Quick de­ci­sions helped Har­d­away get Tigers trans­fer for­ward Mau­rice

The Commercial Appeal - - Sports - Drew Hill Mem­phis Com­mer­cial Ap­peal USA TO­DAY NET­WORK - TEN­NESSEE

Noth­ing. That's what Mem­phis Tigers bas­ket­ball junior Isa­iah Mau­rice said he re­ally knew about bas­ket­ball when he ar­rived as a fresh­man at Kansas State in 2015. His time with Bruce We­ber's Wild­cats was a rude awak­en­ing for a player fresh out of prep school. Noth­ing. That's how Mau­rice de­scribed Level­land, Texas, the town where South Plains Col­lege is lo­cated. It's also the place where he led his team to a junior col­lege na­tional cham­pi­onship af­ter de­part­ing from Kansas State. Noth­ing. That's what Mau­rice be­lieves is hold­ing him back from be­ing one of the top con­trib­u­tors on Penny Har­d­away's first Mem­phis Tigers team, which hosts UAB on Satur­day at noon (ESPN3). He's com­plet­ing his long jour­ney to be­come the col­lege player he al­ways knew he could be.

"Wipe the slate clean," Mau­rice thought as he ar­rived at Mem­phis this sum­mer. "It won't be easy. I don't ex­pect any­one to think it would be easy."

Just a year ear­lier, the 6-foot-10 for­ward wasn't even sure where he would play in junior col­lege. Not un­til South Plains as­sis­tant coach Justin Brown dis­cov­ered Mau­rice was sched­uled for a 6 a.m. work­out at his old prep school and made the four-plus-hour trek overnight from Wash­ing­ton D.C. to Durham, N.C.

"I knew from the day that I saw him work out that morn­ing we would have a chance to win the na­tional cham­pi­onship," Brown said. "He's so skilled. He's rare."

Mau­rice was dis­missed from Kansas State in June 2017 due to a vi­o­la­tion of team rules. He red­shirted his fresh­man sea­son with the Wild­cats and av­er­aged 8.8 min­utes and 3.0 points dur­ing the 2016-17 cam­paign.

The for­ward knew the spoils of play­ing for a Divi­sion I pro­gram and al­ready had a grasp on the style of high-level col­lege bas­ket­ball.

So when Brown ar­rived for the work­out that morn­ing, he knew he had to be hon­est about the less-glam­orous side of junior col­lege hoops. There were no op­por­tu­ni­ties to sell fu­ture dreams.

What Brown didn't know was that Mau­rice would com­mit to South Plains just a few hours af­ter their meet­ing.

How Isa­iah Mau­rice ended up in Mem­phis

Was the de­ci­sion im­pul­sive? Ab­so­lutely. But Mau­rice said it was also cor­rect. "I saw the vi­sion that coach Brown was telling me," Mau­rice said. "I could tell he had watched tons of film on me from when I left K-State, and it just felt like a good move."

So he didn't hes­i­tate, and that vi­sion was brought to life when Mau­rice av­er­aged 18.5 points on the way to a junior col­lege na­tional cham­pi­onship last March.

And what worked once he wasn't afraid to try again.

Be­fore he re­ceived in­ter­est from other Divi­sion I pro­grams, Mau­rice vis­ited and com­mit­ted to New Mex­ico on the same day.

Four months later, he made an­other abrupt de­ci­sion when he flipped from the Lo­bos to Mem­phis.

For Brown, the news that the Tigers wanted to host Mau­rice on an of­fi­cial visit "came out of nowhere" be­cause he was still com­mit­ted to New Mex­ico.

But out sight from the South Plains coaches, Har­d­away had con­nected with Mau­rice's for­mer prep coach at Bull City, Daryl Harris, to talk about the prospect.

Harris and Har­d­away had an in­stant bond be­tween AAU bas­ket­ball ties, and a mu­tual friend in for­mer Phoenix Suns player Rod­ney Rogers.

"We got to­gether and real­ized that our con­nec­tions were not ac­ci­den­tal," Harris said. "We felt like this was God's plan. When Penny laid out his plan for Isa­iah, I was like 'Man, this is a no­brainer.'"

Harris, who trav­eled to Mem­phis on his own to be with Mau­rice for the visit, said Har­d­away's plan in­cluded mak­ing him a fea­tured player, even with the pos­si­bil­ity of fu­ture five-star re­cruits loom­ing.

"I've never been one of the more highly re­cruited guys or had the most pop­u­lar­ity," Mau­rice said. "To me, all of that doesn't mat­ter. I feel like I'm just as skilled as those guys are."

And by the time Har­d­away's pitch was over, Harris and Mau­rice knew it was a done deal. He was go­ing to be a Tiger.

In fact, the hardest part for Mau­rice's sec­ond re­cruit­ment was telling the New Mex­ico coaches about change in heart, ac­cord­ing to Harris. The Lo­bos had a re­cruit swept out from un­der them in a mat­ter of "four or five days."

"Penny didn't like the idea of 'steal­ing' some­one else's player, but it was clear that Mem­phis was go­ing to be the right fit," Harris said. "And Isa­iah was ready to go."

"I was ready to get out of Level­land, Texas," Mau­rice added. "Noth­ing against it, but it's in the mid­dle of nowhere."

He felt noth­ing like the same player who showed up to Kansas State think­ing the col­lege game would be easy three years ago.

Mau­rice and Har­d­away's re­la­tion­ship

Mau­rice played a sea­son-high 21 min­utes, scored 10 points, and grabbed eight re­bounds Tues­day in Mem­phis' win over South Dakota State. He's av­er­ag­ing 12 min­utes and 5.4 points.

"It's games like this that I knew he could play like," Har­d­away said Tues­day. "I think we're go­ing to see more of this by Isa­iah Mau­rice. He's a tal­ent that we have to get more min­utes to and let him play, and we feel like we're go­ing to get more of this from him."

Har­d­away and Mau­rice met for a heart-to-heart con­ver­sa­tion about the junior's com­fort level last week. In that talk, the coach chal­lenged his big man to do more than score.

"He told me he wants me to box out harder, de­flect more passes, be more ag­gres­sive with blocks," Mau­rice said. "It's all stuff I've done be­fore, but I wasn't chal­lenged with un­til I got back to this level. The first thing is, I have to stay out of foul trou­ble."

The junior tagged his over­all con­fi­dence this sea­son around "80-90 out of 100," and cred­ited he and Har­d­away's per­sonal con­nec­tion for his re­cent play.

Mau­rice, like Har­d­away, wants noth­ing to dis­tract him from the sea­son he worked so hard to reach.

"My sights aren't on next year — or get­ting big re­cruits for next year," Mau­rice said. "It's on this team right now, and we'll do what­ever it takes to help win. That's the big­gest rea­son why fans should care about the play­ers' suc­cess."

COM­MER­CIAL AP­PEAL MARK WE­BER, THE

Mem­phis for­ward Isa­iah Mau­rice (mid­dle) drives the lane against a trio of Ok­la­homa State de­fend­ers dur­ing first round ac­tion in the Ad­vo­cate In­vi­ta­tional in Or­lando Thurs­day, Novem­ber 22, 2018.

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