CBB’s Most Exciting Player Not Named Zion Williamson
by Rick Bouch Scores & Statson
Yes, Duke freshman Zion Williamson is a human highlight reel. He averages 21.7 points and 9.3 rebounds for the No. 2 team in the country. Williamson can fill an ESPN Sportscenter Top Plays by himself on any given night. While college basketball fans around the country know Williamson, the nation’s best-kept secret is located in Murray, Kentucky.
At 6-3 and 175 pounds, Ja Morant doesn’t look like much, but he is college basketball’s most exciting player not named Zion. Morant averages 24.1 points, leads the nation with 10.6 assists and finds time to pull in 5.8 rebounds per game for Murray State. His performance has helped the Racers to the top of the Ohio Valley Conference.
Prior to a 79-66 loss to perennial OVC power Belmont last week, the Racers had just two losses – to Alabama and a seventh-ranked Auburn. Morant is the reason why Murray State is 15-3, favored to win the OVC regular season title, and will likely represent the conference in the NCAA tournament.
Like Williamson, Morant has thrilled fans with an array of dunks, ankle-breaking moves, and slick passes this season. His 44-inch vertical jump has allowed Morant to throw down some serious monster jams bringing crowds all over the OVC to their feet. His game is not all about dunks though. Morant is a true scorer who can do so from anywhere on the floor. He is shooting 53 percent from the field this season and he only averages 4.8 3-point attempts per game. He shoots nearly 80 percent from the free throw line and his 10.6 assists a game is two more than his closest competitor.
While Williamson is likely the first pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Morant could go as high as No. 2 according to several draft publications. Some scoff at Morant because his impressive numbers have been put up against mid-major competition. Those that question Morant’s talent can go directly to the Racers’ games against Alabama and Auburn this season.
In a five-point loss to the then-7th-ranked team in the country, Morant tallied 25 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists against an Auburn team that won a share of the SEC title last season. Earlier in the season, Murray State lost by six (78-72) to Alabama, a team that is now 12-6 and has a real shot at earning an NCAA bid.
In that loss to the Tide, Morant was on fire. He shot 16-of-29 (55 percent) from the floor and scored 38 points. In addition, Morant grabbed nine rebounds and had five assists. While the Racers didn’t win either game, Morant’s performance in both games proves that he can hang with the big boys.
Morant still has much to learn. He continues to turn the ball over a bit too much. In that loss to Alabama, he did commit 10 turnovers a total that he repeated in a win over Eastern Kentucky in early January. He scored 34 points and had 10 assists in that game.
Morant will also have to add some weight. NBA teams will worry about Morant’s frail 175-pound physique. An NBA diet and strength training program should take care of that. Morant’s talent will take care of the rest.