Jerrin Morrison's passion for the game has fueled the sophomore forward's steady improvement as one of the leaders on a rebuilding East Mecklenburg basketball team (1-12 through Jan. 6) that has struggled for most of this season.
"I love the game, and for me, when I get to play or practice basketball, it's a relief from the everyday (stresses of) life," Morrison said. "We all know that we are really young, and we are going to have play through some growing pains."
After being one of the better teams in the Charlotte area and the Southwestern 4A conference for the past five years, including winning the 4A state championship in 2008, East Meck lost 90 percent of its scoring and 80 percent of its rebounding this year. The Eagles lost some of that talent to graduation but also a good portion of their upperclassmen to redistricting, to both Butler and Rocky River, in their own conference.
"This year has been tough on all of us, because we are used to winning and being in thick of the (SW4A) race," said head coach Jason Grube. "But it is what it is. We've had to play with the guys we have. We have to get better."
Morrison is a major part of the youth movement at East Meck, a team that includes four sophomores, five juniors and only three seniors. Sophomore point guard Elijah Lemons also sees a lot of playing time, while juniors Jaye Hunt, Miles Leathers, Jackson Reisterer and Trent Richardson are key pieces in the Eagles' future.
But Morrison has been the main piece, scoring 16 points and grabbing 7 rebounds per game while playing the power forward spot at only 6-foot-2.
"Jerrin is a kid who genuinely wants to get better each and every day," said Grube, adding that Morrison is a more natural wing player. "We've had a lot of success here because our best players were also our hardest workers. Jerrin has already become a leader in that way."
Morrison had similar success on the football field this year, where he started at quarterback on the junior varsity team before moving to the varsity team midway through the season, starting the final six games and leading the Eagles (2-9) to their only two victories.
"Both teams are extremely young," Morrison said. "I think what I have learned is to stay positive and keep working. I think both teams will be better because of what we went through this year."
Morrison has kept a good attitude on the court and the field and done the same in the classroom. After being ruled ineligible for basketball midway through the season last year because his GPA dipped below the required 2.0, Morrison buckled down and improved to a 3.1 this semester.
"I think you've really got to commend him for what he has done in the classroom," Grube said. "Instead of making excuses, he and his parents said, 'We have a problem and we need to fix it.' Now, (Morrison) is really starting to get it, both on and off the court."
While Grube likes coaching Morrison, Morrison likes playing for Grube and contributes a lot of his improvement to his coach.
"Coach Grube is very demanding and expects a lot out of his players," Morrison said. "When you play for him, you have to know the game and have a high basketball IQ. I think that has made me a lot better player."
Morrison's abilities are starting to become apparent to others as well: He is one of the team's top ball-handlers and shooters with the green light for everything from a three-pointer to going coast to coast after a rebound.
Morrison's athletic ability and stamina also are impressive. He has a 36-inch vertical jump and can run a mile in less than 5:40, one of the best times in school history for a basketball player.
While Morrison has made big strides, his best days are ahead of him, according to Grube.
Morrison "has the potential to be a great player for us," Grube said. "But this is just the beginning. We expect him to be a leader and a player for us for the next several years."