The Rise of Ja Morant
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Every player entering the NBA dreams of becoming a star. Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant has taken that superstar jump in the 2021-2022 NBA season. Ja Morant is averaging career highs across the board with amazing shooting efficiency. His 26.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game have earned him his first All-Star team selection, and he is even in the conversation to win the league’s Most Valuable Player Award. Despite his seemingly sudden rise to stardom, Ja Morant’s journey to the NBA was anything but easy.
When fans watch Ja Morant play, most see his elaborate dribbles and explosive dunks. Behind his gameplay, though, is years of fighting his way onto the court. Ja Morant grew up in the small town of Dalzell, South Carolina, where he was coached by his father, Tee Morant. Tee Morant is a former collegiate basketball player himself and used his experience to push Ja Morant to his limits. They would run drills together everyday, practicing dribbling through cones and finishing around the rim.
Ja Morant averaged 27 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists per game in junior and senior year of high school. Even with these impressive numbers, he did not receive much attention from any prestigious basketball colleges. In fact, Ja Morant was not ranked by any recruiting service. Whether it was because of his obscurity or lack of height, he was constantly underrated despite his talent and work ethic. Ja Morant was eventually recruited by and enrolled in the small university of Murray State in a stroke of luck. Murray State assistant coach James Kane was at a small combine to scout Tevin Brown and recruit him. When Kane went to a concessionary to buy some chips, he accidentally stumbled upon Ja Morant playing at another gym. Kane was immediately enthralled by his performance and convinced him to attend the university.
At Murray State, Ja Morant had a very successful two years, earning All-American Honors and OVC Player of the Year. He was soon drafted into the NBA by the Memphis Grizzlies, where he would win Rookie of the Year over basketball phenom Zion Williamson. Ja Morant is now a 2022 Western All-Star starter, among the ranks of reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and legends like LeBron James and Stephen Curry. More important than the accolades, though, is the reputation that Ja Morant has garnered throughout the league. He embraced his underdog persona, making it a personal mission to humiliate the opposing team every night and prove his doubters wrong. Ja Morant led the small market Grizzlies past all-time great Curry and the talented Golden State Warriors to secure a playoff spot in only his second season.
Now in his third season, Ja Morant is once again showing off his seemingly limitless talent and showmanship. His style of play is spectacular and fearless. He uses his silky smooth handles to glide past defenders and finish with explosive leaps toward the basket, no matter who is in the way. In fact, Ja Morant has become notorious for attempting to dunk over opposing big men, some of whom are nearly a foot taller than him. This coterie includes the league’s premiere defenders, such as Jarrett Allen and Mitchell Robinson.
His production this season has drawn comparisons to those of former MVPs Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook. The three stars are all confident, high-flying point guards who broke out during their junior season, leading their teams to high seeds. The Grizzlies currently rank third in Western Conference and ahead of superstar-filled teams such as the Lakers. This performance far surpasses the expectations of most NBA analysts, who thought the Grizzlies would place near the eighth seed. Many fans believe that the Grizzlies are dark horse contenders for the championship but have little chance of beating behemoths such as the Brooklyn Nets or the Milwaukee Bucks. However, if Ja Morant has proven anything during his basketball career, it’s that you can never count him out, no matter the odds.