Matt Morgan has higher aspirations, but has still probably has not played his last game in a Cornell uniform.

Michael Wenye Li | Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Matt Morgan has higher aspirations, but has still probably has not played his last game in a Cornell uniform.

April 23, 2017

Morgan Declares for NBA Draft but Expects to Return to Cornell

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Cornell men’s basketball sophomore guard Matt Morgan, the leading scorer in the Ivy League for the past two seasons, announced on Sunday his intent to try his hand in the NBA draft, but will not sign an agent and retains his remaining two years of NCAA eligibility.

At first glance, it seemed as if Cornell’s centerpiece for the last two years would be departing early, but Morgan said the declaration is largely an attempt to boost his name-recognition and build his draft stock.

“It’s more putting my name on the radar in case next year or the year after that I decide to do this again,” Morgan told The Sun. “Of course, if I can go this year, I will, but we’ll see what happens.”

Morgan added that transferring has not crossed his mind, and said he plans to return to Cornell if by the May 24 withdrawal deadline he does not foresee himself being selected in the draft on June 22 or signing as a free agent.

Morgan said his goal in declaring is, above all, to get his name into the minds of those at the in the professionals so that “people know my intentions are to play on the next level.”

While some may question this decision and its implications that Morgan may not be so committed to the Red program, Cornell head coach Brian Earl does not fear this to be so, saying Morgan’s declaration just shows his desire to make basketball a career in the future.

“The truth to me is that I don’t know what the downside of it is,” Earl said. “He’s letting people know he’s serious about playing basketball. He takes getting better seriously. [It’s] like someone in a computer science program is saying they want to be a coder at Google.”

Some of that skepticism, Earl says, stems from people simply not comprehending the connotations of the decision.

“It has a lot of fanfare attached to it,” Earl continued. “The only people who will have a problem with it will be the people who don’t understand the process and don’t understand what this means.”

A former Princeton standout and longtime Ivy coach, Earl added if the option to declare and retain eligibility was available when he was playing, he would seized the opportunity.

“To get any feedback you can get as a 19-year-old as to how far you have to go potentially be an NBA player would be outstanding — I wish I had it as well,” Earl said. “If one guy from the Lakers tells [him] he needs to work on his left hand … that will have been worth it for us.”

Everything in this process has been meticulously planned out, he said, including leaking his intention to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, one of the network’s most-followed NCAA basketball reporters.

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Morgan said someone within the Cornell basketball program told him to wait until Goodman or another well-followed reporter tweeted the information out before confirming it himself, because ESPN reporters are often “popular and have more of a voice on social media.”

His declaration was announced on Sunday morning, shortly before the deadline to declare at 11:59 p.m.

“All glory to the man above!” Morgan wrote on Facebook after Goodman first announced his intent to declare. “Thankful for everyone who has helped me and supported me to this point! Long journey ahead but I’m ready for the challenge!”

NCAA men’s basketball regulations dictate a player may declare for the draft several times without losing eligibility, so long as they withdraw by the May 24 deadline without hiring an agent.

Morgan is allowed to attend both the NBA draft combine from May 9 to 14 in Chicago and take part in one tryout per team, per year, without losing his remaining two years of college eligibility.

“Right now, I don’t have anything on the schedule,” Morgan said. “This was priority No. 1 — to get the paperwork in first and get it announced. We’ll just see what happens, but there is nothing set yet.”

If this is indeed Morgan’s last year in a Cornell uniform, he will depart from East Hill with several records and accolades to his name.

This past season, Morgan led the league in scoring and was named second-team all-Ivy — both of which were his second consecutive year doing so — and became the first sophomore in Cornell history to record his 1,000th point, which came in a 90-63 loss to Yale on the road.

During his freshman year, Morgan was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week five times and earned national honors in the same category once. He ended his freshman campaign fifth in the country in scoring with 18.9 points per game.

“You can tell that he loves basketball,” Earl said. “He has to work hard at it like anybody else but he has an element of just wanting to be in the gym a lot and getting shots up, and he enjoys watching the ball go through. That’s a part of being good at anything you want to do — to have a love for it.”
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Morgan’s time at Cornell has been marked by a changing of the guard, as former head coach Bill Courtney’s contract was not renewed after a 10-18 season in 2015-16, leading to Earl’s taking the helm for Morgan’s sophomore year.

“Being able to play for two different coaches in two different systems is tough, but … it just kind of shows the teams that I can play in any system, that I can fit in whatever scheme any coach wants me to and that I am capable of listening and following directions,” Morgan said. “But of course, that is all hypothetical, because you never know if you are going to get drafted.”

Whether it comes this year, or sometime in the future, Morgan’s possible arrival at the next level would be an anomaly for the Cornell program, which has had just 12 players selected in the NBA draft — only four of whom have ever suited up for a game.

The decision to declare early, however, is not an unusual one for players of Morgan’s caliber — someone who has potential, but may not be quite ready. Within the Ivy League, Yale’s Makai Mason declared for the draft last year, but took his name out of consideration and remains a part of the Bulldogs’ organization.

But Morgan knows that if he does eventually make it to the professional level, it would not just be a landmark for Cornell, but for many other under-the-radar programs across the country.

“This is just a step for our program to show that we all have dreams,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what school you go to as long as it is the right fit and [you] play as hard as possible.”