This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.

  Follow Rayno on Twitter @AmeliaRayno

JUCO helped Gophers commit Carlos Morris, on and off the court

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers players Updated: October 30, 2013 - 3:52 PM

After Carlos “Squirrel” Morris committed to the University of Minnesota yesterday, I spoke with the 6-4 JUCO guard more about his decision.

“I just knew it was the right fit for me,” Morris said. “After I visited, I just wanted to see and weigh my options. After the UAB visit [which was last weekend], it made it a lot harder, but I still felt like Minnesota was the spot, so I just made my decision. If you love something you should go with it, and I went with my gut.”

Morris said he knew almost right away after leaving Minnesota in September that it was the place for him.

“I just liked everything about it – the coaching staff, the fact that it’s in the Big Ten – one of the best conferences in the country. You’ve got to compete every night.”

Unlike some JUCOs, Morris was widely recruited out of high school, when he was ranked as a three-star athlete by Rivals.com.

Some of the schools recruiting him included Sacremento, Seton Hall, Miami, Cincinnati, Arkansas, Georgetown and West Virginia.

But with the Florida native’s grades not where they needed to be, making the immediate jump to a Division I school wasn’t really in the cards.

“I wanted to go prep [school], but my coach here at Chipola [College in Marianna, Florida] told me if you go prep, you’re going to be coming back to JUCO. He kind of drilled that into my head, and I believed him, and he was right. And I made the right decision to come here.”

Morris said during the last year, he feels he’s improved a lot as a player and that he sees the game more completely. His ball handling became tighter; his scoring ability, more diverse. He also packed on about 20 pounds of muscle to a very lanky frame after he began lifting with the team.

“I’m definitely a better player than I was – way better than when I was coming out of high school, I can tell you that,” he said. “I’m smarter, I’m more mature. I can see the game better. JUCO has been great, I can’t lie. As much as I didn’t want to go to JUCO, it’s been great for me.”

Just as importantly, Morris’ GPA now sits around 3.4 or 3.5, he said, a mark he previously had a hard time imagining.

“That’s a lot of improvement,” he said. “I didn’t think I could do it, actually. That was big for me. I definitely surprised myself.”

Fellow Gophers recruit Josh Martin has become something of the team ambassador these days, it seems – the Seattle power forward contacted Morris about two weeks ago, the guard said. Martin has also talked with Nate Mason, the Gophers’ combo guard commit, and had tried to pitch Minnesota to Riley LaChance, who ultimately committed to Vanderbilt.

“He was just telling me I was a great fit and it was like a family there,” Morris said. “And that he wanted me to come play with him basically.”

Now, he will be. Morris is a Gopher, now, though he made it clear he wouldn’t be changing his stripes altogether.

“I’ll always be ‘Squirrel,’ he said.

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