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Written by San Fernando Valley Sun   
Thursday, 02 January 2014 00:00

Michael Morrissey Got A Late Start In Playing Organized Basketball But Hard Work Has Made The Chatsworth Star One Of The City’s Best Guards.

When you watch Michael Morrissey play basketball, you know you’re watching something at work, something that’s still evolving, something not completely finished.

The Chatsworth senior, who is six feet tall and weighs 150 pounds, has helped the Chancellors win nine of their first 12 games. He has good quickness, vision and total confidence. He has a shooter’s stroke and a scorer’s mentality, averaging 23 points a game, but as the point guard he won’t just jack up shots at the expense of teammates.

On defense, however, he can still depend more on his hands than his feet, more often reaching and grabbing instead of sliding and gliding. More than anything, though, is a lack of instinct of where his man wants to take the ball, of where the flow of the opponent’s play is going. It’s not a lack of effort. It’s a lack of recognition, of not having played enough yet to intuitively understand what teams are trying to do and how to neutralize them.

But that’s also what makes Morrissey a fascinating prospect.

He didn’t play organized basketball until high school. His basketball ceiling isn’t yet defined. There is still so much more development for his game to undergo before the final product is completed.

“I’ve always played (in neighborhood pickup games),” Morrissey said, “but not organized until ninth grade in Simi Valley. My freshman year I didn’t do so good, in fact I sucked. My sophomore year I came to Chatsworth. I was getting there, but [still] not really any good. But at the end of my sophomore year I started going to summer leagues. My junior year I was like ‘okay, this kid’s pretty good.’

“And now I’m realizing I could be really good. So I’ve been working on my game a lot.”

His passion and desire for the game has turned Morrissey into the quintessential gym rat, always finding time to practice his shooting and other skills, and study video of opponents. Chatsworth Coach Scott Switalla notes that if the assistant coaches haven’t made the video of the team’s games available a couple of hours after they’re over, Morrissey is calling to find out when he can watch.

In this day of travel teams, basketball camps and instructional DVDs, elite players get immersed in the game very early; talent is quickly identified and nurtured – sometimes exploited. It is rare for someone to stay under the radar too long.

But Morrissey has done that.

It’s given Switalla a chance to be the primary sculptor of Morrissey’s skill set, an unexpected opportunity and responsibility.

“It’s exciting, and something I’ve thought about a lot,” the coach said. “He was a good athlete when he got here; (but) he wasn’t a basketball player. He really had no clue to what he was doing. Just in terms of when they set foot into high school to when they leave high school, [Morrissey has had] by far the biggest transformation of any player I’ve had.

“I’ve had players that had no business making a team that we made into decent players. But not a player that’s gonna score over 1,000 points in his high school career, and in two years on varsity will average over 20 points a game. To be an elite high school player after not having played organized basketball before he got here is quite remarkable.”

Assistant Coach Dax Grooms also envisioned the possibilities when the Chancellor’s had Morrissey on the Chatsworth froshsoph team.

“When I first saw him, he had a natural athleticism you could recognize. The biggest thing, he was a hard worker, hungry to get better, and would listen. Even without a big basketball background, he wanted to get better,” Grooms said.

“With any skill, when you start out you are limited but the more he practiced he had more success, and that started to build his confidence. He kept climbing and got hungrier and hungrier. And he’s still going. He started to understand the benefit from all the sacrifice, time, and effort he put in. He remains one of the hardest workers in the program. I can count on one hand all the practices he missed since he’s been here.”

Morrissey’s emergence on varsity began last season. Chatsworth suffered through 13-20 season overall, but he averaged 22.1 points a game as the team’s primary offensive weapon. This year there is more talent, like seniors Derrick Jennings and Lionel Johnson, sophomore Jonathan Ouano, and intriguing 6-6 sophomore Travis Patrick, who will probably be more helpful later in the season than right now.

Among the annual team awards given at the season’s end is the “Orange Crush,” given to the hardest working, most inspirational player. It usually goes to a varsity senior. But Morrissey won it as a sophomore, and again last year.

“I’ve always had passion for the game, ever since eighth grade when I started playing street ball,” Morrissey said. “That’s when I first thought I could play for a high school team. When I came here my sophomore year, I didn’t know any rules, really. I did know traveling and double-dribble, but I didn’t know five- and 10-second calls, or jump ball change of possessions. It was funny. I got teased about it. But I just wanted to play.”

The transition from scoring guard to point guard can have a steep learning curve. Morrissey only has this season to learn and be effective if the Chancellors are to survive in the very competitive West Valley League and contend for the City Section Division II championship. Not surprisingly, he is embracing the challenge.

“Last season, I realized I couldn’t be a wing guard at the height I am now,” Morrissey said. “I watch a lot of college ball, and there are no guys six feet playing the wing. I had to think about becoming a point guard. So I started going to more high school games, and a college game, just looking at the point guards in particular – how they move off the ball, on the ball, what they look at.

“And Scott was telling me about the responsibilities; how you got to have court awareness, where your team’s at, who’s hot and getting their shot up, where the openings are to attack, to make people guard you. And score when you need to. If I can start scoring at the beginning of the game (teams will have to double-team him and he can pass to open teammates).

” What will the player look like once the learning, molding and shaping is finished? And who is willing to risk taking on the incomplete Morrissey and bring his game to fruition?

That answer – in the form of a college offer – probably won’t come until after the season.

“I’m starting to be aware of everything else, but I’m still learning,” Morrissey said. A work in progress, yes. But one definitely worth watching.

A Gamer — Chatsworth senior Michael Morrissey is among the top City Section
guards despite never playing organized basketball until high school.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 31 December 2013 19:47

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