Morris gaining weight, responsibility

Minnesota’s success this year could rest on the shoulders of Carlos Morris.

Jack Satzinger

Carlos Morris leaned back in his chair and sighed.

Positioned in front of his locker after a Friday game against Western Carolina, the junior guard-forward had just scored 16 points and helped Minnesota to a blowout victory.

Morris shot 78 percent from the field. And he led the way with three steals.

Despite the high marks, Morris couldn’t hide his frustration when one question hit him:

“Now that the season is in full swing, have you been able to keep the weight on that you gained in the summer?”

He paused and then grimaced. The short answer — not really.

“With playing, it’s kind of up and down. I’m between 174 and 177 [pounds] each day, so I’m just trying to keep it up. When we aren’t playing or we aren’t practicing, I’m just trying to eat,” Morris said.

When the 6-foot-5-inch Florida native transferred from Chipola College last spring, he weighed only 160 pounds.

But he roamed Dinkytown’s streets all summer, taking in as many calories as possible to supplement a rigorous weight-lifting program.

He added more than 15 pounds. But as his first season with the Gophers progressed, Morris has gained something more than weight — responsibility.

“He’s playing much better basketball, and still he’s got a long way to go just mentally understanding certain things,” head coach Richard Pitino said. “He’s got to understand he’s got to bring the intangible things that Austin Hollins brought.”

Gaining responsibility

It’s no secret that Pitino brought Morris in to fill the void vacated by Hollins, Minnesota’s only 2013-14 starter who graduated.

Morris came to Minnesota with a lot riding on his play at the small forward position. Hollins was a leader, Minnesota’s defensive stopper, a knockdown shooter and a strong rebounder.

But now, with Daquein McNeil  suspended indefinitely, Morris’s play could make or break Minnesota’s season.

“A lot of times with [junior college transfers], it takes them a year. We don’t have a year with [Morris],” Pitino said. “He’s got to figure it out right now because he’s the only true small forward in the program.”

Despite his natural scoring ability and knack for racking up steals — he recorded eight steals against Wake Forest, which is one off the single-game school record — Morris is far from a finished product.

But don’t tell him that.

Before the season, Pitino preached to his players that they needed to start being more confident. They didn’t have an edge. The head coach asked his players to raise their hands if they thought they were going to be an NBA player.

Morris’s palm was the only one that went up in the air.

“The biggest thing for me is to just stay confident,” Morris said. “That’s what I try to do, and it helps a lot.”

Adjusting to Division I

Morris’s confidence shows all over the court in the form of unkind bricks and silky swooshes.

He isn’t afraid to shoot a low percentage, off-balance, midrange jumper with a defender in his grill. He thinks it’s going in no matter what.

After all, Morris had his way with defenders while playing in junior college the past two years. As a freshman, he led his team in scoring.

“[In] junior college, I could take any kind of shot I wanted to,” Morris said. “The biggest adjustment is just finding my spots on the court, knowing what shots to take.”

Pitino wasn’t pleased with Morris’ shot selection during the season’s infancy. Morris kicked off the season with an inefficient 3-for-9 showing against Louisville and followed it up by going 3-for-10 against Western Kentucky.

“He’s a little too consumed with his offense right now, and I think he knows that,” Pitino said last month. “Stop shooting jump shots all the time. Drive the basketball.”

But now, with Morris as Minnesota’s second-leading scorer behind senior Andre Hollins, Pitino is starting to change his tune on the starting small forward’s shot selection.

“It’s gotten a lot better,” Pitino said. “I think the next step is understanding when to give it up on the break.”

Morris shot 60 percent in the Wake Forest game before hitting 78 percent of his shots against Western Carolina last week.

He made all six of his 2-point shot attempts, four of which came in the paint.

But Morris was just 1-for-3 from behind the arc.

Though he’s trying not to make dramatic changes to his game, he seems conscious of the adjustments needed to survive Big Ten play.

“For me, it’s just basketball. I play my game and good things happen. If I overthink, I’m going to play bad. I just try to play my game,” Morris said.

Gaining weight

Morris admittedly wasn’t eating right before he came to Minnesota.

And with a glance at his current diet, it doesn’t seem like he’s made any improvements.

Senior guard DeAndre Mathieu called Morris a “pizza junkie.”

“It’s almost like he eats too much,” freshman guard Nate Mason said. “Papa John’s … if you want to put on weight, that’s what you eat.”

Morris eats anything within reach of his lanky arms.

He has to do whatever possible to keep on the pounds he gained over the summer, which includes hitting up Dinkytown-area staples.

“I’m a Southern guy, man. I don’t find too many Southern things around here. I like Tony’s [Diner], though. Tony’s is probably my favorite spot,” Morris said. “I like Five Guys. It’s something simple.”

Both Pitino and Morris stressed the importance of gaining weight continuously, but the constant grind of the season makes it a difficult task.

“Hopefully as we get out of finals and do those things, we can just continue to feed him,” Pitino said. “He’s got to put on that weight because he’s thin.”

Morris still makes frequent trips to Tony’s Diner, and sometimes redshirt senior center Mo Walker tags along.

While Morris usually gets something hearty, like steak and eggs, Walker — who has lost more than 60 pounds in the past year and a half — chooses healthy options, like a chicken pita wrap or a Caesar salad.

“They’ve got good variety. Some healthy stuff for me,” Walker said. “[Morris has] gained some weight. He’s still pretty slim, but he’s put on some weight, and I think that will help him.”

And the Gophers desperately need the added weight to help Morris in order to make the NCAA tournament this season.

“Getting stronger was my biggest key [this season],” Morris said. “It’s a little bit of everything — going to the rim, getting hit and not losing the ball. Not letting guys bump you off the dribble, off your pass. As I get bigger, it’s just going to help me more.”