Utah Jazz rookie Juwan Morgan was in the building when the league effectively went on indefinite hiatus due to a threat of the coronavirus.
The 6-foot-7 forward caught up with HoopsHype to discuss his impressions on the evening when Utah’s March 11 game against the Oklahoma City Thunder was postponed.
You have had quite an unusual start to your rookie season. What was your perspective in the arena when the NBA postponed the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder?
Juwan Morgan: That was really weird. You kind of had an idea that the NBA was going to take that step. But everyone on the team thought it was going to happen the next day or after the game against Oklahoma City. As soon as we got done warming up, we had the national anthem, starters were announced. And everybody did their handshakes, we were ready to go. But when the refs brought it in, we kind of knew what was going to happen. We weren’t very surprised. It just came a little bit earlier than we expected.
Was your first time being tested for the coronavirus the night that your team was stuck inside the arena in Oklahoma City?
JM: It was that night. I wasn’t worried because they gave us a checklist of whether or not to be worried if you had it or not and I didn’t check any of the boxes. So I wasn’t too worried. But at the same time, some people can also be asymptomatic and have it. I was glad that I didn’t and it was better to be safe than sorry.
What was the arena like when everything was shutting down in front of you right before tipoff?
JM: It was probably a little bit more hectic because we were back in the locker room. It did feel like a movie, just being back there, waiting to see, taking all the steps that the doctors were giving us and everything like that. It was definitely a long process but a necessary process, it’s how I explain it. We were there for a few hours, after everybody cleared out; we were probably two or three hours maybe. It was pretty surreal, but I was looking at the positives at that point. Everybody came to the realization that it was here, it was real. We wanted to make sure everybody was safe and doing what the doctors were saying. But at the same time, we were enjoying each other’s camaraderie. You learn a lot about a person when a time of turmoil comes.
What are some of the things you think your teammates have learned about you during this?
JM: I’m the same person everywhere. I sit back and I don’t really say too much.
How have you been keeping busy since the NBA went on hiatus last week?
JM: I’m just relaxing. I really can’t do much more else right now. I’ve just been at home, doing the whole self-isolation thing and try to stay out of the way. I’ve been gaming, working out on my own at my house. I have to stay away from large crowds. If I need something, I’ve been waiting until 9 pm or 10 pm so I can get food. Otherwise, I’ve been watching old games and movies as well.
What have been some of the biggest differences in your daily life since you entered quarantine?
JM: I would say the biggest one would just be how much time you really have. When you have games and practice, you usually have practice and then nap and then the game. But now with the rest of the time, you can be very productive in other stuff beyond basketball. Like for me when I first got called up and signed a contract with the Utah Jazz, I hadn’t really finished setting up my house or anything. I had a bunch of stuff still in their boxes. So I’ve been able to do that.
From a basketball perspective, is there anything you hope to improve on during the NBA hiatus?
JM: Shooting is the main thing I’m always keying in on because you can never get too good at shooting. You can always get better. That will be the main thing that determines if I become a mainstay in this league or if I am put on the back-burner. No matter how great at defense or anything else you can do, if you can’t make an open shot, it is going to hurt your team in the end.
What are some of the emotions surrounding the sudden stall of the year?
JM: It just feels weird. This is my first time not being able to go and work out on the court whenever I want, let alone not being able to go out and do whatever outside. I’ve dribbled a little bit in my house, but my 14 days aren’t up yet. It takes some getting used to. But I’m doing the best I can to stay busy and stay ready.
How long has it been since the last time you have gone this long without playing basketball? Are you feeling alright about that?
JM: I’ve probably never gone this long without playing basketball. Safety comes first, though. Basketball isn’t everything. It’s a big part but it opens up a lot of doors for you to see what your other interests are and then be able to explore those different hobbies. I’ve been that way my whole life, though. I have been playing games and I have so many of them where I’ll never get bored of them.
Interesting. What are some of those games that you have been playing?
JM: Call of Duty. All of the sports games. Any fighting game like boxing or Street Fighter or Tekken. Things like that. Any game you can think of besides racing games.
Are you playing as yourself now that you are in the new download of NBA 2K20? Does it feel pretty similar to your style of play?
JM: Mainly, yeah. Whenever I’m not online, I definitely do. But it doesn’t feel similar, not really. But that is what game sliders are for. I change those game sliders just to make sure. I make my post defense and my post offense better. I make my three-point shot better, too, just because who wouldn’t want that. Also, my beard is not there in the game but I have one in real life.
Last year, you were easily one of the top performers at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament for the top college basketball seniors. But the event was recently canceled this year due to the coronavirus. How much was PIT able to help you show your talents to NBA decision-makers?
JM: It helped me tremendously. It just gave me a better opportunity to be in front of those NBA guys and give them a chance to see what I could do in a team setting. I think losing Portsmouth will hurt a ton because guys can show what they can do in a team setting. That was the first time in like three years where I was able to play with a true center behind me so I could play on the perimeter for the first time in a long time. I was able to show that I was very comfortable on the perimeter and get a team into an offense and guard all over the floor while holding my own in the post. That really helped me. My agents Keith Kreiter and Sam Cipriano both did a good job of putting me in front of scouts out there so the teams could put a face to a name. So the interviews were the best part for me.
How important were individual team workouts in helping you find the right fit in the league?
JM: If they lose individual team workouts, it will hurt just as much because that is a chance for mid-major or for all of the guys that did not get the chance to show what they can do in one-on-one settings. I do think that NBA scouts do a good job of knowing who’s who and being able to see if there is a role potential in the league. I was just thinking about that the other day. The draft this year is going to be weird because there is no tournament and that is when mid-major guys or no-major guys takeoff and are able to really put on a show on that stage.
All things considered, how have you been reflecting on what you have accomplished thus far?
JM: I was just doing what I do every day, being consistent in all things. I want to make sure I’m ready to go whenever my name is called. I knew that whatever happened, I was always going to be in the best position to succeed not only off the work I had put in but also the teammates I had as well as the coaching staff.
Last time we spoke, you mentioned you had a similar game to PJ Tucker. Now that Tucker has been elevated to a full-time starting center, do you think you could eventually play a similar role for an NBA team?
JM: I think I would be able to do it because I am able to rebound out of my position, be able to guard on the perimeter and be able to work different offenses whether it is out of the post or out of the corner or wherever they have me. I think that is just the biggest part of what he is able to do. Because he knocks down shots, he guards and he rebounds. I think that is the biggest key.
What are some goals you have for yourself once the league gets back to action?
JM: My goal is not to maintain but to get better each and every day and be able to give the coaches every reason to keep me. I won’t let them question anything I do – whether that be work ethic, is he getting better, is he taking it seriously?