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August 19, 2014

Rebel not your typical freshman

When Dwayne Morgan committed to be a Runnin' Rebel back in March of his junior year in high school, he knew that he didn't have much time before he would say, "goodbye", to his family and friends for the foreseeable future.

That doesn't mean that he doesn't already miss everybody back in the area of Baltimore that he grew up in. Instead, it's because Morgan made a pledge to his family and himself that the circumstances had to be right before he could head back.

So, rather than taking the easy way out as a senior and joining one of the high profile Prep schools that were recruiting Morgan, like Findlay Prep in Henderson, he decided to finish up his senior year at St. Frances High School.

It's that type of loyalty that made Morgan so sought after by UNLV head coach Dave Rice. It's also the desire and commitment that has Morgan focused more so than a lot of young men in his position.

Blessed with 6-foot-8 height and an even larger player's wingspan, Morgan has all the potential in the world to reach his goals, so that one day he can return to the area that made him who he is today.

"I just stayed home. I wanted to be with my family. I knew that once I got out of Baltimore, my goal was not to come back until I've reached my goals," Morgan said of why he didn't leave when he had the chance prior to his senior year. " I wasn't going to abandon my city. Baltimore has made me the person that I am today. Going through the trials and tribulations there has made me who I am. I'm not going back to all the violence and stuff until I'm in a position to help the next person. I knew that once I left, I wasn't going to see my family for awhile because I wasn't going back until I've reached all my goals."

These choices were instilled into Dwayne by his mother, Tabitha Chambers, who also had the opportunity to play basketball at the collegiate level. Towering at 6-6, Chambers left Clemson after two seasons and returned to Baltimore where she currently resides. There's an understanding between the two of them that this is what is right for Morgan.

Morgan says of he and his mother's relationship right now, "She knows. Recently, I told my mom, 'I'm going to come home because I miss you. I don't want to come home, but I know you miss me.' She was like, 'Son, I don't want you to come home. There's nothing here for you. You need to stay out there and stay focused.' It's a mutual understanding. I know she wants me to come home but she loves me and has my best interests in mind."

She isn't the only one who has Morgan's best interests in mind. Chambers turned to a former high school classmate, Dwayne Wise, three years ago to help steer Morgan in the right path. Wise, who has been associated and mentored many of Baltimore's top youth players over the years, was happy to take Morgan under his wing. Wise regimented a very strict lifestyle, not only including the normal basketball workouts for young players, but one that included a diet, weight training and film study. To this day, Morgan's regimen hasn't changed.

Wise said of his protegee, "With a talent like Morgan, his mom and myself didn't allow negative influences to get close,and he was always on a routine schedule. (Books or training) was the option, partying was never part of the equation."

It's this type of discipline and maturity that makes talking to Morgan feel like you are speaking with a 30-year old rather than a teenager. Morgan's focus is something that sets him apart from the majority of his peers. It's the same drive that kept him on the straight and narrow path despite all the distractions that his home city threw at him. When times would get tough, Morgan found his inner peace at a familiar place.

"Baltimore is a tough city. I felt like if I can make it through there, I can make it anywhere," Morgan confidently stated. "There's so many distractions in Baltimore, like drugs, things going on in the neighborhood, females, like everything, violence. At home, I just went to the gym. That was my comfort zone to stay out of trouble. It's the same thing here. I haven't felt that way yet, but if I feel I'm losing my focus, I'll just go to the gym."

Though Morgan's natural position is at the wing, his versatility on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball will allow him to play right away. His relentlessness is what could get him in the starting line-up as early as the first game of the season.

Rice said when asked to describe Morgan's game and possible contributions, "It starts with his energy and he will be a tenacious rebounder, versatile defender and solid finisher. We are counting on him to be a significant contributor."

Wise went a step further than Rice. He likened Morgan to one of UNLV's most successful NBA players - "The Matrix". Wise says that Morgan is everything that Rice has preached this offseason that he wants his program to be like - play hard and play together.

"I think he will be similar to Shawn Marion, a talent who can defend at least four positions,and capable of scoring 9-13 points as a freshman," Wise said. "The difference with him, and most talents today, is that he is a throwback. Morgan will dive for loose balls, take charges,and bring a motor not seen since Marion. He is a talent that's capable of knocking down shots when his feet are set and can get to the rim with explosion. UNLV will get a treat because he has no ego and he will work for everything."

Delivering on the floor might not all that Morgan will be remembered for at UNLV, either. He was a major factor in spearheading what has become one of the best recruiting classes in the history of school, and one that could change the direction of program permanently.

After making his college choice known, Morgan sought after talent that was not only equal to him on the hardwood, but equal to him in their desire to be the best. Morgan pushed hard for the duo of Rashad Vaughn and Goodluck Okonoboh to join him in representing UNLV, and getting the school back to the days where banners were routinely raised in the Thomas & Mack Center.

Morgan said that the mindset behind all three of them on the court is what we'll make them such a dynamic group.

"It starts with Shad being an outrageous scorer. He's a leader. He's vocal. He's a dog. Me, myself, I'm a dog. I'm relentless whenever it comes to attacking the glass. That's two dogs right there. Then, there's Goodluck. He's the shot blocker. Aggressive. All three of us, if we come with that attitude, I don't care who we are playing against, we are going to attack them hard," Morgan said.

The trio has also already begun harking back to past UNLV teams that consistently played with a chip on their shoulder. It's that underdog mentality that he said the Rebels will use this upcoming season as they prepare for one of the toughest schedules in recent memory.

"Right now, I feel like we are underdogs. Regardless of our recruiting class, people are still like, 'They ain't that good.' It's us against the world," Morgan said.

"That's our goal for the team this year, to play with a dog mentality. Us against the world. That was the mindset of that '90 (championship) team. That's the same mindset we trying to come with this year."

And just like that championship squad, Morgan has his sights set on the highest prize. In fact, he says that if anyone feels differently than that, there's no need to even suit up for the Rebels in 2014-15.

He said, "That's our goal. That's our ultimate team goal right now. We need to get into the (NCAA) Tournament and win some games. Our goal is to win the championship. If your goal is not to win a championship, you don't belong on this team."

However, after saying that, Morgan was quick to mention that he knows that succeeding at that level won't be done by just showing up on game day. It will take hard work in every aspect for UNLV to reach the level that he expects.

"It's a big goal, but we got the pieces to do it. It all starts with our mindset, how we approach the game, how we approach every practice, how we approach every weight session, how we approach conditioning, how we approach film session. It starts there."

Morgan is a young player that has set his ambitions to the highest level. The city of Las Vegas is happy to borrow him while he chases his goals. Baltimore will just have to wait for the time being.



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