PASS THE SUGAR

Secaucus, NJ, Nov. 20, 2006 – Hey, kid, that shot may have fallen in college, but are you athletic enough to get it off over an outstretched NBA defender?

Not only that but your defense isn’t up to snuff and you don’t really believe you’ll be able to slow a swingman like LeBron James or Tracy McGrady, do you?

And, be honest here, what’s the impact type 1 diabetes is going to have on you during the course of an 82-game schedule?

Such is the scrutiny NBA prospects have to face when trying to land a gig in the globe’s most prestigious hoops league. Sure, teams should rightly be concerned about a player’s on-court skills and whether they’ll translate on a quicker, more challenging level, but certainly a little matter of sugar can’t serve as a deal-breaker, can it?

It seemed, however, in the build up to the 2006 NBA Draft, no story on Gonzaga’s Adam Morrison was complete without the obligatory paragraph or two on the struggles of managing his own body’s sugar levels, something the majority of us take for granted.

Even so, the 2005-06 NCAA scoring leader displayed the requisite basketball skills and dietary regimen to be selected No. 3 overall in the 2006 Draft by the Charlotte Bobcats.

In three seasons at Gonzaga, he finished as the third all-time leading scorer in school history with 1,843 points, registering a single-season-best 926 total points in his junior campaign, while shooting 50.3 percent from the field.

Not a shot is hoisted, however, until Morrison wolfs down a steak and baked potato precisely two hours and 15 minutes before game time, providing him sufficient amounts of protein and carbohydrates to have his levels in check for the game’s opening tip.

Morrison’s abilities and eating habits have continued into the first month of his rookie season, which, coincidentally, also happens to be national diabetes awareness month, which also coincides with the beginning of the holiday season when many folks struggle with eating issues of their own.

But, like his blood sugar, monitored and adjusted from the sideline during games, Morrison’s productivity on the court has experienced its share of peaks and dips early in his first season. That’s nothing new, though, as most rookies battle inconsistency as they get used to the pro game.

There was the forgettable 24 minutes against Denver last week, when Morrison 1-for-8 from the field, erring on all four triple tries, registering two points, two rebounds and two turnovers in his team’s third straight loss.

Morrison bounced back, however, having a career-night in the Bobcats’ upset of the San Antonio Spurs, of which he played all 48 minutes, scored a season-high 27 points on 12-of-23 shooting.

Forty-eight minutes! One night after playing 41 in a loss at New Orleans! Both games were on the road! He’s a rookie! Why am I yelling?!

Well, whether you’re a casual fan of the 'stache or you dig a lanky marksman who can find the bottom of the twine from just about any spot in the gym, it’s easy to get excited about a young man who’s overcome adversity – he was diagnosed with the disease when he was only 14 years old – to play at the same level as the best in the sport.

If Morrison could guard anything less stationary than a folding chair I’d have been using two exclamation points above. Okay, in fairness, his defense isn’t nearly as poor as once believed. In the Bobcats' 92-88 win over the Cavs on Nov. 4, Morrison crowded and pressured LeBron James the entire night, leading to the King’s 3-for-13 shooting night and worst all-around game of the young season.

No Trail Blazer

While Morrison garners a good deal of attention these days for both his playmaking and diabetes, he is no trail blazer. He’s just the latest player to carve out a living playing hoops despite the disease’s impact.

Chris Dudley suited up at center for five teams during his 16-year career, despite having been diagnosed as a type 1 diabetic when he was 16 years old. In 1994, Dudley established the Dudley Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children pursue their dreams by providing educational programs, advocacy and supporting diabetes research.

Other NBA players, though not directly feeling the effects of diabetes themselves, have witnessed first-hand the toll the disease takes.

Dallas Mavericks guard Jerry Stackhouse started his Triple Threat Foundation in 2002 after losing two sisters because of diabetes. Both of his parents are currently living with the disease.

Walt "Clyde" Frazier and Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, backcourt mates on the 1973 Knicks championship squad and Hall of Fame guards, teamed up this summer with the American Heart Association to bring awareness to type 2 diabetes – the most common form – heart disease and insulin resistance. Monroe lives with type 2 diabetes and lost his father because of complications from the disease, while Frazier has a family history with the condition.

Portland third-year player Ime Udoka should have been celebrating the fact he made another NBA roster, earning one of the Blazers 15 opening-night spots this year. Instead, he was mourning with his family the loss of his father to complications from diabetes and high blood pressure.

Then there's Greg Ostertag. In 2002, the longtime Jazz center donated a kidney to his younger sister who had lived with type 1 diabetes since she was diagnosed at the age of seven. Her kidneys began to fail in 1999 and big brother was a perfect match. Ostertag returned to the court, sans kidney, and played another four seasons with very minimal risk of his own.

"The only thing I have to worry about," Ostertag explained four years ago, "is something crazy like a getting in a car wreck or falling out of a tree, something crazy like that."

The burden, however, is much heavier for the seven percent of the population living with diabetes. The American Diabetes Association estimates 14.6 million children and adults in the United States have been diagnosed, but another 6.2 million people live each day unaware they have the disease.

Once diagnosed, like Morrison, you have to find a way to live with the disease. When a nurse came to give Morrison one of his first insulin shots, the eighth grader told her he needed to learn to do it himself if he was going to be doing it the rest of his life.

In addition to shots, the disease is kept in check through diet, which for Morrison is strictly controlled.

"Talking to teams about Adam before the draft," Dudley, who met Morrison earlier this year, told the Associated Press, "I told them if Adam was the kind of player that you had to worry about being overweight during the summer and all those things, I'd be a lot more worried about him. I'm not worried about that with Adam. He's the type of guy who knows his body and is going to take care of his body.'"

Morrison’s success, at the college level and now in the pros, has inspired many living with diabetes and given hope you youngsters in the same situation Morrison found himself eight years ago. It’s also led to him promoting awareness and better management of the disease. Earlier this month, LifeScan, makers of OneTouch glucose monitoring systems, announced Morrison teamed up with the company to educate others of the impact food has on blood sugar levels.

"Hi, I'm Adam Morrison," reads the website the two parties collaborated on. "I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was in the eighth grade. My doctor told me then that, even with diabetes, I’d still be able to play in the NBA. I was determined to prove him right. Today, I want to show people with diabetes that it’s possible to live a healthy life and to follow your dreams."

While the website doesn’t make any claims its product will make you an NBA star, Morrison’s setting out to show that anything’s possible, even if the critics don’t agree.