Morgan all about the ball as NIT continues

Call him Mr. Wilson.

For Juwan Morgan, it’s all about the basketball.

The Wilson brand game ball, to be exact. That’s because Indiana’s senior forward has enjoyed some of the best games of his career while playing with the Wilson ball, such as Tuesday’s NIT opening-round win over St. Francis.

With Morgan, it’s a nod to his past — and an insight into one of the quirkiest rules in major athletics.

The NCAA has basic guidelines for the balls used in men’s basketball games, but the brand of choice is up to the host schools during the regular season. Indiana plays with an Adidas ball during each of its home games, but on the road — and in the postseason — the ball varies.

Wilson is the official ball of the NCAA Tournament and the NIT, so when Indiana put itself back in contention for postseason play last month, Morgan knew the Hoosiers would soon be swapping their Adidas balls for those of the Wilson variety.

At Waynesville (Mo.) High School, Morgan developed a fondness for the Wilson ball, the way it felt and the way he scored with it. His team used the Wilson ball in each of its games during his time there, and it quickly became Morgan’s ball of choice.

In his four seasons at Indiana, Morgan has played with a variety of balls, but when there’s a Wilson ball on the floor, Morgan has proven to be at his best.

“I used them all through high school,” Morgan said. “So just using them, I feel like that’s what I’m most comfortable with. I’m not advocating for any brand, it just is what it is.”

In his last three games with the Wilson ball — the 2017 Crossroads Classic, the 2018 Crossroads Classic and the 2019 NIT — Morgan is averaging 32.3 points per game. He also played with a Wilson ball in the 2017 NIT, scoring 14 points in IU’s loss at Georgia Tech.

On Tuesday against St. Francis, Morgan recorded 28 points — 21 of which came during the second half.

“I kind of wish they just picked one ball for the NCAA to use, as a whole, but I’m not in charge,” Morgan said after using a Wilson ball to score a career-high 35 points against Butler in the Crossroads Classic on Dec. 15. “You just have to get used to it. As they say, shooters will be able to shoot whatever basketball, regardless of what (brand) it is.”

The NCAA has a reputation for being overly officious, regulating everything from the rules of the game to the kinds of cups that are — and are not — allowed on press row during the NCAA Tournament.

But college basketball’s governing body has only a few regulations for the ball itself.

According to Section 16 of the men’s college basketball rule book, the ball must be … well … spherical. It must have eight panels and it must be one of three colors — Orange 151, Red-Orange 173 or Brown 1535.

The ball must have a “deeply pebbled leather or composite cover” and the width of the black rubber rib must not exceed 1/4 inch.

Otherwise, the NCAA leaves the brand of the ball to the schools themselves. That often means noticeable differences from one venue to the next when it comes to the game’s most important piece of equipment.

Even the size of the ball can vary. All that the NCAA stipulates is that the circumference of the ball must be within a maximum of 30 inches and a minimum of 29 1/2 inches. The ball can also weigh between 20 and 22 ounces.

It’s not uncommon for teams to go multiple games in a row without the same kind of ball. Just look at Indiana.

In the Hoosiers’ past four games, they’ve used four different balls.

• On March 7 at Illinois, a Nike ball was in play.

• Back at home on March 10 against Rutgers, IU used its customary adidas ball.

• At last week’s Big Ten Tournament, the teams played with a Spalding ball.

• Then, of course, the Wilson balls came out for the start of the NIT on Tuesday.

None of this comes as a shock to the system of Indiana basketball players. Although the Hoosiers practice with their standard Adidas balls every day, they have the other brands available in storage.

So, for example, if Indiana is preparing for a road game at Maryland, IU coach Archie Miller has the ability to throw an Under Armour ball into the mix at practice.

While the overwhelming majority of high-major programs use balls from the prominent apparel companies, some have forged their own path.

For years, Wisconsin was the most noticeable outlier in college basketball. The Badgers used a Sterling ball from the beginning of Bo Ryan’s tenure as coach in 2001 until Wisconsin’s contract with the obscure state of Washington-based company ran out after last season.

It was considered part of the homecourt advantage for Wisconsin, as no other major conference team uses the Sterling brand. Ryan’s relationship with the company dated back to his time at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville, and he made sure his programs remained loyal to Sterling in the ensuing seasons.

For some players, the brand of the ball is, at most, an afterthought. For others, it’s part of a winning equation.

“It definitely factors in for me,” Morgan said. “I’m not so sure for everybody else, but as soon as I touch a new basketball I can tell how much lighter or how much heavier it is than the adidas one.”

Morgan says those thoughts are primarily saved for shootarounds.

Once the ball is tipped — no matter the manufacturer — it’s game on.

It just so happens that Morgan’s game seems to be enhanced when the Wilson ball is in play.

“Regardless of which ball it is, I think my shot’s going in,” Morgan said.

2 comments

  1. Wilson has always been known for basketballs…I’m surprised we use an Adidas product….They likely both come out of the same plant in China now, I suppose.

    Back in the day, Spalding was also big in basketballs. I seem to recall using Spalding balls in high school.

    I would wear down my leather Spalding out on the cement driveway until it became suede-like. It would look like sewn together moccasins. It became sort of a trademark to the amount of hours I spent on the courts….Rather slippery when wet(especially while playing in a light rain) ..The ball would have a lighter feel as it aged. Moved out to the country in the teenage years and played a lot on dirt courts. I would own a basketball for many years…Got a beautiful leather one on my 10th birthday and had it stolen. Always suspected who took it…but never knew for sure.

  2. I guess Mr. Spalding is still the choice of the NBA…I probably should have known that. Don’t really ever pay close attention.

    Interesting story, Mike…Keep ’em coming.

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