Freshman Scott Morrison can see the question coming as he waits for the Aramark cashier to hand him his receipt. The look of awe on the cashier’s face and the way she has tilted her head upwards to make direct eye contact give it away.
Finally she gathers up the courage and asks him, "Do you mind if I ask how tall you are?"
"Seven feet," he says, grinning before explaining he’s actually just a little under seven feet, and, no, he doesn’t mind her asking. He smiles, takes the receipt and searches out an empty table in Parkway North, ignoring the fascinated stares of the people he passes.
For Morrison, the starting center and the youngest and tallest player on this year’s men’s basketball team, such is life.
"It’s definitely weird," Morrison says while eating his chicken quesadilla. "In high school it was totally different. I’d walk through the halls and everybody from [grade] eight to 12 knows my name and knows who I am and what I’m doing. Here I’m just some tall guy from Canada."
He may be "some tall guy from Canada" to most of the people within the South Park Blocks, but to PSU basketball fans and the team’s opponents in the Big Sky Morrison is known for his rapid emergence as one of the conference’s top freshman and biggest surprises.
As a senior playing for one of the best high school teams in British Columbia last year, the premier Canadian basketball website named Morrison one of the top 25 players in Canada and said, "When he is on his game, no one in BC can stop him inside."
Despite the accolades, questions about Morrison’s dedication and the usual scepticism about Canadian players kept most Division I schools away.
Inferior competition and poorer resources are among many knocks cited by U.S. coaches that make earning a D-1 scholarship an elusive goal for Canada’s best players. Off the top of his head Morrison can name the few Canadian players who have overcome the long odds and are currently playing D-1 basketball.
Luckily, Morrison’s skills and size drew the eye of men’s head coach Heath Schroyer and, after the usual courtship process of visits and phone calls, Schroyer offered Morrison a scholarship. Of his seven to 10 closest basketball-playing friends in BC, Morrison was the only one to receive a D-1 scholarship.
Since Morrison was only 18 and hadn’t played against many men his size in Canada, Schroyer admits he’d considered redshirting him this year to allow him to develop physically and learn to play at the college level. "The thought crossed my mind until the second workout. Then I said, ‘Nope. He’s playing.’ He has really progressed quicker than I thought he would."
"He came in and surprised all of us with how hard he got after it, how skilled he was and how coordinated he was," seconds assistant coach Steve Gosar.
Morrison started the team’s second game of the season and hasn’t left the starting lineup yet. Going into last weekend’s games Morrison was leading all conference freshmen in blocked shots, was ranked second among freshmen in rebounding and was shooting an impressive 61 percent. Against an undersized Maryland-Eastern Shore team Morrison led PSU in scoring and rebounding with 22 points and seven rebounds and in last week’s big win over Montana he was a force.
For a young big-man, his surprising athleticism and his willingness to learn have made him a coaches’ favorite and have earned him the respect of his teammates.
"Scott is the best. Everybody likes Scott," says Gosar, adding that Morrison’s humbleness and ability to laugh at himself have made his life easier as the youngest member of the team and the only true freshman. "He’s almost like everybody’s little brother. He’s really easy to get to know and he’s real friendly."
On a team full of jokesters, Scott has been given his share of nicknames, including "Andrei Kirilenko" for his physical and follicular resemblance to the Utah Jazz star, but he laughs saying that none have stuck to this point. Unlike many American high school basketball stars, Scott doesn’t take himself too seriously and seems to be thoroughly enjoying the college experience as opposed to approaching it as a career step.
His positive attitude and good humor have endeared him to his fellow coaches and players. Aware of his potential and what he needs to do to realize it, other players and the coaches make sure he knows every mistake he makes and are ready with high-fives and chest pounds for every good play.
"At first I was really nervous about fitting in, but every day the team tried to boost my confidence a little bit so I could be more comfortable with the system and with the players," Morrison said of how the team has helped him. "They came to expect more out of me and I [expect] more of myself too, which is nice."
Senior star Seamus Boxley is one of many Vikings whose mentoring has sped Morrison’s development. "He’s a super-coachable guy and he’s always there to listen and try to get better," says Boxley. "He can be a force to deal with because there are not a lot of people his height that can do some of the things that he can do as a freshman."
Morrison made the transition to being a freshman center look easy, but the transition to being a freshman business major hundreds of miles from home presented its own challenges.
"The first two months it was like giant steps," Morrison said, ignoring the irony. Adjusting to the Portland clime was no problem coming from Vancouver, but adjusting to living on his own hundreds of miles from home presented the same challenges it does for all 18-year-old freshmen. "In Canada I was a big fish in a small pond. Now I’m a nobody trying to do something."
Morrison’s good humor and friendly personality make it difficult to imagine him struggling for long. His composure, hustle and skill have already won over the fans at the Stott Center and seem likely to do the same to classmates in Freshman Inquiry or professors weary of another student athlete.
On the court, Schroyer is looking forward to watching him develop over the next three years. Schroyer joked that he could only imagine what kind of a player Scott could be if he had Schroyer’s own bravado. "The biggest thing he needs to realize is that he is a good player and that the staff and his teammates have a lot of confidence in him, and embrace that and to realize, ‘Hey, I’m a pretty good player.’"
Morrison knows he is sometimes "shy on the court" but attributes it to being a freshman and soaking up everything going on around him. Banging against 250-pound men day after day has a way of instilling confidence, and he can see himself growing and envisions himself taking a leadership role down the road.
Portland State fans will see how Morrison’s development plays out over the next three years but if the initial indications are any sign, the future looks bright.
"Scott’s got a bright future; it just depends on how hard he’s going to work at it and be committed to developing himself, says Gosar. "The sky is the limit for him."