Morris Ventures East in a Season of Firsts

By Emily Diekelmann | April 10, 2010
Jené Morris has seen a lot of firsts over the past few days.

The first San Diego State women’s basketball player to be drafted to the WNBA, Jené Morris soon will be making her first trip to Indiana – but not after concluding her first trip east of the Mississippi River.

The Mountain West Conference scoring leader and two-time defensive player of the year isn’t new to the big stage. In fact, it is becoming habit. Only a few weeks ago, Morris helped the Aztecs to their first MWC championship and later its first appearance in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen.

Now, Morris has placed herself on the biggest basketball stage of her life – and welcomed by WNBA President Donna Orender, among other first-round draft picks gathered in New York for the league’s annual draft and rookie orientation.

Joining names like Tina Charles, Jayne Appel and Monica Wright, Morris was picked by the Fever with the 11th overall selection in Thursday’s draft. Even despite her invitation to the Seacausus, N.Y. studios where the draft was conducted, Morris was still unsure of her place on the board.

“I didn’t expect to be a first-round pick or even an early second-round one,” Morris said. “The fact that I was invited here was amazing and to see my name go up in the first round was a complete surprise. I was looking around to see who was going to go next and the camera started to move towards me. Then my name was called and my family and my coach were all so happy.”

Starring for Urban High School in her hometown of San Francisco, Morris was a two-time first team all-state honoree as well as the San Francisco Chronicle regional player of the year. Averaging 23 points, five steals and 4.6 assists per game as a high school senior, Morris helped lead her team to the Northern California semifinals.

After high school, Morris attended the University of California, where she helped the Golden Bears to their first NCAA appearance in over 10 years. She chose to transfer to San Diego State, however, and after missing her first season at SDSU due to transfer rules, she picked up right where she left off at Cal. Morris was named to the MWC all-tournament team as a sophomore and shared honors as the Aztecs’ best defensive player.

She continued her success and, while defense had become a staple of her game, her offensive prowess was becoming widely evident. Morris assisted the team in making its first NCAA tourney appearance in 12 seasons during her junior campaign and, during an upset of DePaul in the first round, Morris scored 35 points and went 12-of-14 from the line.

Although her team was defeated by No. 2 Stanford to close her junior year, Morris took that experience into her final season. She led the Aztecs with 17.1 points per game and also led the club in steals with three per game. After guiding SDSU to the Sweet Sixteen with upset wins over Texas and West Virginia, Morris knows the mark she left and the future the program has in store.

“My senior year was great,” Morris said. “The team worked hard to get better every year. My junior year, we were able to make it to the NCAA Tournament and win our first game. This year, we won two games and made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Just to end it on a high note and to leave the program this way is amazing. I can’t wait to see what happens to the program in the near future. Having goals that we set, and watching them be met, is amazing. At the beginning of the season, we wanted to make it to a Sweet Sixteen and we were able to do that. We wanted to win the conference tournament championship, too, and we did it. It was a great experience and I want to thank my teammates and my coaching staff for that.”

Looking forward to her new basketball family in Indiana, Morris is already garnering comparison to last year’s Indiana first-round pick, Briann January. Having both come from non-traditional powers on the West Coast, the two stayed relatively low on everyone’s radar until their time to shine in the NCAA tournament.

After Thursday’s draft, Fever General Manager Kelly Krauskopf could already imagine how the duo might fit together.

“Both of them like to push the ball,” said Krauskopf. “When Lin, Gary Kloppenburg, Jim Lewis and I sat down to talk about Jené versus other guards, all we could say was, ‘could you imagine Bri and Jené on the court at the same time?’ You are talking about two push guards who like to get the ball down early and have early offense. Jené Morris can score better in transition than anyone else we saw this year. They both value defense and shoot the three.”

Basketball is becoming her livelihood now but Morris has some high hopes for life with or without basketball.

According to her personal website (jenemorris.com), Morris has interests in pursuing a master’s degree in advertising and someday become an art director. She also lists her hobbies as “sleeping, eating, photography and anything that has to do with graphic design.”

Perhaps, then, it should come as no surprise to see the arts-inclined rookie designing her own website.

A new chapter in the young rookie’s life has just begun. The master’s degree may be put on hold temporarily and, after making the move to Indianapolis and opening training camp April 25, she may require assistance managing the website, too. In a draft day interview, however, she welcomed the challenge to earn her place on her next big stage.

“I plan to work hard and to compete everyday,” she said.