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TOM DAVIS: Indiana forward has a bright future – in Bloomington – not the NBA

Indiana's Juwan Morgan (13) and Justin Smith (3) and Nebraska's Jordy Tshimanga, center, vie for a rebound, won by Morgan, during the first half of a game this past season in Lincoln, Neb. (By The Associated Press)

The NCAA has taken steps to enhance player mobility OFF of the court by allowing graduates with eligibility to transfer without repercussions, as well as underclassmen to “declare” for the NBA Draft in word only.

And both decisions have created chaos in collegiate athletics.

The NBA has taken steps to enhance player mobility ON the court by essentially eliminating the traditional frontcourt positions and replacing them with players that are now referred to as “stretch 4s” and “face-up posts.”

And old-school guys (like me) often feel like it has created chaos within the sport.

In the case of Indiana University senior-to-be forward Juwan Morgan, he is hoping to take advantage of both scenarios with his announcement Thursday that he has “declared” for the 2018 NBA Draft, but due to his not signing with an agent, he has the option to return to the Hoosiers (by May 30) for his final season next year.

“I want to gather as much information as possible and see what opportunities may be out there,” Morgan said in a release. “It has always been a goal of mine to play basketball at the highest level and this is the first step. It’s important to get an honest evaluation and that is what I am looking for. ”

Search no further, Juwan, for I will give you an “honest evaluation.”

Morgan needs to stop with the absurdity that he is going to the NBA in two months and just get back to his studies and spring workouts in Bloomington. Unless for some asinine reason he would prefer to play for the Bighorns (of Reno) as opposed to in the Big Ten.

BIG impact

Morgan was the most improved player in the Big Ten this season and was a massive reason as to why the Indiana season didn’t spiral out of control over the final two months.

“Starting in December,” first-year Indiana coach Archie Miller said of Morgan late in the season, “he was playing some really good basketball and you start to say ‘We can really play through him.'”

Which the Hoosiers did.

Offensively, the 6-foot-8 forward was a beast on the block, in transition, and on the glass. And when Indiana lost center De’Ron Davis to an injury in early January, Morgan was often great defensively with his ability to work against players much bigger than himself.

“He’s given everything he has,” Miller said. “He’s probably running on fumes right now here at the end, the amount of minutes he’s played, what we’ve asked him to do defensively and offensively.”

Morgan was often phenomenal last season, but what he isn’t suited for is exactly what the NBA game has evolved into for a player his size.

Jack ’em up

On Wednesday, the Brooklyn Nets fell behind early and eventually lost a game to the Boston Celtics to close out their regular season. There wasn’t anything notable about the contest, including the fact that the teams combined for 64 3-point attempts.

A team taking 32 shots in a game beyond the arc – on average – wouldn’t even qualify to be in the top five most aggressive shooting squads in the NBA.

What the NBA game is today is a skill-centric league filled with athletes that are agile and perimeter-oriented, not just with their shooting, but their ball-handling, as well.

If you can’t shoot from the perimeter or handle the ball, you are really going to struggle in the NBA, particularly if you play the most athletic position on the floor (wing), which is precisely where Morgan will be at the next level.

Not his game

Morgan can do so many valuable things on a basketball court – at the college level – but perimeter shooting and ball-handling aren’t among them. And two months of working with a personal trainer isn’t going to alter that significantly.

Morgan missed 30 of his 40 3-point attempts (25 percent) as a sophomore and only slightly improved his accuracy this season.

He made 16 of 52 long shots (30.8 percent), though he was better (37.8 percent) in league play. In 20 of the Hoosiers’ 31 games, Morgan didn’t even make a 3-pointer.

As a passer, Morgan turned the ball over (51 times) more often than he dished to a teammate (47 assists) for a basket.

As it is today, he simply does not have the skill level to play in the NBA. That isn’t being harsh; it’s delivering an “honest evaluation.”

Do the math

In addition to lacking the necessary skills, Morgan doesn’t have the numbers in his favor either.

There are only 60 spots in the NBA Draft each year, but already 132 players have “declared” for it this spring, 47 of which signed with an agent, so they are not returning to college no matter what.

That number doesn’t even include any foreign players, who will enter the pool of possible draft candidates also.

Setting an example

College is a place to grow intellectually and Morgan could have, and should have, learned an invaluable lesson from watching his former Indiana teammate, James Blackmon Jr.

The Fort Wayne native could have returned to Bloomington this season and been the most productive player on the Hoosiers, as well as worked to develop his defensive skills, both of which would have made him more marketable professionally. However, Blackmon Jr. declared for the 2017 NBA Draft and never heard his name called on Draft night. He ultimately spent the season playing in front of sparse crowds for a G-League team called the Wisconsin Herd.

Blackmon Jr. would never admit this publicly, but there is no way he reflected on that decision positively as he made a seemingly unending bus trip through snow squalls in December for a mid-week road game against Erie.

Time is on his side

I don’t know if Morgan will ever play in the NBA or not. He absolutely has the athleticism to hold his own at some higher level, but at this point in his career; he doesn’t possess the necessary skills.

The next 14 months can be incredibly valuable for Morgan in a number of ways, academically and athletically, both of which will better set him up for a successful life. The opportunity to take advantage of that time and be part of what could be a Big Ten championship pursuit is not to be dismissed lightly.

With an ever-improving Morgan, a (hopefully) more mature, healthy and energetic Davis, a more developed Justin Smith, Al Durham and Devonte Green, AND a potentially great recruiting class coming in, there are a number of very positive reasons for Morgan to be more focused on his present situation than any future elsewhere.

“I think he’s continued to grow,” Indiana senior guard Robert Johnson said of Morgan this past season. “Every year he’s gotten better.”

That was true this season and it will be next year, as well.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.

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