By Sarah VanMetre, U-M Athletic Media Relations
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Making the cross-country move from Los Angeles to Ann Arbor might be a little much for a college freshman to handle. Not so with freshman guard Darius Morris, who has embraced the Midwest and the University of Michigan as he prepares for his first season of college basketball, and more importantly, his first year as a college student.
Unlike a typical student who has to make the adjustment in September with a full-course load, Morris arrived on campus on June 22 with a two-class schedule, along with the desire to improve on the court.
"It has been really helpful, coming here early," Morris said of enrolling in school this summer. "Even though it has been tough sometimes, you want to get the tough times out of the way. Simple things like time management and finding the time to get your rest. I think it is an important time here in the summer to work my way through it and adjust to college life."
The advantage also goes beyond the classroom and translates to the basketball court, as he also is using this time to get adjusted to life on the hardwood at the collegiate level.
"It is nice to be playing with the team and getting the chemistry with the team, on and off the court, while letting them get a feel for you and a feel for them during this time. I think it just brings all of us closer together," Morris said of his time in Ann Arbor so far.
Another advantage Morris has as he makes the transition from California to Michigan is his roommate, Jordan Morgan, a Detroit native.
"It is cool rooming with him because his parents are close. His parents take care of him, and they also check up on me. That is pretty nice," remarked Morris.
His confidence is unmistakable as he talks about everything; his favorite food (chicken alfredo), music (an interesting mix of hip-hop and gospel), who he models his game after (Tracy McGrady in his prime), how he picked up the game (from his brother DeWayne, who is trying to make it in the D-League) and his go-to move (he has three of them). It comes from a faith he has, in God, himself and head coach John Beilein.
"I read the Bible every day," Morris said about his faith in God while sporting a "What Would Jesus Do" bracelet. "I try to do that and it is a big part of me. God has blessed me in so many ways, so I am just thankful for the opportunities He has given me. The opportunity to get a scholarship to any college was just a blessing come true to me and my family. We like to thank him for everything that we have."
Morris' faith goes even farther as it found a place in coach Beilein. There had to be something that pulled the 2009 John Wooden State of California Player of the Year from the West Coast to the town of Ann Arbor, especially after a 2007-08 season that saw the Wolverines go 10-22. And that something was Beilein.
"I knew in my heart that Coach Beilein could turn it around and he did. He told me that he was very confident and that if I committed, I could contribute to the turnaround as well. I just have faith in him and his philosophy in basketball, the way he teaches the game," Morris said of the third-year coach.
This faith in Beilein was the deciding factor in Morris' college decision, making the 2,200-mile difference seem irrelevant.
"The opportunity that he presented here at the University of Michigan was a great one, both on and off the court," Morris explained. "On the court, one of my aspirations was to play right away. While no coach can guarantee that, you can put yourself in a good situation and not go somewhere with a crowded roster. Here at Michigan, at my position, that was the right fit."
Morris took into account the reputation that the Michigan has as an academic institution as well.
"The U-M education is just second to none. Both of these factors played a part and I felt like it if the opportunity is right, no matter how far the distance is, I could do that for the next few years of my life," Morris said.
One thing that he cannot escape about the distance is that pesky three-hour time difference.
"When I first got here, the three hour time difference was hard to get myself onto this time schedule. A lot of people used to try to get in touch with me later in the day and I could not get back to them because I was sleeping. They know now that I am on a three-hour time difference, so they try to get me earlier."
Oh and there is that little issue of Midwest weather.
"The weather here is really unpredictable. You start out with a clear sky and then 'boom' it will just start raining," Morris said. "In California, if you look outside and it is clear, it is going to be clear for the day."
If Morris thinks the Michigan summers are bad, he is in for a completely new experience when winter hits Ann Arbor.
"I have heard pretty bad stories about winter. People say simple things like 'layer up', but I am sure that it is a difficult task. I will definitely be getting help from my teammates and parents. My parents are from the Midwest, so we went back to visit their families. I kind of like the snow, but I don't know about living in the snow," Morris said.
Living in the snow will definitely take some getting used to, but Morris has a plan to escape the winter weather that his coaches, teammates and U-M fans are sure to love.
"I will spend a lot of time in the gym to get away from the snow," Morris says with a smile.
That should not be a problem for the gym rat who declared Crisler Arena as his favorite place in Ann Arbor. He has bright ideas for the future and is happy in his decision to attend Michigan and pass up opportunities at schools that had experienced more success lately.
"I saw the players here and thought that they could get it done. I wanted to be a part of something special. It is easy to go to a program that has been winning for a long time. But to rejuvenate a program or help rejuvenate a program, that is a challenge."
Morris is the perfect candidate to embrace that challenge, just as heis conquering the challenge of the cross-country move from California to Michigan.
Behind the Lines Series
Part 6: The Journey Back ... Freshman Jordan Morgan
Part 5: The Interesting Choice ... Freshman Blake McLimans
Part 4: The Locker Room Conversation ... Freshman Josh Bartelstein
Part 3: Right In His Backyard ... Freshman Eso Akunne
Part 1: Bringing the Shooter's Touch ... Freshman Matt Vogrich