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Monday December 5, 2011 4:27 PM

Making His Mark

Marcus Morris eager to make an impact during his rookie season

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




HOUSTON - Kevin McHale has yet to experience his first game as the Rockets’ head coach but astute fans already have an idea of what Houston’s new bench boss is looking for from his players.

His message is clear enough. Just listen to McHale speak for a few minutes and his vision is likely to hit you with all the subtlety of a waterfall, as words like toughness, grit and physicality spill forth, cascading one after the other in a torrent of tributes to the art of employing a rugged, resilient refusal to back down.

How appropriate, then, that the Rockets’ first draft choice with McHale at the helm would be a player like Marcus Morris. Sporting the sort of toughness that seems to be the birthright of players baptized and steeped in Philadelphia basketball, Morris’ natural rookie excitement has been even further enhanced thanks to the philosophical alignment he shares with his new head coach.

“It’s just how I was raised and how I was brought up playing basketball,” says Morris. “I know for a fact that that’s my game; I’m one of those guys who will go in and get a bloody nose or get a bloody lip and I’ll still go in there and battle. I’ll do anything to help my team win and I think me and Coach McHale have a lot in common with that.”

On Monday, Morris took to the Toyota Center practice court for the first time since late June, eager to hit the ground running with his new Houston teammates. With training camp slated to start on Friday, Morris knows he has no time to lose when it comes to becoming well-versed in the intricacies of the NBA game. As a first-year player, the compressed preseason and regular season schedules – and the lack of practice time that accompany them – promise to put a premium on his making the most of every second available to him from a developmental standpoint. His ample time in the gym during the offseason should help him on that front – he says he spent a significant portion of his training working on his outside shot – and he’s already shown a veteran’s savvy by acknowledging a willingness and desire to become a defensive force.

“I’ve been learning to take easier steps to get over guys because I’m kind of big,” says Morris of defending on the perimeter. “I’m a big wing – there are a lot of quicker wings out there – so I’m just looking at the smaller steps where I can learn easier things.

“I feel like, if I can guard most of the elite 3s in the league, I’ll give our team a better chance to win and give myself a better chance of playing. We have a bunch of guys on this team who are very athletic and can guard the perimeter, but I need to do the same, so I’m just going to be one of those guys who takes a lot of pointers from the other guys that have been here and just watch the vets.”

Like every other young player in this league, Morris will need time for the acclimation process to take hold. The rookie roller coaster is unavoidable. But with the toughness and skill he already possesses, it seems a safe bet Morris will emerge from that ride battle-tested and better than ever, and the physical embodiment of Kevin McHale’s message.

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