The Memphis Grizzlies took the next step toward ushering in a new era when they selected point guard Ja Morant with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 Draft.
The “Grit and Grind” era may be over, but that motto is representative of Morant’s journey to the NBA.
* * *
Hoop genes: Temetrius Jamel “Ja” Morant was born Aug. 10, 1999 in Dalzell, South Carolina. Tee Morant, Ja’s father, was a high school teammate of Ray Allen at Hillcrest High and later played for Div. II Claflin University.
A Zion connection: The summer before Morant was a sophomore in high school (and when Zion Williamson was a freshman), they played on a regional team called the South Carolina Hornets. The future lottery picks each had commutes of roughly 45 minutes to Columbia.
Late bloomer: Morant could barely dunk until the summer before his senior year in high school. “Before then, I’d probably get one dunk out of 25 tries,” recalled Morant. He estimates that he was about 5-foot-10 in the summer of 2016.
Overlooked prospect: Coming out of high school, Morant was not ranked by the major recruiting services. In fact, Murray State discovered him by accident when assistant James Kane attended a camp to see a different player. However, he found his perfect fit at Murray State, falling in love with the school’s tight-knit community during his visit.
Racing at Murray State: Morant started all 32 games as a freshman, averaging 12.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game in 2017-18. He was one of two players in Division I with 400 points, 200 rebounds and 200 assists (joining Marshall’s Jon Elmore). As a sophomore, Morant’s draft stock soared as he averaged 24.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg and 10 apg, which led the nation. He won the Bob Cousy Award as the nation’s top point guard and became the first player to average at least 20 points and 10 assists since the NCAA officially began tracking assists in 1983-84.
March Madness: Morant was part of two NCAA Tournament teams at Murray State. While his team lost in the first round in 2018 to West Virginia, Morant led the Racers to the second round in 2019 after posting the ninth triple-double in tourney history.
Just do it: Morant was the first member of the 2019 Draft class to secure a shoe deal (with Nike). He made the announcement ahead of the Draft on social media: “All my life my parents worked for a check. Now I’m proud to say I work for the check.”
— Ja Morant (@JaMorant) May 27, 2019
Family values: Morant doesn’t have NBA players that he idolizes. He just tries to play in his dad’s image. “That’s my motivation,” Morant said. “It’s like I’m living my dream and his dream through me right now.”
A place in Play-In history: Memphis went 38-34 in 2020-21 to reach the new State Farm NBA Play-In Tournament, beating San Antonio and then Golden State on the road to earn the No. 8 seed and snap a four-year playoff drought. Memphis wasn’t done there as it stole Game 1 against the No. 1-seeded Utah Jazz and saw Morant score a franchise playoff-record 47 points in a Game 2 loss. Morant became the fifth-youngest player in NBA history to lead a playoff team in both points and assists in a game. Additionally, only George Mikan, in the BAA in 1949, scored more than Morant’s 73 points through his first two postseason games.