It seems like a “rags to riches” story, but this could also be true in reverse.
Jaylen Morris graduated from Molloy, a Division II college, in 2017. In that year’s NBA Draft, no team showed interest, but to the Amherst-born guard-forward that made no difference. The path to the NBA became a bit harder, but by no means restricted. It was a G-League team, the Erie BayHawks, that selected him as the 41st overall pick in the Draft, a development that paved the way to where Morris had always wanted to be.
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In February, 2018, he capitalised on his solid performances, signing a 10-day contract with the Atlanta Hawks. His NBA debut came immediately, in a 107–102 win over the Indiana Pacers, where Morris recorded 2 points and 2 rebounds in 11 minutes of action. Nevertheless, the second 10-day contract that he signed with the Hawks was to no avail, as he ended up injuring his ankle and was sidelined for almost two weeks. Six games was more than he could initially have hoped for, but still the NBA dream came to a temporary end.
In July, 2018, the Italian club Auxilium Pallacanestro Torino came along, but Jaylen was up to something bigger. He could have teamed up with legendary coach Larry Brown in Turin, but decided to opt out of his deal with the Italian side for the sake of a two-way contract with the Milwaukee Bucks. His presence with Mike Budenholzer’s team didn’t last long either, as in January 2019, he was waived by the eventual Eastern Conference runners-up. This time, Morris was destined for Europe, for good.
Aris, a Greek team from Thessaloniki, approached him and signed a one-year-deal with him in September, just a few days before season tip-off. Of course, the discrepancy between the G-League, let alone the NBA, and the Greek League gets bigger when the overseas team does not participate in international competitions. Aris is struggling with back-to-back FIBA bans, still trying to find the way to pay off a big debt. Amidst the financial crisis, the roster was formed late and thus no actual pre-season took place for the ten-time Greek champs.
The last, but not final, blow came from AEK Athens at the OAKA Arena, last Friday. The hosts prevailed by 92-79 and Morris contributed 6 points and 3 rebounds, as opposed to his averaging 11 and 5 respectively, in the previous games.
About an hour after the final buzzer, our conversation with Jaylen Morris started off on the wrong foot. “I don’t really want to talk about the game right now”, were the first words uttered out by the 24-year-old swingman. In such cases, the limitations imposed by the interviewee must be respected.
Since the game against AEK Athens was labeled as “no comment”, Jaylen talked about his presence with Aris: “It’s going good. Greece is a lovely country and I like going out, seeing more things every day. I love it here. As far as the game goes, I’m still adjusting, still learning. Every day I’m trying to get better and better and that’s all I can ask for”.
When asked about the deficiencies he mostly tries to work on, he replied: “All parts of the game, whether it’s scoring, defence, passing. All aspects of the game”.
The current situation of Aris in the Greek League is definitely one of the worst in its history. A 2-9 balance, combined by many home defeats and a change of coach, reflect a team trying to hold on to something. Things are bad for the once-upon-a-time “Emperor” of Greek basketball and Morris is aware of that: “I know what it is. It’s been rough, but hopefully we’ll figure it out”.
Jaylen got to play just ten NBA games in two seasons, six with Atlanta and four with Milwaukee. The case for him is no different than any other young athlete who grew up dreaming of becoming a high-caliber player and of being given a chance to showcase what he can do. “NBA? It was a dream come true”, Morris said. “I’ve been wanting to be in the NBA since I was a little kid. So, for that to happen it was just a dream”.
In such a short passage, there’s one experience that stands out for him. “My first NBA points. That was probably my best experience being there. It was overwhelming”.
If he were to choose between his two stints with the Hawks and the Bucks, which one would he take? He looks puzzled. “That’s a good question, actually. I feel like, personally, maybe the Hawks. Just because I was able to get out there more and play. The Bucks were a good team and when I was with the Hawks we were losing. So, I was able to play more. But I love Milwaukee and Atlanta as well. There’s nothing but love”.
Before signing with Aris, Morris didn’t speak with Giannis Antetokounmpo about the offer presented to him. “I actually didn’t. Last time I spoke to him I just congratulated him on MVP. That was it. It was in the off-season, last July. I texted him saying congratulations”.
Playing in Europe does not mean that Morris has been cut off from what’s happening on the other side of the ocean: “Yes, I keep up with the NBA all the time. I still keep in touch with a few players on the Bucks. I always look out and wish them nothing but the best”.
As of now (December, 16), the Milwaukee Bucks are on a 18-0 run, aiming again at the title. Morris thinks their unbeaten record should be no surprise to anyone, since “they’re a very good team. So, you expect them to win games and have a streak. It’s hard to tell if they’ll win the championship or not. We’ll see”, he concludes.