and let all the talk be talk.”
“You’ve got going down the list Jared Sullinger… I think I’ve had a lot of tough match ups. You’ve got Noah Vonleh. He is taller, but he is athletic and strong. He led the Big Ten in rebounds. Matchups like (Tennessee) are not something new. It is what college basketball is. You are going up against great players, on this stage especially. You’re going to play against great players. Can you step up and execute?”
Morgan has proven that he can. That’s why Beilein beams with pride whenever he talks about one of his earliest in-state recruits.
“It is a long relationship,” said Morgan. “He started recruiting me in probably 2007. We’ve known each other for a long time. One of the things that I liked the most about him when I first started to get recruited was how much he cared about you as a person and your family. I think he takes pride in teaching all of us as teammates and helping us to grow as young men. As I’ve grown, he’s become very…I would say proud in a sense. He just wants the best for all of us. He wants us all to be successful. He is a teacher and he really prides himself on doing everything the right way.”
So far in the tournament Beilein’s way hasn’t steered the Wolverines down the wrong path, and Morgan doesn’t expect that to change tonight. Even if a few pundits disagree.
“I ignore the good stuff. The other stuff, yeah it gets used as fuel some times. I love it when people don’t pick us to win. I think it is kind of becoming the thing. I think it is an obsession. I think TV analysts love picking Michigan to lose. And it’s fun – keep picking us to lose. We enjoy it and we’ll keep making you look bad. It is something we’re used to. If anything it (keeps) us from getting content. I think if there was ever a point that we were ever going to get content over the years, (the coaches) have done a good job of making sure that we don’t by picking us to lose and picking us to not accomplish things.”