CALDWELL, Idaho — Samaje Morgan has proven to be a force in the first few months of his collegiate basketball career. The freshman guard is averaging 8.6 points a game and 4.2 assists, making him the leading Yotes assist-getter. His play has helped the Yotes reach the No. 1 ranking in the country, winning 14 games in a row in the process.
On Friday, the Yotes are headed to Eugene, Oregon to play Bushnell. The city is very familiar with Morgan, who is a graduate of Churchill High School and the reigning 5A Oregon basketball player of the year.
“It is going to be really fun," Morgan told Idaho News 6 about his expectations for his return. "I’m going to have my family there, a lot of friends. A lot of players I played against in High School are on Bushnell’s team, so it’s going to be really fun to play against them.”
When people think of basketball in the Pacific Northwest, it's easy to focus on Seattle. With the storied history of the former NBA team, the Supersonics, and being the hometown of big-name NBA players like Brandon Roy and Jamal Crawford, Seattle is well known for its basketball pedigree. So much so that Oregon is often overlooked.
Morgan is keenly aware that Oregon holds its own in basketball. And players from Oregon play with an edge that makes them unique.
"I would say just trying to prove something," Morgan said about how Oregon basketball players approach the game. "I played on the (AAU) circuit with Elite 24, an Under Armour team. We’d play on the East Coast a lot. You would go out there and teams would just be like ‘oh they’re from Oregon.’ There are not too many great AAU teams that are from Oregon, but we do have some. So when we’d go out there I would just say I’m trying to prove something, so I kinda have a chip on my shoulder."
Head Coach, Colby Blaine, says Morgan has a unique play style. The 5'9" guard is quick, flashy, and effective. Blaine says he's invaluable to the team. And he just keeps getting better.
“Well, in his first college game, he got to play 8 minutes 'cause he fouled out at Arizona Christian," Blaine said. "And (he) was having a great game but could only stay in there for enough time to get five fouls... I think he’s really trying to settle in on ‘what am I capable of doing?'. And as he learns more about what he’s capable of doing, we got a superstar in the making.”
Blaine has categorized Morgan as the team's risk-taker. He says that basketball is usually
a simple game, but to put a team over the top they need a difference-maker that comes through in big moments. Blaine believes that Morgan is one of those people.
“If you want to win some big games," Blaine said. "You’ve got to have some guys that can make tough plays.”
Morgan always had ties to the college of Idaho. His older brother Emmanuel played for the Yotes in the mid-2010s. Emmanuel is now an assistant on Blaine's coaching staff.
Morgan was a highly touted prep player. He says he had interest from multiple bigger schools. Morgan says with COVID granting current collegiate players an extra year of eligibility, coaches seemed to stop talking to him, a common tale for many high school athletes.
Morgan said his father told him to go to a team that made an effort. That team was the College of Idaho. Blaine and Morgan fostered a relationship over more than just basketball, sharing book recommendations and music suggestions.
That relationship has continued to grow through the season as Morgan has become one of the Yotes' most lethal weapons. Morgan brings excitement to the crowd whenever he makes a play, which has always been one of his goals.
“My biggest thing is when I’m out there to get people in the crowd to remember me.”
Tip-off is at 8:30 MT. Watch it live through Bushnell's Stream.