Morris continues to grow

Published 6:30 pm Monday, November 27, 2017

She’s already had a 20-point game and another game with her first double-double at Kentucky. Yet neither of those feats has been the highlight of this season for Kentucky junior Maci Morris, a former Bell County star.

Instead, it was a snowball fight the team had during a road trip to play games at Montana and then Washington State.

“I have to say that the snowball fight was one of the best times we had. I love being outside and the snowball fight was a good time,” said Morris. “The whole trip was just great. Montana and Idaho were beautiful. Washington, it was cool just getting to see different scenery. To be out there that long, we had good bonding time. Just joked around and got two big road wins as well.”

Email newsletter signup

The team took a rare bus ride from Montana to Washington State. Morris is from eastern Kentucky, but she said the scenery in the Rocky Mountains was “breathtaking” for everyone.

“Then we hit Washington and it was the same scenery for a long time. We were in and out of sleeping and it was kind of boring. But at the beginning, it was really a great time on that bus,” Morris said.

It has been a “great time” for Kentucky so far this season despite losing its top two players — Makayla Epps and Evelyn Akhator — off last year’s team to graduation. Kentucky is 6-0 after Sunday’s win over Marshall. Morris is the team’s top scorer (15.3 points per game) and is shooting 50 percent from 3-point range and 91 percent at the foul line. She’s also adding 4.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game.

“We always looked to them (Epps and Akhator) for go-to baskets, so it is different without them,” Morris said. “We could always count on Evelyn to go get a rebound, so that’s different trying to get used to her not being here to do that.

I think that it is gradually leaving our minds that we do not have them with us.”

The team seems to be playing faster, something that suits Morris and most of her teammates because many of them, like her, have no problem taking 3-point shots.

“We are quick and can get into people. We are all hard workers and will do what it takes to win,” she said.

Morehead State Coach Greg Todd, a former high school coach in Kentucky, has seen incredible growth from Morris.

“I don’t think anybody would have guessed she could be level of players she is. I always thought she was a good player but she has blossomed into all-conference type of player. She has continued to get better and better. With her ability to put the ball on the floor, she can score at all three levels and here 3-point shot has gone from good to great,” Todd said “With her length, she should continue get better and better. She has obviously worked very hard.”

How hard?

Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said Morris put up a “million shots this summer” and just kept working on her shot.

“She’s a worker and she’s taking full advantage of her opportunities and so we’re trying to help these players increase their skill level with skill development. We’re trying to help them get stronger, quicker, faster, more agile with our strength and quickness program,” Mitchell said. “She just gives her all to every opportunity she has to get better in the program and she just takes advantage of it.”

“I hate missing shots. I talk to myself. I am chewing myself out. If I miss one, I am okay. But I try not to miss two,” Morris said.

When she does not shoot well, Morris talks to herself. Or to a little person she calls “MayMo.”

Teammate Makenzie Cann said teammates have learned just to leave her alone when she’s talking with MayMo.

“She says, ‘Oh, come on, MayMo. MayMo, do better,’” Cann said. “And we’re just like, ‘Let her be.’”

Morris started that her freshman season because she would be in the gym with Skal Labissiere, one of John Calipari’s players.

“He was talking to himself, so I would talk to myself. That’s how it started,” she said.

Morris wants to keep surprising coaches like Todd — or even Mitchell — with her all-around play. Once known only as a shooter, she knows her game has expanded.

“I think a lot of people didn’t expect me to be where I am now, but I haven’t surprised myself. I always thought I was good. I have confidence in myself and I had others around me that were confident in me as well,” Morris said. “I know other people didn’t have the expectations for me that I had for myself, so that is why I probably will surprise some people still.

“I think I am always going to be surprising people because my team pushes me to be a better player than I am already. I have to keep improving, and that will surprise people. But I have to do that to help my team and that’s never going to change.”