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Q&A With Marcus Morris

Talking defense, motivation and Madden with the Rockets' second-year forward

HOUSTON - With training camp less than a week away, Rockets players are already back on the Toyota Center practice court, working to get ready for the upcoming season. To find out what they’ve been up to this offseason, Rockets.com’s Jason Friedman will sit down with each player over the days to come to discuss what they’re working on, what their goals are, and how they’ve been spending the summer both on and off the court.

Taking his turn in the hot seat today is second-year forward Marcus Morris. What follows is a transcript of their conversation.

JCF: I know last year you didn’t have the kind of season you wanted to have. How have you gone about the process of making sure this season turns out differently?

MM: I started by forgetting last year. Last year is over. I’m focused on becoming a new player. This is a new situation with a lot of new guys on the team, so I’m just trying to be a leader to these young guys and getting ready for a great year.

JCF: What sort of lessons did you learn from last season?

MM: That I just need to continue to work. I’m not the first rookie to get sent down to the D-League and not play much my first year. It’s nothing new. So I just have to continue to work and continue to get better. I just want to be out here competing every day.

JCF: How did you tailor your workouts this summer to better prepare yourself to become the player you want to be?

MM: Mainly just getting in better shape. I lost some weight so I could get better defensively – that was my main focus. I couldn’t guard certain guys as well as I needed to last year, so mainly I was just really focusing on my defensive effort and being much more active.

JCF: What sort of drills have you done to become a better defender?

MM: It’s a lot of focus on footwork – that’s such a huge key to being a better defender. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely was shooting and doing plenty of offensive drill work too, but I really wanted to get in better shape and understand the game better by watching film and getting different feedback from guys who were good defenders. Right now I just want to work hard and apply the principles I’ve learned.

JCF: Were you watching film of yourself or of other players? And what sort of things were you focusing on?

MM: I watched a lot of film of other good defenders and paid close attention to their footwork; seeing how they get over screens and what methods they use. Sometimes the coaches said I got stuck on screens a lot so I really wanted to see how those defenders who are as big as me, or even bigger, defend those smaller guys.

JCF: Who were you looking at specifically?

MM: Different guys like Grant Hill and Tony Allen and even film of one of our coaches, Greg Buckner.

JCF: Do you feel there’s now a marked difference in how you’ll be able to defend those smaller guys?

MM: For sure. I’m trying harder, playing hard and using these different methods. At the end of the day, I think I can defend anybody, it’s just a matter of having the will and the want-to.

JCF: Do you care whether you play the small or power forward position? From all this talk of defending smaller players it sounds as if you spent your summer preparing yourself for the three-spot.

MM: For sure. I’m definitely better prepared for the three now. But at the end of the day I just want to get on the court, so if I’m at the four, I’m at the four – I’ll do whatever they ask me to do. But I definitely see myself as a three – that’s my primary position, but wherever the team wants me to be, that’s where I’m going to be. I’m just ready to get rolling and get out on the court.

JCF: Well it sure sounds as if the key to getting out on the court is going to lie within your ability to defend. Is that the message the coaching staff has sent your way?

MM: Basically. That’s going to be crucial.

JCF: So what are your personal goals for this season?

MM: Just to be a team player and a team leader. I think I’m very vocal and I get along with these guys. Whether they’re older or younger, I think I have that look in me that those guys want to follow. So I’m just leading by example and continuing to play hard every second I’m on the floor.

JCF: What was the biggest transition for you coming from the University of Kansas to the Houston Rockets?

MM: Just being the man. I got the ball almost every other play in Kansas, so to me the biggest adjustment was just not being the man any more. Definitely, too, I played the four in college – I was just a mobile four because we switched every ball screen with me. Guys are definitely stronger in the NBA as well so I’ve had to spend a lot of time in the weight room to get stronger and be able to compete.

JCF: Are you a more confident player now than you were at the end of last season?

MM: Definitely. At the end of the day, I just want the team to be successful, but I also want to play, too. So every practice, every drill, everything that I do, I want to compete and give it my all because I want to be the best and I want to play.

JCF: What sort of feedback have you received from the coaches so far?

MM: Just defend, defend, defend – that’s what they want me to do. But that’s not going to take away from my offensive game when I get a chance to showcase that. When I’m open I’m still going to knock down shots.

JCF: Alright, well let’s ditch basketball for a bit and talk Madden. I know that you feel like your game is at a very high level …

MM: (laughs) Yes I do.

JCF: Who’s the team that you roll with? You’re a Philly guy so I assume it’s the Eagles?

MM: The Philadelphia Eagles are my team NFL-wise but not on Madden. I play with the Texans.

JCF: Really? Do you feel like a bit of a traitor?

MM: Nah, nah, nah (laughs). It’s not about that. It’s about the best team and the Eagles have a good team but they’re not the best team on Madden. The Texans are a real good team so I use them.

JCF: So who have you been playing against that has you feeling so confident? Are you getting online and playing?

MM: Oh yeah, I’m getting online and playing against the best all the time. I’m trying to get against the best as often as I can because the people in the locker room – they’re just regular (laughs). I’m the champ. I’ve been doing this since I was 13, 14-years-old.

JCF: So there’s nobody in that locker room who can even give you a game?

MM: Nobody. They can barely score. They think they’re good but half of them won’t even get out of the first half without being down 21-0.

JCF: What’s the best story – that you can share – about playing Madden with your teammates?

MM: Last year Terrence Williams, Jonny Flynn and Courtney Lee were having a big argument in the locker room about who’s the best in Madden. So me, as I always do, I just keep quiet and we went over to Courtney’s house and I beat everybody in the first half.

JCF: So they just gave up?

MM: Oh yeah, you can call them all now on the phone and ask them who the best Madden player is. Being as competitive as they are, they’ll probably say themselves but in reality I crushed everybody.

I’ll play against strangers online every once in awhile, too; sometimes I’ll tweet people to play me, but most people on Twitter can’t touch me either.

JCF: So if somebody’s reading this story and thinking they can take you down, how do they get in touch with you?

MM: TeamFOE215 is my gamer tag. I’m ready, you can put it out there. Whoever wants it, I’m ready.

JCF: So does this mean you’re searching out a Madden tournament?

MM: Yeah, hopefully in Houston I can get in a tournament sometime that won’t conflict with our games and practices.

JCF: So is that basically your life: basketball and Madden?

MM: Basketball and Madden. That’s about it.

JCF: What about NBA 2K?

MM: Yeah, but it’s Madden season now. When the new 2K comes out I’ll get on that but right now it’s Madden time.

JCF: And are the Rockets your team in 2K or are you a traitor there, too?

MM: (laughs) Uhhh, no, they’re not my team.

JCF: So you don’t even play as yourself?!?

MM: Nah, I’m not too good on there. I think I should be better. I think they should go off my D-League numbers; if that was the case than I’d probably be rated about a 93 (laughs).

JCF: Well now you’ve got something else to add to your personal goals for this season. Thanks, Marcus.