Sports

He Didn't Zig, He Zagged

SPOKANE, Wash. — The high school kids, so many of them, couldn't wait to get out of Spokane.

They wanted to go to Seattle, with its music and caffeinated culture, leaving their outpost on the other side of the state in the rearview mirror.

Adam Morrison made it OK not to leave.

He stayed, and the former Gonzaga ball boy made it to the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 21.

"I've always loved Spokane," Morrison said. "I've always thought it was a good place to grow up.

"Just how it's a big city, but not that big. There's plenty of stuff to do, but you don't see skyscrapers and traffic. It's not hectic, but it's big enough not to be a Podunk little town."

He is not the first basketball star to stick around and play for Gonzaga.

John Stockton did before him, and still lives in Spokane after a career as one of the greatest players in NBA history.

But for so many young people, for so long, the idea of staying was full of conflict.

"If you're not from Spokane, you'll never understand why Gonzaga's Adam Morrison is more to us than just a college basketball player," Andrew Winner, a 24-year-old former high school basketball player who lives in Seattle, wrote in his blog.

"We grow up thinking that we need to leave the city to make something of our lives — staying in Spokane is synonymous with failure. When asking what an old friend is up to, the reply, 'He's still in Spokane,' is said with downcast eyes and a sense of pity."

Now the pity will be when Morrison leaves, and probably soon, based on the way the junior wriggled when asked if he had just played his last home game after the West Coast Conference tournament final.

Morrison made it OK to stay. Strange to say, he also made it cool to be diabetic.

He was 14 when he was found to have the disease, and frequently can be seen on the bench testing his blood sugar and injecting himself with insulin during games.

"Setting the example he does by taking care of it and working so hard to maintain his blood-sugar level is so important," said Ted Duncan, regional director of the American Diabetes Assn. for Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho.

"Seeing Adam check his blood-sugar levels shows them they can take care of themselves too."

The last two years, Morrison's father, John, a former junior college coach, has organized a tournament of H-O-R-S-E in Spokane to benefit the American Diabetes Assn., and though Adam's involvement is limited by NCAA rules, he frequently speaks to or writes to children with diabetes.

"I probably get four phone calls a day," Duncan said. " 'My son is having a birthday, do you think Adam could come?' It's really changed our world up here, not only the funny phone calls like that, but the nice phone calls. A mom will call me and say, 'We asked Adam to do this, or sign this, and he wrote a personal note, and it's just changed the whole outlook of my child.' "

Glenn Williams, Morrison's coach at Mead High, gets the same kind of requests, an e-mail from a former player, a question from a casual acquaintance whose child is diabetic.

It was inside the Mead gym — often at 7 a.m. with Williams' son Bryan, the point guard — that Morrison's skills began to develop. So did his body, as he shot from about 6 feet 2 as a sophomore to 6-8.

Morrison's junior year, Sean Mallon, now a Gonzaga teammate, set the career scoring record for the Greater Spokane League. The next year, Morrison broke it, finishing with 1,904 points.

"People knew there was something special going on with these kids," Williams said.

Still in high school, Morrison started going to the Gonzaga gym to play pickup with the Bulldog players. By the spring before his senior year, he committed, following Mallon to campus. "This was the only school that gave me an offer," said Morrison, though he would have been more heavily recruited if he hadn't committed so early.

"I don't know if anybody gave me a chance, being a diabetic and not being as tall then. Coming through high school, Gonzaga was the school to go to, especially now.

"I've always wanted to go there, and it's kind of neat to be able to play at home."

More from Spokane are likely to follow, basketball players or not.

"It goes back to the phenomenon of Gonzaga basketball," Williams said. "It's taken on such a national prominence that it's desirable to go there. There's a sense now a lot of these kids can go to GU now, it's OK, because of the Mallons and Morrisons. …"

These days, Morrison's burgeoning popularity as he and Duke's J.J. Redick engaged in a cross-country duel for national player of the year and the NCAA scoring title have made Spokane seem a little more crowded.

"He's almost reached iconic status," Williams said. "He's real aware of crowds, because he can't get through without being detained. …

"I call him our Halley's comet. A player like Adam or Stockton comes along every 25 years, if that much."

*

(INFOBOX BELOW)

GONZAGA ROSTER

Team roster and hometowns:

NAME P CL HOMETOWN Altidor-Cespedes G So. Montreal J.P. Batista F-C Sr. Olinda, Brazil Mamery Diallo F-C Jr. Evreux, France Nathan Doudney G Sr. Rockwall, Texas Colin Floyd G Sr. Harrington, Wash. Stephen Gentry G Sr. Fort Scott, Texas Larry Gurganious F Fr. Berkeley Josh Heytvelt F Fr. Clarkston, Wash. Erroll Knight G Sr. Seattle Sean Mallon F Jr. Spokane, Wash. Adam Morrison F Jr. Spokane, Wash. Jeremy Pargo G Fr. Chicago David Pendergraft G So. Brewster, Wash. Derek Raivio G Jr. Vancouver, Wash.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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