October 19, 2007 Friday
EX-TERP GOING THE DISTANCE TO IMPRESS;
ISRAEL LATEST STOP IN MORRIS' ODYSSEY
BYLINE: Greg Abel, Special to The Sun
SECTION: SPORTS; Pg. 1E
LENGTH: 778 words
DATELINE: New York
New York -- His career on the brink of oblivion, Terence Morris took the first steps toward basketball revival in Jerusalem last winter.
The University of Maryland product, who helped the Terrapins reach the Final Four for the first time in 2001, bounced around the NBA and the NBA Development League and competed for a team in Greece over the past five years, playing sparingly.
In December 2006, his agent, Mike Kneisley of Washington-based The Neustadt Group, worked out a deal with Hapoel Jerusalem, a well-regarded Israeli club that was looking for a power forward for the remainder of the season. So off Morris went on his continuing basketball odyssey.
Morris started slowly but began turning heads with a few huge games - particularly against Israeli power Maccabi Tel Aviv - including a 17-rebound effort in the league championship game.
Fast forward to last week, and the Frederick native was back in the United States, laced up and decked out in Maccabi gold. The EuroLeague power signed him to a one-year deal, and he was at Madison Square Garden to face the New York Knicks in an exhibition game. Morris is not back in the NBA but is expected to play a prominent role on a team highly regarded worldwide.
"It's just an opportunity," Morris said after the game, looking much like the lean, athletic forward who thrilled and frustrated Maryland fans during his four years in College Park.
Against the Knicks, Morris finished with 12 points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes off the bench. He played much as he did at Maryland, disruptive on defense, dunking home baskets around the rim and looking at times like an NBA talent and at times as if he could use a shot of espresso.
Morris entered the national scene during his sophomore season, 1998-99, when he was named first team All-Atlantic Coast Conference after averaging 15 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. Teammate Steve Francis left for the NBA, but Morris elected to stay. The next two years, he played well but not spectacularly, and he was ultimately drafted in the second round, 34th overall by the Atlanta Hawks. A trade sent him to Houston, where he stuck for two years with the Rockets and still maintains his home.
For Morris, 28, this year is huge in terms of how his basketball career will play out, his agent said. After being cut in January 2006 by the Orlando Magic, the NBA market had dried up.
"Step one was putting him in a good situation with a decent team in Europe where he could get some minutes," Kneisley said. "He parlayed that. Step two is doing well with Maccabi. They are a powerhouse team. People pay attention to big teams in the EuroLeague."
Step three is next year. Morris has just a one-year deal in the "high six figures" according to The Neustadt Group, so his play this year will dictate whether he goes backward or forward, whether he can make the jump back to the NBA or sign with Macabbi or another big-time European club. If he plays below expectations, he could find himself looking for a job again.
But, without a doubt, the opportunity is there. In just the past few years, former Terp Sarunas Jasikevicius (now back in Europe with Panthinaikos in Greece), Maceo Baston (Toronto Raptors), and Anthony Parker (also with the Raptors) have jumped from Maccabi to the NBA.
This year, Maccabi features several prominent Americans, including Marcus Fizer, who had four productive seasons with the Chicago Bulls; Will Bynum, the guard from Georgia Tech; and Vonteego Cummings, a former All-Big East guard from Pittsburgh who has played in the NBA. The team plays its weekend games in Israel, but during the week it travels to play in the EuroLeague against the best clubs throughout Europe.
"To be honest with you, I'd never heard of Maccabi before I came over to Israel," Morris said. "But when people hear the name, they know it's big-time."
In just a few weeks of playing together, Fizer has been impressed with Morris. "He's extremely talented, just a beast on defense," Fizer said. "We really haven't tapped into his offensive skills yet, but we know he can shoot."
Being cast about overseas does have some advantages, even for Morris, a self-described homebody, who said his favorite activities are talking with friends, grabbing a bite to eat and watching movies. He has seen ancient Greece and said his most memorable trip was a dip in the Dead Sea.
When asked about his goals, however, Morris said he wouldn't mind settling in one place.
"Every year it's been a different place after the first two in Houston," he said. "I'm just trying to find a home and play somewhere I feel comfortable. I'd like it to be in the NBA, but if it's not in the NBA, it can be in Europe, too."