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Morris Goes From NCAA Tourney to NBA

I know people here are still wrapped up in how the Washington Wizards are trying their best to give away the Southeast Division title to the Miami Heat with this current West Coast slide. Others might still be scratching their heads over how Kobe Bryant has scored about 876 points his past five games. But the coolest, most underplayed story of this month - if not the season - was the New York Knicks' signing of Randolph Morris over the weekend.

Morris, a 6-11, 260-pound first team All-SEC center from Kentucky, became the first player to ever play in the NCAA Tournament and join and NBA roster in the same week. A week after scoring 22 points in his final college game - an 88-76 loss to Kansas in the second round - Morris was practicing with the Knicks after signing a two-year, $1.6 million contract.

Even better, Morris was signed to be nothing more than a practice player, but given the Knicks' illness- and injury-plagued roster, he could make his debut tonight against Orlando. As Knicks guard Stephon Marbury said, "This is the best situation ever."

Indeed. Morris was on the same AAU team as Magic center Dwight Howard and Hawks forward Josh Smith, who are both in their third season in the league. He declared for the 2005 NBA draft following his freshman year at Kentucky, but he did not sign with an agent and went undrafted after issues crept up about his character and work ethic.

He returned to school but was forced to miss the first 14 games his sophomore season, when he averaged 13.3 points and six rebounds. Due to a provision in the NBA collective bargaining agreement that prohibited him from re-entering the draft, Morris was a free agent throughout the 2006-07 season - in which he averaged 16.1 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots as a junior - and could've signed with a team at any time.

While most of his collegiate peers are preparing for the June draft, Morris is already collecting checks with a guaranteed contract. The Knicks and Raptors were supposed to be the only teams interested in signing Morris, but league general managers were either asleep at the wheel - perhaps unaware that they didn't have to wait until July 1 to sign him - or they were thinking that he was still the same immature, out-of-shape project instead of a prospect with potential to be a solid contributor. Either way, in a league that values size, a serviceable big man should've warranted a little more interest, no?

Isiah Thomas gets kudos for swooping in and getting the deal done, because signing Morris was the equivalent of getting another first-round pick since Morris certainly had the talent to go in the mid-to-late first round. So what did teams have to lose?

By Michael Lee  |  March 26, 2007; 3:01 PM ET
 
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