CONCORD – If everything goes as planned, Matt Morgan said goodbye to Cornell University on Friday.
Morgan, a Cox Mill High School graduate who was one of the nation’s top scorers in men’s college basketball this season as a junior, announced on his Twitter account that he’s declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft as an early entrant.
This is the second year in a row that Morgan has declared for the draft. But unlike last year, when he withdrew his name from draft eligibility two weeks after declaring, the former Charger isn’t going into the process planning to return to the Ithaca, New York, campus.
“I think it’s a whole different situation for me personally,” Morgan said in a telephone interview with the Independent Tribune. “Last year, I think it was more of just getting my name out there, knowing I was going to come back but just letting people know that I’m serious about this and to take a look at me this season. But this year, I’m going into it with the intent to play at the next level if the opportunity presents itself.
“Yeah, this is a completely different feel and a completely different situation.”
Morgan has not hired an agent, meaning that he still has the ability to withdraw from the draft and go back to school. But he’s a lot more visible on NBA scouts’ radars this time around.
Morgan wrapped up this season with 1,646 career points, which ranks third all-time at Cornell and puts him among the top 20 in Ivy League history.
In his Twitter announcement, Morgan gave a heartfelt message of gratitude to both his Concord family and the one in Central New York. It also sounded like a fond farewell to Cornell.
Morgan wrote, “I would first like to thank my lord and savior for giving me the ability to play the sport that I love. I want to thank my parents and brothers for the sacrifices they make and the support they give me each and every day! My family and friends for all their support through the ups and downs of my career! To Newman Nation and Cornell for being there with me through everything we endured as a team and giving me the opportunity to showcase my talents! Lastly, my coaches and teammates because without them nothing would be possible! With that I would like to announce I am declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft!”
A 6-foot-3 guard whose father, Lamont, played at Georgetown, Morgan was overlooked by the nation’s top programs when he graduated from Cox Mill in 2015. After enrolling at Cornell, though, Morgan has dominated the Ivy League for the past three seasons.
The 2017-18 campaign might have been his finest.
Leading Cornell to the Ivy League tournament for the first time in school history, Morgan tied for 11th in the country with a career-best 22.5 points per game in his junior season, marking the third consecutive year that he led the conference in scoring. He actually spent much of the season ranked second only to highly touted Oklahoma freshman Trae Young, who also recently declared for the NBA Draft.
“I started out pretty fast,” Morgan said of the season. “I don’t think I caught people off-guard, but I was trying to go out there and just improve my game. I tried to become a leader on my team, because we lost so many people and had so many new people coming in.
“I think I improved with my efficiency this year – taking fewer shots but scoring at a high rate,” he added. “I did a pretty good job of keeping my assists high and my turnovers low, as compared to my freshman and sophomore year.”
In addition to his high point production, Morgan established careers bests in field-goal percentage (49.2) and assists (3.2, which also led the team), and he tied his career high in rebounds (4.6 per game). He made 37 percent of his 3-pointers.
Not only was Morgan a unanimous first-team All-Ivy selection, but he was named to the Lou Henson All-America team, which recognizes the nation’s top 40 Division I mid-major players.
After he declared for the draft last year, Morgan had talks with officials from the Golden State Warriors, Washington Wizards and Minnesota Timberwolves, along with some brief discussions with the Oklahoma City Thunder and his hometown Charlotte Hornets.
This season, Morgan said, scouts got to see his growth as an NBA prospect.
“I think, individually, the stats proved that I got a little better in a lot of areas,” he said. “And off the court, the stuff that you can’t see, I felt like I improved there as well – just being a leader, being there for my teammates when they needed me, and just being another voice that people would want to hear in the huddle so they didn’t have to hear our coaches all the time.”
Per NCAA rules, NBA scouts couldn’t communicate directly with Morgan during the college season, but he said some of them called Cornell coach Brian Earl and even came to see him play. At this stage, Morgan said, he hasn’t heard what round he could possibly be drafted.
But unlike last year, when his announcement came several weeks after the season, Morgan made his intentions known early.
“I’m going to stay with the process as long as possible,” he said. “I’m going into this with the mindset that I want to play in the NBA, I want to get drafted. And if the opportunity presents itself, I’m going to take it. But until that point, I’m going to keep my options open.”
For now, there isn’t much that Morgan can do except work out on the court and in the weight room. He hopes to receive an invitation to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, which begins on May 16.
“Right now, I’m just kind of sitting back,” Morgan said. “Of course, I’m staying in the weight room, staying in the gym, but I’m just waiting for teams to contact not only myself but my coaches as well. And I hope to get some workouts scheduled with some teams. Maybe they’ll come watch us work out in Ithaca. But at this point, it’s pretty much a waiting game.
“But I’m excited. I’ve been through it once, and I think this time will be a lot better. I think it was a good decision for me and my future to go through this process again, but just a little bit more focused on actually getting drafted and being able to become a professional in the NBA.”