By Tom Dougherty, CSNPhilly.com
Jesse Morgan knew choosing the spring semester to begin his Temple career meant he’d have to sit out 10 more games. That’s OK. Patience is something he’s learned in the last 22 months.
Morgan, a transfer from the University of Massachusetts who was granted one more semester of eligibility by the NCAA after Temple filed an appeal, hasn’t played since Jan. 10, 2013, when he injured his knee against Saint Louis with UMass.
So missing 10 more games won’t be an issue, he’ll just have to stay patient.
“I did it so far, I think I can do it a little longer,” Morgan said Thursday during Temple’s media day.
When Morgan does finally set foot on the court Dec. 18 in Delaware — the first game he’s eligible to play — he’ll be focused on improving Temple’s defense, which was one of the team’s biggest weaknesses last season.
“I want to lock down my defending,” Morgan said. “I think the more I can be defensive-minded, [it] can open up my offense and bring that defensive leadership to the team.”
Temple, which finished 9-22 and 4-14 in the American Athletic Conference last season, allowed 80 or more points in 14 games and conceded 78.1 points per game, 336th in the country. It also averaged 23.3 rebounds and lost its two leading rebounders, Anthony Lee and Dalton Pepper.
Defense has been the coaching staff’s main focus in the team’s practices thus far, Morgan said, and it’s his defending that is being noticed in practices.
“In practice every day, he’s leading the stats in defensive deflections and all that different kind of stuff,” senior point guard Will Cummings said. “He’s an aggressive guy, he comes out ready to play defense. We’re going to need him to do that throughout the season.”
For head coach Fran Dunphy, who is entering his ninth season at Temple, he can see Morgan’s recognizing what the coaching staff has been emphasizing in practice.
“He gets it, he understands,” Dunphy said. “He’s real active on the ball. He can do better rebounding, for example. We need our guards to rebound, too. Everybody’s got to contribute on the defensive end. It’s a team concept that he’s working his butt off to get there.”
Dunphy praised Morgan as a “terrific jumpshooter” with “great range.” At UMass, the 6-foot-5 guard was the team’s second-leading scorer at the time of his season-ending knee injury, averaging 13.4 points.
“One of the things he adds to what we do is if there are teams that we’re not going to be able to score very easily against,” Dunphy said, “you can run him out to about 25 feet, tell him to shoot about five threes, hopefully two of them go in and we’re in decent shape.”
Cummings, who was named to the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year watch list and averaged 16.8 points last season, is pleased to have Morgan in the backcourt with him.
“He’s a knockdown shooter, so that helps out a lot,” Cummings said. “Drive and kicks, all that different stuff, he’s a playmaker. Just having Jesse back there and being able to knock down shots, it helps out a lot.”
Morgan was able to practice with the team all last year, so he’s aware of what the Owls have to do to get back to the tournament. And he also believes going through that kind of season has made the team closer.
“A lot of guys matured,” the 23-year-old said. “A lot of guys worked harder, see that we have a good team. The losses last year built hunger through all the guys. Everybody’s stepping up, everybody’s competing. We’re looking out for each other now, we’re more of a team.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE: See the story on CSNPhilly.com)