Next stop: NBA
Adam Morrison was walking alone, head down, across the lawn outside the McCarthey Athletic Center on Wednesday, just moments after holding an afternoon press conference to tell the world what it already knew.
Gonzaga’s junior All-American and the nation’s top Division I scorer had just confirmed reports that surfaced early this week by announcing he will forgo his senior year at GU and declare for the 2006 National Basketball Association Draft.
As he shuffled along, shoulders slumped and long hair bouncing on his shoulders, a woman and young boy approached and asked the soon-to-be millionaire to autograph several items she was carrying in a plastic bag.
And for an instant, it seemed that his decision to exchange his final season of college basketball for an NBA paycheck had changed little about the former Mead High School star, who has thrilled fans with his basketball heroics for the past six years.
But after returning the woman’s pen, Morrison proceeded to the parking lot, where he stepped, almost sheepishly, into the new Range Rover he recently purchased as a replacement for the “piece of junk” pickup he had been driving around campus.
“Parking it makes me nervous,” he said of his glorious new rig.
So, yes, the prospects of becoming a lottery pick in the NBA Draft, which will take place June 28 in New York’s Madison Square Garden, does have an impact.
Still, the 21-year-old Morrison refused to let his potentially bright and prosperous NBA future become the focus of Wednesday’s press conference.
After announcing he felt it was time to test his basketball talents at the next level, Morrison immediately launched into a series of thank-yous aimed at family members, coaches, teammates and fans who have supported him along the way.
Of the fans, Morrison said, “For people around America who don’t know, they’re some of the best in the country.
“All the way down, since my freshman year and even in high school, I’ve had nothing but love here. It’s always been positive, no matter what goes on. I couldn’t ask for better fans or better people than Spokane’s.”
Morrison, who is expected to be a top-five draft pick and demand an annual salary of more than $2 million for the duration of the guaranteed three-year contract awarded first-round selections, has hired Chicago-based agent Mark Bartelstein to handle his business affairs.
He said his decision to leave GU early was gut-wrenching and insists it was not the foregone conclusion most thought it was.
“It took me this long to make sure it was the right thing to do,” said Morrison, who has been interviewing agents and researching his draft potential for several weeks.
As for where he might fall in the draft, Morrison admitted he wasn’t completely certain. He said it will depend on what teams draft when, and how he does in coming workouts for NBA scouts.
“When they’re throwing money at you, they’re going to make damn well sure that they’ve got the right guy,” he added. “I’m coming in with the mind-set that I’m just another guy and I’ve got to earn my spot, no matter where I get picked. I just want to get to the NBA. It doesn’t matter how I get there.”
GU coach Mark Few, who sat with Morrison during Wednesday’s press conference, admitted that losing his junior scoring sensation, who averaged 28.1 points per game in leading the Zags to a 29-4 record last winter, will be a tough blow to absorb.
“You take, probably, the best player in America off your team and, obviously, that’s a huge loss,” Few said. “But this is a great day – a great day for Adam and a great day for our basketball program. And that far overshadows any downside.”
Morrison’s parents, John and Wanda, said it has been an “interesting ride” following their son’s evolution from a one-time Gonzaga ball boy into a Bulldogs legend of rock-star status.
But Wanda Morrison admitted some of the verbal abuse heaped upon her son by opposing fans during the season was hard to stomach.
“The funny stuff that was meant to be that, we laughed right along with everyone else,” she recalled. “But the stuff that wasn’t so nice – the stuff that people said out of jealousy or whatever – really hurts a mom’s heart. Why wouldn’t it?
“The creative stuff was funny. The other stuff? If I met some of those people in a dark alley … well, I won’t finish that thought.”
Few is confident Morrison is making the right decision.
“He and his family went about it the right way and did an incredible amount of research,” he said. “And probably more importantly than that, it’s what he wants to do, and he’s ready for it.
“He’s going to be a great player at the next level, and we’re obviously going to be pulling for him.”