The noise escalates in the gymnasium. The lifeline of hearing the coach’s voice is no longer an option, the basketball has to be secured like a newborn baby and the decision-making process is crucial.
Rush the ball down the floor? Or calm the tempo and run a play? Pass the rock to the hot shooter? Or get it inside and draw a foul? What does the shot clock say? How about the game clock?
It’s a complex role to play point guard under Coyotes men’s basketball coach Scott Garson, a former UCLA assistant who helped nurture Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday into NBA draft picks.
Garson said his No. 1 priority upon taking the College of Idaho job was to find a point guard. Instead, he found two: Junior starter Josh Wilson and freshman reserve Emanuel Morgan.
“We have two players that could start for any good team in the country,” says Garson, whose Cascade Conference champion Coyotes (23-5) rose one spot to No. 5 in this week’s NAIA Division II Top 25 coaches’ poll. “That’s a real luxury for us.
“There’s a real calm feeling for me as a coach when the ball’s in their hands. I’m not worried. They both really understand the game.”
They challenge each other in practice. One day, the physical Wilson (6-foot-3, 180 pounds) gets the better of Morgan (5-6, 150). The next, it’s Morgan’s tenacity and speed winning the battle. And the fruits of their labor is a team that ranks among the country’s best in several statistical categories — most notably assists (fourth, 18.36 per game).
“I think we’re the best duo in the nation,” Wilson says.
Here’s a look at each player.
‘A WINNER’: Morgan, who was a two-time all-state selection at Churchill High (Eugene, Ore.), drew a crowd of fans last Friday when the Yotes played in his hometown at Northwest Christian. Churchill High actually rescheduled its game just to see Morgan compete.
“Everybody loves Manny,” Garson says.
Morgan is known to harass opponents in Garson’s full-court press and push the tempo in the fast break. He took heed to Garson’s preseason challenge to pressure ball handlers ala Darren Collison, the former UCLA star who now plays for the L.A. Clippers.
“He’s tough to go against in practice every day — sometimes annoying,” Wilson said. “I’m not playing against anybody as fast as he is — or as good as he is — during the games.”
Morgan averages 16.9 minutes per game and boasts an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.3, which Garson praises and covets. He started the opening five games of the year, but was relegated to the bench when Wilson became the starter in the sixth game.
“Manny’s a winner, through and through,” Garson said. “He just totally embraced the role. He handled it so well, so maturely.
“For him to show leadership as a freshman is really, really an impressive thing — and an exciting thing for the future of this program.”
‘NO EXCUSES’: Wilson played through pain the past two years at El Camino College (Torrance, Calif.). A stress fracture in his shin required surgery prior to the start of Yotes’ preseason practices, but he healed quicker than expected, received clearance at the end of October and slowly worked into the starting lineup.
Now, Wilson is nearing full health and averages 8.2 points and 4.3 assists in 26.4 minutes per game.
“He doesn’t use the lack of an offseason as an excuse,” said Garson, who thought Wilson may have to use a medical redshirt when he signed a letter of intent in May. “Don’t whine, don’t complain and don’t make excuses — those are three very important rules that (UCLA) coach (John) Wooden used to lay down to his team, and we lay down, too. Josh has not made any excuses.”
For comparison’s sake, Garson likens Wilson’s savviness to former Bruins star Jordan Farmar and his physicality to Utah Utes standout Andre Miller.
Wilson, who uses his size to post-up players and corrals rebounds to kick start the fast break, averages 5.2 rebounds per game. He recorded a triple-double on Dec. 7 at Evergeen, the first in the Yotes’ program since 2000-01.
“Josh’s rebounding has been sensational,” Garson said. “He’s the best rebounding guard in the league, without question.”