Friday, July 17, 2009 | 2:45 a.m.
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If there's any true justice in professional sports, the NBA Las Vegas summer league's single-game scoring record will belong to Anthony Morrow forever.
Morrow, Golden State's 6-foot-5 second-year guard, took his place in the league's record books on Thursday evening, as a late baseline jumper gave him 44 points in a 104-84 victory over New Orleans. Less than a minute later, his seventh 3-pointer of the night gave him a final total of 47.
He went 18-of-26 from the floor -- including hitting 10 of his first 11 shot attempts -- and was 7-of-9 on 3-point tries.
It was only a year ago when Morrow came to the summer league to play for the Warriors with nothing more than a sliver of hope to hold onto. This year, he arrived with a wealth of confidence and a mohawk.
Undrafted out of Georgia Tech, where he averaged 14.2 points and 4.1 rebounds as a senior, Golden State's brass got a good look at Morrow's uncanny ability to shoot the basketball while he played minimal minutes for another franchise in the Orlando summer league.
"He shot the ball very well at first, but didn't play a lot," said Golden State assistant Keith Smart, who coaches the Warriors' summer league squad. "Then he got a chance to be with us, with a good point guard (C.J. Watson) who made plays for him, and he made shots.
"When you've got a gift in the NBA, a definite skill, all we had to do was find him."
It turned out to be a helluva find by a franchise that in recent years has become known for grabbing guys out of nowhere and turning them into rotation regulars.
Watson, a Bishop Gorman grad who went on to play at Tennessee, was one of them. Another was Kelenna Azubuike, who averaged 14.4 points per game last year in his third season as a Warrior.
What did the gamble on Morrow turn into?
Well, he went to training camp, earned a roster spot and, thrust into regular season action due to a rash of injuries elsewhere, averaged 10.1 points per game in 67 appearances as a rookie.
Morrow's 46.7 percent 3-point efficiency last season led the league, and he became the first rookie in NBA history to double as its most accurate long-range shooter.
A true NBA summer league rags to riches story.
He at one time was like the majority of players in the summer league. Not all of them are first-round picks with guaranteed roster spots and millions in their checking accounts. Most are free agents, just praying for an invite to training camp or hoping to catch the eyes of a scout from overseas, keeping the dream alive for one more season.
Morrow, whose Warriors wrapped up summer league play on Thursday with a 4-1 record, had several of those basketball vagabonds as teammates over the past couple of weeks.
That included Lawrence Hill, an undrafted free agent forward who graduated from Stanford following last season, when he averaged 13.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per game for the Cardinal.
"Everyone has to understand that you can get in there and anything's possible," said Hill, who scored 13 points in 16 minutes off of the bench for the Warriors on Thursday. "What he does is he works his tail off, he does everything the right way, and he's hungry. That's what I learned being with him for only 10 days.
"I knew what he did last year, but I didn't think too much of him. I wasn't judging, but meeting him, seeing how hard he plays, I'm gonna take that with me and keep working hard just like he does. He's a good example to follow."
He gives others who fill the shoes he once wore a reason to hope that they can -- at any point possible -- enjoy a feeling like Morrow had on Thursday.
He started off with 17 first quarter points on 7-of-8 shooting, and once he went into the half with 25 points next to his name, a buzz began to grow inside of Cox Pavilion.
Morrow's swagger was at full strength, too. He was calling for the ball and going to work one-on-one against any and all challengers. He'd cross defenders over and drive to the bucket, or he'd hit step-back treys. Everything was falling.
"When he had 17, I said 'You've gotta break that and get at least 50 so we can go home one and two (in the record books)," said Warriors forward Anthony Randolph, who tied the old record of 42 on Tuesday against Chicago.
Morrow came out of the game late in the third quarter with 34 points, but was re-inserted early in the fourth, and even though he wouldn't admit it was on his mind, it was clear that he wanted it.
"I wasn't thinking about it until I had about 42 and tied the record," he said afterwards. "Because everyone was saying stuff. I wasn't trying to force it, I just wanted to go out there and whatever shot I got, make it."
Morrow didn't take any bad shots in the final stages of grabbing the record, but teammates were making it a point to look for him.
The record-breaker was a product of patience, as he caught the ball in the left corner, used a pump-fake to send Hornets forward Julian Wright flying by him, then casually swished an 18-footer after taking a step in.
A near-capacity crowd, which stood and held its collective breathe with each shot he hoisted while the record was tied, erupted, completing the scene in one of the most thrilling moments in Vegas summer league memory.
"It is great, because, for one, he did it within our system," Smart said. "He wasn't a selfish guy coming down and taking shots. For him and Randolph to work their tails off all summer in our place, both of them played very well out here, and it's just a testament that hard work for the guys is going to pay off for them.
Randolph and Morrow were two the unquestioned stars for one of the most entertaining teams at this year's summer league. Rookie guard Stephen Curry also generated plenty of hype coming in, and certainly didn't disappoint, finishing the five-game run by averaging 17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists per contest.
Randolph finished by averaging 26.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2.2 steals, while Morrow's numbers included a 24.7 point average over 3 games, firing at 50.9 percent from the floor and 60 percent from deep.
But the record being in the hands of someone who went from nobody to somebody in the pro basketball ranks thanks to the NBA summer league now holds a special place for Morrow, who stayed after to sign autographs for an endless line of seekers. He even tossed his No. 22 jersey into the stands. The near-fistfight which ensued over it resulted in him signing the sweaty tank top for the lucky recipient, with '47 pts' scrawled right next to his name in silver paint pen.
"It does (mean a lot), but at the same time, I just wanted to go out there and play as hard as I could," he said. "I'm glad to get the record, don't get me wrong, it's something I'm really proud of for myself and I'm glad I'm able to do it for the Golden State Warriors."
Now Morrow's gem will simply continue to provide hope for others who will find themselves in the same situation he once was in.
As long as it helps the Warriors continue to build on their solid young nucleus, they have no problem with their new-found summer league reputation.
"You look at our roster, and we've had so many guys come out of nowhere, and these guys have all come out of nowhere and played great for us -- and then Morrow continues that trend," Smart said. "All these free agents come, and their agents say to them 'You know, you go there, you're gonna get a fair shake if you have skills.' And if you don't fit our style, you won't be on our roster for the summer.
"All these guys that we bring fit our basketball team, so in the event that we bring someone from there to (training) camp, it comes from here."