Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Leanna Morrison, the most decorated athlete in Berkeley High School history, wants to play basketball.
Morrison, who for the last two years has blistered the track as a UNC Charlotte 49er, has transferred to the University of South Carolina where she will play basketball for the Gamecocks this winter.
“It’s always something I wanted to do,” said Morrison, who is on the USC roster and wearing the same uniform number (21) she wore as a Lady Stag. “Basketball has been this nagging itch I couldn’t scratch over the past two years up until I decided to come here. Playing basketball has always been something I couldn’t get out of my system.”
Morrison joins former Goose Creek standout Aleighsa Welch in Columbia and gives the Gamecocks a definite Berkeley County flavor.
But it’s been two years since Morrison has played any serious basketball, graduating in 2011 as the most decorated athlete in Berkeley history – in track. A four-time state champion her senior year, and winner of 13 state championships over a record setting six-year scholastic career, Morrison signed with UNC Charlotte and took her four state championship rings to North Carolina.
“This year I’ll be sitting out track so that next year I’ll have two years of eligibility remaining in each sport, basketball and track,” she said.
While at UNC-Charlotte, Morrison quickly made her mark, setting the Atlantic 10 conference record in the 400-meter hurdles and making the Atlantic 10 All-Freshman team.
During her second season as a 49er, Morrison broke her own 400-meter hurdles record at the Atlantic 10 conference meet.
As she begins a new phase of her collegiate career, Morrison has three years of eligibility remaining in basketball and two years in track.
“It’s been harder to stay in tip-top basketball shape with all the demands because of track,” she said. “But since this past April I’ve been playing more basketball than I’ve played over the past two years and since June I’ve really been putting my time in on the floor.”
Morrison had to walk away from a full-ride track scholarship in order to play basketball for USC.
“It’s something that was just meant to be,” she said. “In fact, it was Aleighsa Welch who opened the door for me in coming here. Aleighsa was one of the people I went to for advice about what it would take to come back and play basketball. When I went to talk to Aleighsa about it she said walk-on tryouts were currently going on and I went to meet with the coaches about what it would take to play basketball here.”
Morrison secured her scholarship release from UNC-Charlotte and enrolled in classes in Columbia during the second summer session.
“They knew the circumstances I’ve had and they knew I was in track shape,” she said. “My style of play complements their game.”
Morrison came to Columbia to meet with USC coaches and staff and used the summer-2 session as her tryout period as a walk on. Following the tryout period Morrison was added to the 2013-2014 Gamecocks’ roster.
“You think it sounds easy how everything worked out, but it really wasn’t,” she said. “There was a lot that had to happen. Even down to getting my old uniform number from high school, I feel really blessed that everything worked out the way it did. Things just seemed to fall into place the way they should have.”
Morrison sees a good fit between her run-and-gun style of play up and down the floor and South Carolina’s up-tempo game.
“They had a pretty good season last year,” she said. “They run the floor. Defensively they press the ball. We run the floor, you get your minutes and you rotate.”
USC comes into the season ranked 17th in the NCAA Division I pre-season poll.
While Morrison is still a couple months away from being SEC game ready, she knows come October she’ll be ready.
“I press the ball and push the ball up the floor,” she said. “I can drive to the basket and dish the ball off to four other players on the floor that can make things happen. This is so much different from high school.”
Speaking of high school, Morrison spent the summer working with her Lady Stags counterparts and the girls know what kind of hard work is required to play.
“They know,” she said, “The whole month of June I was in there with the girls. We go into the gym from nine to eleven and work the drills. Then we hit the weights until noon and play after that. There’s not much I have to tell them. I’m there with them.”
Morrison is counting down the days until the start of basketball season. She can’t wait.
“I’m really looking forward to this,” she said.
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