For Anthony Morrow, overcoming obstacles is nothing new
“You need guys to do different things. I’ve always prided myself on challenging myself every day.”
It wasn’t much noticed Monday in the Bulls final game in Auburn Hills, a discouraging 109-95 loss to the Detroit Pistons in which the Bulls frittered away a 14-point lead. But with yet another fourth quarter offensive drought, coach Fred Hoiberg looked way, way, way down the end of his bench, saw one of the greatest shooters in NBA history, and decided to give Anthony Morrow his first chance to take a shot as a Bull.
Of course, Morrow made a three in his only attempt.
“I’ve been in this situation before,” said Morrow, who was the so called “throw-in” with the trade to Oklahoma City that brought the Bulls Cameron Payne and Joffrey Lauvergne for Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott. “Be professional, be positive, keep working hard, keep playing. I got traded mid season when I was in Atlanta to Dallas. I respect coach Hoiberg for sitting me down and letting me know, ‘We have our guys, but stay ready.’ Being professional. Same thing Rick Carlisle did and I can’t do anything but respect that; just work hard. You never know when your opportunity will come, so be ready.”
The Bulls could do worse, even if development lately has transcended experience, to give Morrow a shot.
Because he sure has one.
The self-assured 6-5 guard has taken his shots, figuratively and literally, enough to still at 31 be the 13th ranked alltime NBA three-point percentage shooter essentially tied with Klay Thompson, an undrafted player on his seventh team in nine seasons who made arguably the most amazing NBA debut.
It’s what his then NBA coach, Don Nelson, called it, though Nelson had only been in the NBA just short of 50 years. Coming out of a summer league tryout with the Warriors after his senior year at Georgia Tech, Morrow in his first NBA start scored 37 points on 15 of 20 shooting, the most points at the time ever scored by a rookie in his first start and more than he’d ever scored in a college game. He also had 11 rebounds.
Though perhaps that shouldn’t have been that big a surprise after Morrow had set a Las Vegas summer league record scoring 47 points in a game. Morrow went on to lead the NBA in three-point shooting that 2008-09 season at 46.7 percent.
The kid had a shot; he just needed a shot.
Morrow has made a lifetime out of overcoming obstacles and limited expectations. He never got much going for the Thunder this season, shooting a career low 29 percent on threes. But the opportunities remain erratic playing with the electric Russell Westbrook. McDermott is shooting 36.5 percent and 24 percent on threes since the trade and Gibson is shooting 44 percent, also well below his Bulls average.
“Especially this year, the shooting percentage has been lower than usual. But there was more inconsistency in playing. Me being a rhythm guy, I don’t look at percentages too much. I look at how the shot feels. If I know it’s feeling good, eventually I’ll get rolling and get hot, but it’s about consistency and being in the rotation."
“When I’m done playing I can look back and brag and talk to my kids and show old Youtube and film,” said Morrow, a father of four with infant twins. “Now I’m trying to look forward and challenge myself. I love taking the challenge, a new team, a new opportunity. To come in and work on what I do and help the team any way I can.”
Maybe he can; have your heard? The three-point shot is pretty important in the NBA these days. The Bulls could use some more of them as they play in Orlando Wednesday perhaps still without the injured Dwyane Wade.
Anthony began like most kids do, balling up anything he could find, aluminum foil, socks, and everything in his room or around the house a makeshift hoop. He grew up in a tough area on the West side of Charlotte, N.C., and his mom, Angela, had hopes for him. She took jobs in the motor vehicles office, a beauty parlor, a cleaning service and driving a school bus to afford the tuition so he could go to a higher level, private high school, and play in AAU tournaments. His basketball developed and it did look like he might have a chance to achieve his lifetime dream: Playing in the ACC at the U. of North Carolina.
“No way was I ever thinking NBA. She was a mom supporting what I wanted to do, keeping me off the streets and keeping me busy. It was, ‘I’ll support him so I don’t lose him to the streets.’ We spent a lot of time together doing stuff. But the jobs were to get food and keep the lights on. After Friday night games, I may talk to the media, have a lot of cameras in my face. And after that me and mom would go to Kannapolis or Concord to clean buildings."
Morrow’s high school coach, Jerry Faulkner, got him on the path with work and then it was up to his college teammate, Will Bynum, who helped cement the education. Morrow was set to go to North Carolina, but then Matt Doherty was out, replaced by Roy Williams, who had other plans.
Morrow went to Georgia Tech and his strong relationship with Bynum, now playing for the Windy City Bulls, was pivotal.
“Your confidence comes from your work,” says Bynum, a mentor and point guard for the D-league team. “That’s what I was trying to show Anthony back in college. I guess he carried that over, not believing what anyone else is saying, believing in yourself and your work. It’s that simple.’
If teams are looking for NBA coaching material, they might not look too far past Bynum. He’s the guy who got Tony Allen’s life straightened out and in the right direction to make the NBA and when he left Georgia Tech on his own basketball odyssey, Bynum left Morrow not only his lessons, but hours of film he studied nightly on players throughout college and the NBA. It was Bynum who got Morrow started on his habit to this day of returning to the gym nights to take up to 500 shots.
“It’s a beautiful thing to watch when guys get it and have great careers,” says Bynum. “It’s something special. You want to always give back.”
Georgia Tech wasn’t exactly North Carolina, and as much as scouts say they don’t see color or name, they see the Carolina blue. Morrow averaged 16 points as a sophomore, was hurt as a junior and came off the bench some, and then was back to 14.3 points as a senior. Even shooting 45 percent on threes, the scouts get more free stuff at North Carolina.
“I wasn’t going to put all my hopes in being drafted,” said Morrow. “So when I didn’t get drafted, I just wanted to play. I signed in Ukraine for like $80,000 with an NBA out clause. That’s what ended up happening with Golden State in the summer league. I ended up playing well and signing with them. I knew how hard I worked and after summer league I realized I was just as good or better than a lot of those guys that got drafted. I watched a lot of those guys be ranked over me since we were 14, 15 years old, so they were always in the spotlight getting more attention. Summer league was a validation for me, that I’m as good or better. It gave me confidence.
“Once I got my foot in the door, I never looked back. I prayed, worked hard, took care of my money, took care of my mom and everybody."
Which Morrow still considers his career highlight.
Still living in a hotel after signing that first deal with the Warriors, he bought his mom a new condo and a car, helped out his dad.
“The first thing was I just asked her what kind of car she wanted. I was still on an undrafted deal, so I couldn’t get her a Benz or anything. But I got her something nice, new, like a truck. She was excited. When I told her she was shocked, speechless, a happy moment; she was quiet on the phone. She was proud. We talk about those days all the time."
Morrow signed his biggest free agent contract to play for the Nets in the summer if 2010 when the Nets lost out on the big free agents and then Carlos Boozer, also. He then bounced around to Atlanta, Dallas, New Orleans and the Thunder before coming to the Bulls. It was tough to leave Oklahoma City with its possibilities, but also his family. But it’s been his basketball life.
“I just had twin boys and have a four year old son and a daughter who lives in Atlanta with her mom,” says Morrow. “When I got traded, it was up first thing the next morning and out. I Facetime my son; he misses me. They had to stay in Oklahoma City. It’s the tough part of being traded."
Even with some recent seasons moving around and in and out of rotations, Morrow has a career average of 9.5 points per game in just over 20 minutes and 41.7 percent on threes. His last regular play was with the Thunder in 2014-15 when he shot 43.4 percent on threes and averaged 10.7 points in about 24 minutes per game.
“I thank God for it every day because I never expected nine years later to still be in the NBA,” says Morrow. “You need guys to do different things. I’ve always prided myself on challenging myself every day.”
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