Dec. 1, 2008
By Michael Wittliff
Liam McMorrow is not your typical sophomore center. At 21 years old with only one year of organized basketball experience on any level, the term 'project' may be an understatement. Not that McMorrow isn't blessed with natural physical tools that will allow him to prosper in blue and gold, but growing up as a hockey and lacrosse player in suburban Toronto, NCAA basketball was the furthest thing from his mind.
"It was after getting out of high school and playing hockey and lacrosse my whole life that my girlfriend and my mom convinced me to try basketball," explained McMorrow.
After three years working for the local cable company, McMorrow figured he had the size and athleticism to make basketball a possiblity, so he gave it a shot. Enrolling in a one-year program at Durham College in Oshawa, Ontario, McMorrow led the squad to a 17-14 record and finished third in the OCAA in blocks (23) and eighth in rebounds per game (6.5).
Since Canadian schools do not offer full athletic scholarships like universities in the United States do, McMorrow decided to sit back and test the waters after a successful first season in organized ball. The Canadian schools came calling but because of scholarship regulations, he held out for word to come from the States.
Last summer, while working out at a local gym, a trainer unknown to McMorrow introduced himself and told the Scarborough, Ont., native that he could make his pipe dream of becoming a NCAA Division I basketball player a reality.
"He brought me in an office that same day and he started writing all these things down. I had never even heard of Marquette," said McMorrow. "It was like he had a whole plan for me, he wanted me to go to a hard-nose school and had weather that would be similar to Toronto."
A call was placed to Brad Autry, Marquette's coordinator of student-athlete development for men's basketball. Autry relayed McMorrow's story to head coach Buzz Williams, who in turn got in touch with one of his former players from the University of New Orleans, Jamie McNeilly. McNeilly, who was living in the Toronto area, agreed to take a look at McMorrow. The rest is history as McMorrow signed a National Letter of Intent in late June and came to Milwaukee as the final member of Marquette's incoming recruiting class.
Not playing basketball in his younger years could be seen as a hinderance to how effective McMorrow could be in the BIG EAST Conference as a young and developing post player. But McMorrow also sees how the physical nature of hockey and lacrosse can be a positive in his basketball development.
"I'm not going to shy away from contact," McMorrow said. "Like Coach (Dale) Layer is always saying to move towards contact when we are on offense and defense. It is definitely going to help with the physicality."
The agility gained by playing sports that rely on footwork should also help McMorrow immediately.
"Earlier on when people were asking me how the other sports would help I was saying the latteral movement, side-to-side, just because of the way that hockey and lacrosse are," said McMorrow. "I can probably move faster than most big men, most guys that are over 7-feet, 250 pounds, I can outrun them."
McMorrow's brother, Sean, is an enforcer on the American Hockey League's Rockford IceHogs and in this sixth season as a professional hockey player. Sean has given Liam some not-so-surprising advice as to what sport he thought he should pursue, given that in 2007-08 playing in the LNAH in Quebec, Sean racked up an astonishing 527 penalty minutes in just 48 games.
"He always wanted me to get into boxing. In every conversation he would have with me he would say 'Who can match your reach?' He really was more interested in the fighting aspect," said McMorrow.
With his decision to play basketball in the United States, Sean has also given Liam some valuable advice on how to handle the rigors of athletics at a very high level.
"Ever since I committed, he has been giving me encouragement on the phone," said McMorrow. "I was talking to him about the amount and the intensity of the workouts and he said not to worry and that is how it is. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. It is nice to have someone who has been through a whole bunch of NHL workouts and training camps."
Someone who also has also given McMorrow encouragement along the way is McNeilly, who signed on to assist Williams this season as a graduate manager. The two are currently roommates and McMorrow insists that having McNeilly around has made the transition easier.
"It is nice that we are both from Toronto, we can relate to certain things, when i talk about things from back home he knows exactly what I mean," said McMorrow. "Jamie has helped me out a lot the month before we came here, we were working out almost everyday at a local high school."
When asked about point guard Junior Cadougan, a native of Toronto, joining the team next season as part of Coach Williams' nationally ranked recruiting class, McMorrow was excited about the Canadian influx to the team.
"We will be 'Team Canada,'" McMorrow joked. "We will be able to laugh about things the other guys won't know anything about. Maybe we won't get as many Canadian jokes. I have heard so much about Junior, I feel like I know him. He seems like a great guy."
McNeilly has been impressed thus far with McMorrow's work ethic and desire to become a contributor to the Golden Eagles.
"He has bought into things a lot quicker than most guys who transition over here," said McNeilly. "He realized that it is a fast moving ship and he better jump on to keep going. Back home they don't even stay on campus and they practice maybe a couple of times a week. Getting in the system he is in now with the number of reps that he is getting has been great, just getting a lot of shots up and a lot of reps in the weight room. His attitude is so good, he just wants to help the team out. He knows that he is not going to be the most skilled guy, but he tells me that he is going to work harder than everyone and try his best to help the team out any way that coach wants him to help."
Not only does McMorrow bring in experience in other sports but has an acting past as well.
"My aunt got in contact with a talent agency and they put me on their roster," explained McMorrow. "I was in a few commercials, music videos, short films and a documentary. The music video was for a girl group from Sweden and the documentary was on my trip to Kenya in the summer of '05. It was three-and-a-half week trip, during which we went on safari and helped build schools."
The opportunities in front of McMorrow seem endless. Who knows what the future will bring. One thing is for certain -- after sitting out this season due to NCAA transfer rules, McMorrow can look forward to being on center stage with the Golden Eagles for the next few years.