What A Long, Strange Trip
Posted Mar 27 2007 12:16PM
No, it wasn't Clyde Frazier's blue velvet blazer and pink tie, although I marveled at him pulling off the combination as only he could.
Instead it was the Knicks home getup on University of Kentucky star Randolph Morris. Yes, the same Randolph Morris that just turned in 19 points and 11 boards in an NCAA Tournament opening-round win over Villanova and followed that up with 22 points and eight rebounds in the Wildcats' 88-76 loss to No. 1 Kansas.
So, how'd he get airtime at the Garden, you ask?
By running through layup lines, of course.
You'll be forgiven if you haven't read up on the latest or are a bit confused by what you've just read. You see, the Knicks signed Morris on Friday, opting not to wait until the Draft to seek some fresh blood.
That's a good thing, because the Knicks don't have their own potential lottery pick this year, having given their first-rounder to the Chicago Bulls as part of the deal that landed Eddy Curry.
And it's also okay, because Morris would not have been available in this year's draft anyway, although he's been considered a first-round caliber player were he eligible. Two years ago, as an early entry candidate after his freshman season, Morris heard 60 players announced by Commissioner David Stern and then Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik – none with the given name Randolph.
Once you go through the draft, there are no mulligans, no do-overs. You can't try the draft again.
Morris wasn't the only early entry candidate to go undrafted – heck, he wasn't the only Wildcat. Kentucky teammate Kelenna Azubuike was overlooked after his junior season, as were Sean Banks (Memphis sophomore), John Gilchrist (Maryland junior), Matt Walsh (Florida junior) and 14 other college players and two high schoolers.
Azubuike went on to play for the Fort Worth Flyers in the D-League, with whom he would compete for the league Championship vs. the Albuquerque Thunderbirds, earn an all-D-League honorable mention and work his way to a roster spot with the Golden State Warriors this season.
Morris returned to Kentucky, where he was forced to sit out 14 games of his sophomore year.
"Maturity," Morris explained on MSG as the difference between the 21-year-old NBA player and the 19-year-old draft hopeful. "(I'm) 100 percent a different person, different player. The biggest thing was learning how to grow. I think I've done a great job of maturing and learning how to play."
That was basically the assessment of some NBA talent evaluators, as evidenced by the following entry taken from the 2005 NBA Draft guide handed out to media members:
"Already possesses an NBA-ready body. Has a soft touch around the basket. Needs to work on playing consistently to reach his full potential."
Or this, following a workout with the Knicks back on June 22, 2005:
"The gloriously gifted Morris, who was accused of not enough focus during his freshman year with the Wildcats …"
Perhaps the rest of the league's GMs entertained similar thoughts, as none phoned Morris on Draft night. And since Morris only tested the waters, he was allowed to return to the college ranks, while still being free to sign with any NBA squad at a moment's notice.
He admitted to the MSG crew that he didn't consider leaving Kentucky in the middle of the season. Since the Wildcats' dance ended short of their ultimate goal, why not try out something else, right? That and Tubby Smith's departure helped speed along any decision.
"It was the final factor that made me comfortable leaving," Morris told the New York Daily News. "I was teetering back and forth whether I should come back. It would have been a tougher decision for me (if Smith had stayed) because I was comfortable with his system."
Morris' departure from Kentucky didn't necessarily catch us all by surprise, however, as it's exactly a scenario we envisioned in the NBA.com offices a week or so ago. Our own John Schuhmann threw out the hypothetical whatif and, while we believed it was possible, we never really thought it would happen.
Silly us, we forgot Isiah Thomas was still running the team on the New York side of the Hudson. Now, I'm not bashing Zeke. I don't think this is a bad signing or anything – after all, how much can they be paying an untested rookie? Rather it's just an odd manuever, albeit a good one for the Knicks.
Here's a kid who only a couple weeks ago was playing against some quality competition for a top-flight coach in the SEC, a division that produced five teams in this year's NCAA Tournament.
When you factor in that the Knicks can use an able-bodied player these days, it seems a no-brainer. There's a chance Morris could provide a little help over the final 12 games of the Knicks playoff push, given that David Lee's right leg injury could have him out the remainder of the season and that Quentin Richardson has missed his fifth straight game with a back injury.
Morris sat out his first game at the Garden, but his chance will likely come soon enough even if he has to wait a little longer before getting the home whites a little sweaty. The Knicks are battling the Magic, Nets and Pacers for a playoff spot and, on Monday, were involved in a back-and-forth, tight affair with Orlando. Proven youngsters like Nate Robinson and Channing Frye will get plenty of run in such a situation; Unproven kids like Morris will not – regardless of the fact they all went through the draft process together in 2005.
Finally, welcome to the NBA, Randolph. Enjoy the stay.