Malik Morgan did not expect to be the point man in the plan for a turnaround for the Tulane men’s basketball team. Circumstances just worked out that way.
Morgan an LSU transfer, will start at point guard for the first time in his career, and the Green Wave’s success in its second year of American Athletic Conference play likely hinges on his ability to handle his new role.
Practicing with the team in 2014-15 while having to sit out as a transfer, Morgan rarely logged time at the point, but coach Ed Conroy saw all the necessary attributes. When the departures of Jonathan Stark and Keith Pinckney in the offseason left Tulane with only one true point guard, freshman Von Julien, the opportunity fit Morgan’s skill set.
“The more I watched him in practice last year and saw how he could read plays and play ahead, that’s what really led me to believe he could make the transition,” Conroy said. “If you have vision and you can see plays unfolding, those are traits that carry over into playing point guard.”
Morgan built his reputation as a scorer in high school, including 56 points against Riverside Academy in his senior year while leading John Curtis to its first Class 2A state championship. In two years of limited playing time at LSU, he did a little bit of everything, averaging 4.9 points and 3.0 rebounds with 63 assists, 55 steals and 16 blocks.
He is OK with having to think about his teammates first.
“It’s not too difficult,” he said. “I know when my open spots (to shoot) are, but I’m very willing to share the ball with all my teammates. I don’t have any problem with anybody getting an open shot.”
Morgan scored a team-high 24 points in Tulane’s exhibition win against cross-street rival Loyola on Nov. 5. Given Conroy’s history, that output was no surprise.
When he coached at The Citadel, his first two point guards, Kevin Hammock and Cameron Wells, led the team in scoring.
At Tulane, point guard Ricky Tarrant averaged a team-high 14.9 points in 2011-12 and 15.7 points the following year.
For the Wave to win this season, Morgan likely will need to put up similar numbers.
Tulane is looking for a variety of scoring options from its revamped roster after struggling to generate any offense while losing 11 of its last 13 games a year ago.
Senior Louis Dabney, who joins Morgan in the starting backcourt, averaged a team-best 13.6 points, but on 37.9 percent shooting.
Melvin Frazier, a freshman 6-foot-5 wing, will start at small forward and is the most athletic of the newcomers in Conroy’s highest-rated recruiting class.
Sophomore Dylan Osetkowski (6.3 points, 4.8 rebounds) and Washington transfer Jernard Jarreau will start in the frontcourt. Osetkowski exhibited a good feel in his first year, and Jarreau (6-10) provides a defensive presence at the rim the Wave lacked in the past.
The bench will be thin and young with holdovers Cameron Reynolds (right hand injury) and Kajon Mack (knee problem) out of the lineup. Conroy said he hoped to get Reynolds back soon, but Mack’s injury could keep him out until the start of conference play or longer.
Their absence leaves Julien and fellow freshman Kain Harris as the reserve options at guard. Junior Ryan Smith (2.4 points, 2.1 rebounds) and freshman Blake Paul are the top backup frontcourt players.
If Morgan proves adept at point guard, the athletic freshmen mature quickly, and Reynolds and Mack return on schedule, Tulane’s ceiling will be higher than in the past. Plenty has to go right, but at least the Wave has reason for hope after more than a decade of middling results.
“This year, I honestly believe we can be a contender,” Dabney said. “We can be one of the top teams in this conference.”
Tulane got some help for the future Wednesday when Maxwell Starwood and Justin Moore signed national letters of intent. Starwood a 6-8, 220-pound power forward, graduated from University High this year and is doing a post-grad year at Reno International Prep.
Moore (6-4, 170) averaged 23 points and six rebounds last season at Mission Bay High in San Diego.