HUNTSVILLE — Austin Morrow had a message after Scott High’s 79-77 loss to Kingston in triple overtime on Tuesday.
“I know we lost but after (tonight’s) performance how could Trey not be Mr. Basketball?” Morrow asked.
Morrow’s biased. He has reason to be. He’s Trey’s older brother, after all.
I know we lost but after tonight performance how could Trey not be Mr. Basketball 🤷🏽♂️
— aust (@austinkmorrow) March 3, 2021
But there’s little doubt that Trey Morrow has assembled a strong resume for Tennessee high school basketball’s highest individual honor.
If Tuesday’s triple overtime thriller had to be Morrow’s last game of the season, he made as strong a case as he could, finishing with 36 points and 11 rebounds.
Not that Morrow was playing for a Mr. Basketball award in Tuesday’s Region 2-AA semifinal game. Anyone who knows Morrow knows that he was playing for his school’s first substate appearance in a quarter of a century — knows that Morrow would have gladly given up any consideration for individual recognition in exchange for a substate berth and a chance to make it to Murfreesboro.
But the fact that Scott High came up on the short end of one of the most incredible basketball games of the past several years in East Tennessee didn’t diminish Morrow’s effort. After Kingston managed to hold him to 12 points through three quarters by double-teaming him all over the court, Morrow went off for 24 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. And while 36 points is always impressive, no matter the circumstances, the scorebook alone didn’t tell the entire story of Morrow’s 36 points. He didn’t score by getting to the rim or by connecting on easy looks. The Yellow Jackets weren’t going to allow that. Kingston — which is one of the top teams in East Tennessee and will be playing for its own trip to The ‘Boro on Monday — sold out to stop Morrow by double-teaming him at every touch. Morrow responded by knocking down shots that were, for lack of a better way to put it, simply ridiculous. He shot 13 of 19 for the game.
The Scott High junior is no stranger to big games, but Tuesday’s game may have been the best game of his career — which is saying something, considering the performances he’s already turned in. This is not an effort to diminish the efforts of Morrow’s teammates in the latter stages of the region semifinal game; there were guts and grit being displayed all over the court, by players from both teams. But Morrow nearly willed his team to what would have been its biggest win since before Morrow was born. With every shot seemingly more important — and more difficult — than the last, even the Kingston faithful, who wanted desperately to end Scott High’s season, were wowed by his ability to find and make shots to keep the Highlanders even or in front of the Yellow Jackets. By the end of the fourth quarter, the Kingston student section had stopped chanting “ball hog” every time Morrow touched the ball. Of course they wanted to beat him. But it was as if he had earned their respect … and for good reason.
“He really dropped 30 on a literal double team. #mrbasketball #2k” tweeted former Scott High standout Stephen Butts.
With the 36 points and 11 rebounds he tallied against Kingston, Morrow finished the season with 20 double-doubles in 27 games played. He’s got 65 double-doubles in 92 games across his three-year career, including 47 double-doubles in 58 games the past two seasons.
As a junior, Morrow averaged 28 points and 11 rebounds per game.
For his career, Morrow has 2,019 career points and 984 rebounds. If not for Covid-19 costing the Highlanders seven more games, and assuming he had scored at the same pace, Morrow would have over 2,200 points by now, including more than 900 this season alone. That would put him close to a pace to break Rusty Yaden’s career scoring record at Scott High, which was set in the 1980s.
Of course, Mr. Basketball isn’t a career award, it’s based on this season alone. But the 2020-2021 season was easily the best of Morrow’s remarkable career. He elevated both his points-per-game and rebounds-per-game averages, improved his free throw percentage, improved his field goal percentage, and increased the rest of his statistics across the board.
Perhaps the best way to sum up Morrow’s junior season is his individual player efficiency rating. The calculation, devised by statistician Martin Manley, is determined by adding points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots, while subtracting missed field goals, missed free throws and turnovers.
Morrow’s efficiency rating was impressive coming into his junior season, but this year it jumped to a whopping 33.2. He had nine games — including Tuesday’s game at Kingston — where it was 40 or above, and one game (his 34-point, 17-rebound effort in a season-opening win over Class AAA Sevier County) where it reached 50.
For comparison’s sake, Morrow’s EFF would’ve ranked third in the NBA last season, just behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and just ahead of James Hardin.
Not that we’re equating Morrow to an NBA player. That would be silly. The comparison is just a fun way to say that the Scott High point guard has had a tremendous junior season — and he’s done it while drawing the opposing teams’ best defender (and, sometimes, defenders, as in plural) every single night.
Morrow’s junior resume includes a game-winning buzzer-beater against Knox Carter, and a 35-foot buzzer-beater to force overtime against Alcoa, a game the Highlanders eventually won. He saved his best for the best teams on Scott High’s schedule. Of the nine 30-plus scoring games Morrow had this season, two came against a Kingston team that has now won the Region 2-AA championship and will host a substate game Monday night, one came in a win against Class AAA Sevier County, one came in a win against Cosby, another substate team, one came against a district-leading Sequoyah team, one came against Alcoa, and one came in a district win over Austin-East.
None of this takes anything away from the other two Class AA Mr. Basketball finalists, Greeneville’s Jakobi Gillespie and Boliver Central’s Toris Woods. Both are exceptional players in their own right, with their own cases to make for the prestigious honor.
In fact, Morrow is at a disadvantage against the two, and not just because Huntsville is the smallest “market” (as they say in the big leagues) of the three, but because Gillespie and Woods are still playing. Both their teams won region championships Thursday night and will have an opportunity to play their way into the Class AA state tournament on Monday.
But Mr. Basketball isn’t a team award. It’s an individual honor. In theory, at least, it isn’t intended for the best player on the state’s best team, but for the best player, period. The same is true with district and region awards, which is why Morrow was named the MVP of District 4-AA — the toughest district in the state — despite the Highlanders finishing fourth in the regular season district standings. It’s hard to imagine any player anywhere putting together a more thorough and impressive campaign than the one Morrow has in his junior season.
For now, all anyone can do is wait a couple more weeks to see who the ultimate recipient is of TSSAA’s top individual award. But there’s no doubt that Morrow put together an exceptional campaign, and he finished it off with an exclamation point in the region semifinals, even if the game didn’t end the way he’d hoped.