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Posted on Thu, Mar 10, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

The natural: Michigan guard Darius Morris has displayed exceptional talent from a young age

By Michael Rothstein


Indiana forward Tom Pritchard tries to block Michigan guard Darius Morris on Feb. 12 at Crisler Arena.

Angela J. Cesere |

The kid with the baggy shorts, big hair and metallic blue sneakers drove down the court during an AAU tournament in the San Fernando Valley.

A defender tried to stop 10-year-old Darius Morris as he dribbled through the entire defense. So Morris did what he had been doing for years. He crossed the kid over. Made him fall. Made him cry.

DeWayne Morris Sr. said that was one of the moments when he realized his son might have something special.

Michigan’s sophomore point guard always displayed precocious talent, dating back to the days when he begged to tag along to play basketball with his older brother, DeWayne Jr.

Almost eight years older, he let Darius go with him to Del Aire Park in Hawthorne, Calif. Four-year-old Darius pedaled behind his brothers on his bicycle as fast as he could, continuously trying to catch up.

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“I used to have my basketball and my training wheels on,” Darius said. “My brother would pedal back for me and his friends would be like ‘Come on, man.’ My dad used to make him take me with him so I wouldn’t be in the house all day.”

Soon, the training wheels came off, both on his bike and the court.

DeWayne Jr. tutored his younger brother in everything basketball-related. He’d take drills high school coaches were running and put Darius through them later that night or the next day.

“I took all that stuff they poured into me,” DeWayne Jr. said. “And I poured it into him.”

Whenever Darius played, his skill level was evident, but it was two off-court moves that shaped his basketball future.

Moving to Redondo Beach

The family moved from mostly-black Hawthorne to Redondo Beach while Darius was in elementary school. There, he received a different type of education.

“I was one of the only black people in class,” he said. “It made me a better person, a more diverse person being in different environments.”

This was an intentional environment switch by Morris’ parents.

Both DeWayne Sr. and Robin grew up in Gary, Ind. and went to Purdue in the 1970s, where they were part of a small minority population. They wanted their children to experience diversity.

“We wanted Darius to be well-rounded as an individual,” DeWayne Sr. said. “We didn’t want him to have, we didn’t want him to learn any prejudice and wanted him to learn that it is about the individual and how they treat you.”

The move shaped Darius — and prepared him for his future more than even they realized at the time. His next stop, where he went to high school, was a different world entirely.

Alternate route

Darius could have played high school basketball almost anywhere in Los Angeles, including Mira Costa, where DeWayne Jr. had played. He looked at powerhouses Westchester and Compton Dominguez Hills.

Coaches from the Windward School, a private school with little basketball tradition, called. Robin looked at the education. When Darius received an academic scholarship offer, he had a new home.

His new surroundings included a parking lot filled with Mercedes Benzes and BMWs. Basketball teammates included Malcolm Washington, the son of actor Denzel Washington, and rapper/actor Lil Romeo.

Basketball helped him fit in immediately.

A scrawny freshman who couldn’t touch the backboard, he nonetheless had prodigious athletic ability and played varsity as a freshman. By his sophomore year was the best player at the school.

Games were played in a small gym, but Darius described the crowds like the Staples Center for a Lakers game because of the celebrity progeny present.

Being there taught Darius to appreciate what his parents could provide. He wasn’t driving a fancy car, couldn’t always go out on weekends and couldn’t always afford the designer clothes.

“That might have been the hard part,” DeWayne Jr. said. “Definitely taught him to appreciate what you have. You have a kid who, one of your best friends is driving a new Mercedes or the girl you like is driving a BMW and you’re like ‘Wow, I want a car.’

Windward celebrated the friendly kid who led the school to a state championship his senior year and became one of their first high-level Division I basketball recruits.

“He was the pioneer, I would say,” said James Huggins, an assistant basketball coach at Windward. “We built from him. Darius put us on the map and other kids got better because of him and he made them believe.”

It would be Darius, though, who had to hold the belief in his future.

Making The Jump

Darius returned from Ann Arbor after he struggled through his freshman year with one goal: Get better.

He went to DeWayne Jr. and the two worked out every morning on his jump shot and his strength. He also reached out to an older friend he met while at Windward, former Michigan guard Demetrius Calip.

Each day, Darius woke up around 7 a.m. and worked out at Windward with DeWayne Jr. Then the two went for food and off to USC, where Calip introduced another 90-minute workout.

“A lot of pull-up jumpers, a lot of shooting 3-pointers because I knew that was one of his weak areas,” Calip said. “A lot of shooting off the dribble, a lot of positioning to understand how to beat a defender.”

Calip facilitated a reunion with an old friend from the AAU circuit, John Wall, who was training for the upcoming NBA Draft. Those workouts, Calip said, gave Darius confidence that he was close to becoming a special player.

If he could hang with Wall, the eventual No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, he could play with anyone.

Darius returned to Ann Arbor focused and ready to thrive. He went from a marginal player and an offensive liability as a freshman to Michigan’s leading scorer at 15.1 points a game and one of the top passers (6.8 apg.) in the nation.

He recorded the third triple-double in Michigan history against Iowa (12 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds) as a sophomore.

He maintains his success now and his potential future in the NBA is tied to one thing — the reason he ended up at Michigan in the first place — his family.

“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t even be here. If I make it, we make it,” Darius said. “Anything I do, any success that comes along, not only is it my success but it is my family’s success and also the team’s success.

“Those people are responsible for any success I receive.”

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan basketball for He can be reached at (734) 623-2558, by e-mail at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein