To follow in his father’s footsteps Reese Morgan has some big shoes to fill, not to mention his grandfather’s — those are even bigger.
That’s because the Morgan boys are generations deep in athletic talent. And Reese, a redshirt freshman guard on the Cal Poly men’s basketball team, is the latest in the family to emerge as a star athlete.
For many Cal Poly fans, that surfacing was a long time coming, but in his first career start in a game at UC Santa Barbara on Jan. 19, they saw what the highly touted prospect had to offer. Morgan dropped a career-high 26 points, including seven 3-pointers in a thrilling double-overtime loss to the Gauchos.
But for Morgan, he had to take the career night in stride as a last-second play drawn up for him was thwarted by the UC Santa Barbara defense to give Cal Poly its 10th loss in its last 11 games against the rival Gauchos.
“I didn’t mind coming off the bench, that offers great opportunities too,” Morgan said. “But I was excited to be a starter. I got my first opportunity and I hit some shots that game and my teammates kept looking for me because I kept getting open. It was just nice, but unfortunately we didn’t get the win. Honestly, that’s the most important thing.”
In his next start, Morgan went on to smoke Hawaii by scoring 16 points and going 4 for 8 from downtown as the Mustangs routed the Warriors at home.
He had arrived.
Earning prestigious Parade Magazine All-American fourth-team praise in his senior season at Peninsula High School in Rolling Hills Estates, Calif., Morgan was considered to be one of the biggest prospects in head coach Joe Callero’s four-year tenure.
He averaged a whopping 27.3 points and more than seven rebounds per game in his senior season at Peninsula while earning Bay League MVP and leading his team to a school-best 30-3 record. Morgan was even tabbed as the No. 56 guard in the 2011 college basketball recruiting class by ESPN.com that year.
And to put the cherry on top, he broke the record for most free throws made (740) in California high school basketball history.
But Callero had his doubts.
“I liked him, didn’t love him (at first),” Callero said of recruiting Morgan to Cal Poly. “The question was his knee.”
Evidence of that knee is still apparent today. Since his sophomore year of high school, Morgan has worn a custom-fitted brace on his left knee to keep all of its moving parts in check — he’s simply no stranger to knee injuries.
In the final minutes of a preseason game against Division II Notre Dame de Namur last season, Morgan heard a pop as he attempted to put a move on a defender and drive to the hoop. His left knee twisted the wrong way, rendering his true freshman season finished with a torn meniscus before it had even started.
“It was literally the last play of the game … I remember I had a sub waiting for me at the table,” Morgan said.
He tore that same left meniscus plus his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in similar fashion his sophomore year at Peninsula. Morgan then went on to retear his meniscus this past summer and required surgery — his third operation on that knee — before he could finally get back out on the court for the start of this season.
Callero was sold on Morgan’s talents, though. Despite nursing the lingering injury in high school, Morgan signed with the Mustangs before his prolific senior season at Peninsula even began.
“What I saw him do was score 9 of 11 3’s one game (in high school), which was impressive, but not nearly as impressive as his ability to get to the free-throw line,” Callero said. “He was so smart and he didn’t turn the ball over. He ended up with 34 or 35 points and that was huge for me to see him play against really good athletes, score the ball really well and also get to the free throw line as well.”
According to Morgan, his talent and skill on the basketball court comes from his family, namely his father and grandfather.
Morgan’s dad, Tom, played on a Cal State Fullerton team that made it to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. He was a 10th-round draft pick by the Dallas Mavericks in 1980 and although he never played a game in the NBA, Tom’s influence on Reese as a basketball player was evident.
Morgan’s grandfather, also named Tom, was a two-time World Series-winning pitcher with the New York Yankees in 1951 and 1956. He went on to have an illustrious career with four other major league teams before passing away six years before Reese could meet him.
“It’s in our family, it’s in our blood,” Morgan said of sports. “Me and my brother (Shane) grew up competing against each other … It’s great to have a dad that made it that far. He taught me everything I know.”
According to Shane, who is now the coach of several club teams in Southern California and who had a basketball career at Biola University cut short because of injuries, Reese cultivated his ultra-sweet shot from downtown by playing pick-up with his family before honing his skills against rival opponents in high school.
“Myself, our dad and (Reese) we were competing against each other out in the front yard,” Shane said. “We would just play ‘horse’ and stuff and have a 3-point contest, and obviously we were older than Reese, but that just motivated him more and more. But I think his senior year in high school he really took it upon himself to become a great outside shooter.”
And now Reese, next in line to become a top-notch athlete in the Morgan family, is ready for the challenge that college basketball brings as his team squares for a conference championship run. After all, he was born into it.
“He was always trying to play up with me and my (older) friends,” Shane said. “He was perfectly capable of doing it, obviously, now that he is a Division I basketball player.”