Terence Morris Interview: Morris Discusses His Maryland Career, Rivalry with Duke, Social Temptations of the NBA, Teaming Up with Yao Ming & Playing for Barcelona
Jeffrey Kee: Talk about your upbringing and your earliest memories playing basketball.
Terence Morris: I grew up in a family of basketball fanatics. When I was young, I played basketball with my uncles every Sunday, but it wasn't something I was super into. My uncles were like big brothers to me, so I really just wanted to play so that I could hang out with them. Then one day, I went to the park and got made fun of because of how bad I was. As a kid, I was sensitive to that, so their teasing really motivated me to become a better player because I wanted to prove them wrong. After that, I began dedicating myself to the game and soon enough I fell in love with it.
Kee: At what age did you realize that you had a chance to play in the NBA?
Morris: I didn’t really know until midway through my high school career when people started telling me I was good enough to get a basketball scholarship to play in college. I hadn't given it too much thought before then because I wanted to be an artist at the time. I used to spend a lot of time drawing and painting, so playing college basketball was more of an afterthought. When I started improving as a player, I started to gain confidence in the fact that I could compete with the best players, and that's when I realized I had a chance of making a career out of basketball.
Kee: After starring in high school, you signed on to play under Gary Williams at the University of Maryland. What went into your decision to play there?
Morris: When I was a sophomore in high school, after a scrimmage, my coach showed me a bunch of recruitment letters I had gotten from colleges all around the country. I was so blown away by it. There were three letters that stood out the most; the ones from UCLA, Florida State and Syracuse. At the time, I wanted to go to college as far away from home as possible, so UCLA was my first choice. But I was also really intrigued by Florida State because I was a big fan of their football program.
A little bit later, I received a letter from the University of Maryland. Coach Art Perry took me on a tour of the school and told me I had a special opportunity to play basketball in my hometown in front of my friends and family. I got a chance to go into the locker room and meet all of the players. I talked with Joe Smith who was a guy I watched a lot on TV. He was really cool and down to earth. It was a mesmerizing experience for me, and after that my mind was made up that I was going to sign with Maryland.
Kee: I read in an article that Gary said you were one of the few players he coached that had unlimited potential. What was it like playing under him?
Morris: Gary's very intense. He's a really good coach, but he was also surrounded by great assistant coaches who never got the credit they deserved for helping develop all of us players. We were all from different backgrounds and the assistants did a great job bringing all of us together. We were a great group of guys anyways though. At the end of the day, all we cared about was winning. There weren't any ego problems on the team. As long as we took care of business on the court, everyone was happy.
Kee: The ACC was filled with so many great rivalries back in the day. What was it like being a part of such a great era of college basketball?
Morris: There was nothing that compared to playing in the ACC. The ACC nowadays is good, but it's nowhere near as good as it was back when I was in college. We never had a night off. Every game was competitive and every team, regardless of their record, was capable of beating each other on any given night. Each team played with a different style as well. Wake Forest and NC State were very physical. Georgia Tech played more of a finesse type of game, and then you had Duke and North Carolina who were full of stars. Also, like you said, the ACC back then was full of rivalries. Every conference game, even against non-rival schools, had the atmosphere of a rivalry game because of how intense they were.
Kee: In my opinion, Maryland's rivalry with Duke was hands down the best in college basketball. Describe your feelings towards Duke and what it was like battling them for four years.
Morris: There was nothing like it. Playing for Maryland, we didn't just dislike Duke, we literally hated them. We didn’t associate with any of their players. We weren't shaking hands before the game. Every time we stepped on the court it was war. We wanted to take their heads off and it showed with how intense our games were. Maryland versus Duke was a real rivalry. It was never one sided. We'd go down to their home court and beat them and they'd come right back and beat us. Then we'd face each other in the ACC Tournament and it would be a blood bath. Nothing was given. We had to fight for everything. Playing Duke brought out the best in us and that's why I enjoyed those games more than any other games throughout my entire career.
Kee: How intensely did the Duke and North Carolina fans heckle you?
Morris: The Carolina fans were a little older, so they weren't really saying anything crazy. Plus, they're sitting a little farther back as opposed to Duke fans who are right up in your face. Before the game, we heard everything, but when it was actually time to play, we tuned all of that out and were focused solely on winning the game.
Kee: What do you remember most from that 2001 Final Four run your senior year?
Morris: That whole run started off rocky. We struggled against George Mason in the First Round and had to rely on a big three-pointer from Steve Blake to help us advance. That George Mason game was good for us though because it made us more confident in our ability to close out tight games. After that we went on a rampage.
The thing that I remember most about that run is blowing the 20-point lead to Duke in the Final Four game. That's something I still think about to this day. Losing that game still haunts me because we had our rival down 20 in the second half and we ended up blowing it. For as talented of a team as we were, that should have never happened. At the same time, looking back, even though we lost that game, we were still able to accomplish something that no Maryland team before us was able to do. We were the first team in school history to advance to the Final Four. That's the positive side I try and think about the most.
Kee: Describe your emotions watching Maryland win the National Championship in 2002.
Morris: I almost cried. I was so happy for those guys. We were all very close; we were basically like brothers, so even though I was on the Rockets at the time, I felt like I was on that championship team because it was the same group of guys from the year before. To watch them bounce back from our Final Four loss the previous year and fight their way to a national championship was something I'll never forget.
Kee: After the championship, guys like Juan Dixon, Steve Blake, Lonny Baxter and Chris Wilcox went on to play in the NBA. As one of the upperclassmen on Maryland, what role did you have in their development?
Morris: It's hard to say. I think they would have become stars regardless. Before my senior year, Coach Hahn and I had a conversation. He asked if I'd be willing to sacrifice my individual stats and success for a chance to win a national championship. I didn't hesitate at all. I told him that I'd be willing to do whatever we needed to win, so I took a back seat to guys like Juan and Lonny who were playing out of their minds. I think that me becoming the second or third option was good for their development and was good for our team as a whole because it helped get us to the Final Four.
Kee: Moving on to your NBA career. After your four years at Maryland, you declared for the NBA Draft. What was it like hearing your name called on draft night?
Morris: It was a surreal moment. Numbers wise, the chances of getting drafted to the NBA are so slim. Out of everyone in the world, only 60 players are drafted, so to hear my name called was mind blowing. I was selected 34th overall by the Atlanta Hawks. As soon as I was selected, I was on the phone talking about how excited I was to play for the Hawks and then five minutes later I was traded to Houston.
Kee: Your old Maryland teammate, Steve Francis, was the star in Houston at the time. Did having him on the team make your transition to the NBA any easier?
Morris: Yes, definitely because when I was in college, I had the chance to hang out with Steve and train with a lot of his Rockets teammates during the off-season. I already knew guys like Cuttino Mobley, Walt Williams and Moochie Norris, so when I was traded to Houston, I wasn't coming into a situation where I didn't know anyone like a lot of other rookies do. From that standpoint, playing for the Rockets was the perfect situation for me.
The biggest adjustment I had to make was getting used to the coaching style of Rudy Tomjanovich. Rudy was more of a veteran's coach. He was very laid back. Under him, we practiced hard, but we saved the majority of our energy for the games. I know it sounds weird, but that was something I had to get used to because under Gary Williams all of our practices were very intense and very disciplined.
Kee: Because you went to four years of college, do you think you were more prepared to handle a lot of the social temptations [parties, women, money] of the NBA as opposed to players now who are entering the league after one year in school?
Morris: I think that depends less on age and more on how your parents raised you and what you value as a person. As an NBA player, there are going to be a lot of things thrown your way whether it's money or fame. Some players, regardless of age, get caught up in that type of stuff. But at the same time, I've seen a lot young guys come into the league and handle themselves like adults. They carried themselves well, they tried to learn as much as possible and took advice from the veterans on their team. Guys like that are the ones who will succeed in the NBA, and the quicker players realize that the better.
I was never really the party type. Of course, I wanted to live a little, but I was in the NBA to work. That's what the coaches brought me in to do. I wanted to be a sponge and learn the ropes from the veterans on the team. The guys who are able to last in the NBA for 10 years are the ones who not only put in the extra work, but also take care of their bodies off the court. I wanted to be one of those guys and understood that those off the court temptations weren't going to benefit what I was trying to accomplish.
Kee: Following your rookie season, Yao Ming was drafted to the Rockets. There was a lot of media hoopla surrounding him that year. As his teammate, how did you handle all of the extra attention?
Morris: What's funny is that I didn’t really notice anything different other than the fact that there were a few extra cameras following Yao everywhere he went. It didn’t affect any of the other guys on the team and we didn’t do anything differently just because there was a little bit more media around.
Kee: At the time, Yao didn’t speak much English. What were your interactions like with him?
Morris: First and foremost, Yao is one of the nicest guys I've ever met. He's a very genuine person. Even to this day, if I saw him, Yao would take the time to come talk and catch up.
During his rookie year, Yao was accompanied by a translator everywhere he went. He really didn't speak English at all, but what's impressive is that by the end of the season he was speaking English in full sentences and was able to have small conversations without his translator.
Kee: After two seasons in Houston, you had stints with the Los Angeles Clippers and the Orlando Magic, and then headed overseas for a number of years. As an American player, did you have any trepidations about playing overseas?
Morris: Not really because at the time I hadn't put very much consideration into playing internationally. My reasoning for going overseas was because I was frustrated with my playing time here in the United States. I was playing around 15 minutes a game, but I felt like I deserved to play a lot more. I talked it over with my agent and we concluded that in order for that to happen I'd probably have to play over in Europe. That ended up being one of the best things to happen for my career because I was finally able to showcase my skills on the professional level, and it was there that I was able to realize who I was as a player.
Kee: Since you got more playing time overseas, did you enjoy your international career more than your NBA career?
Morris: It's hard to say, but having the opportunity to play more and flourish individually was definitely something I enjoyed. That was the opportunity I had been looking for that I didn’t get in the NBA. Over in Europe I was playing around 35 minutes a game, which allowed me to showcase my entire skill set. That was huge for my career. I never got that type of consistency in the NBA.
Kee: What are some of your favorite memories playing for Barcelona?
Morris: My best memory is when we won the championship in my first season in Barcelona. That meant a lot to me because I had played in the Euro League finals before and lost, so to finally win the championship was a great feeling.
I think we only lost two games that season. Our entire roster was stacked from top to bottom. We had guys like Ricky Rubio, Pete Mickeal, Juan Carlos Navarro and Fran Vasquez; guys who were drafted or had played in the NBA before. The best thing about that team was that even though we had so many great players, our team didn’t have any ego problems. We all got along on and off the court, and that chemistry showed when we played.
Kee: After over a decade in the NBA and overseas you decided to retire. How hard was it adjusting to life after basketball?
Morris: It was very tough! When I was playing, I was used to consistently practicing twice a day. When I woke up each morning, I knew exactly what needed to be done. Having that daily routine helped keep order in my life. When I retired, suddenly, I'd wake up and there would be nothing on my agenda. I didn’t know where to go or what to do with my time. Luckily for me, I got married soon after I retired and then had my first child, so they kept me very busy.
But even though I'm a family man now and have settled down, I will never stop playing basketball. I used to play in four leagues a week, which allowed me to stay active without having to practice and train like I did when I played professionally. I also do private training where I work with kids. I don’t necessarily want to coach, but I like teaching. I just love being around the game. I don't care where I'm playing or who I'm playing against. My love for the game is something I'll never lose.
Kee: What are your plans for the future?
Morris: I love being hands on and enjoy teaching people things that were taught to me. I love passing on knowledge. With my training program I work with a mixture of kids; some are very serious about basketball and some are on the fences. I want to continue being a leader to them and want to help influence them to find their passion. As someone who has played in the NBA, I want to be the type of mentor these kids can look to for advice, not only in basketball, but in life too.