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UNLV basketball:

High-flying Demetris Morant ends Gorman career with a pair of state track titles

Morant says he’s excited to compete with fellow incoming forward Anthony Bennett for playing time at UNLV

Sunset Regionals - Gorman v. Legacy

Sam Morris

Bishop Gorman’s Demetris Morant dunks on Legacy center Chris Hughes during their Sunset Regional semifinal game Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012. Gorman won 73-43.

Once Demetris Morant’s reality started to settle in last weekend, that he had improbably won a state crown in the high jump and would win another in the triple jump, he checked his phone.

It was nearly an hour after the Bishop Gorman senior cleared 6-foot-10 in the high jump, a career best, for the title, and right at the top of his messages was a familiar name.

“As soon as I looked at my phone, I saw (UNLV coach Dave Rice) was the first one to text me, saying congratulations and he can’t wait to see me put on a UNLV uniform,” said Morant, a 6-foot-8 forward in the Rebels highly touted incoming recruiting class.

Rice is hardly the only one, as Morant spent more than an hour thanking all the Rebels fans who sent him congratulatory tweets. Once he added the triple jump crown, there was even more praise sent his way.

“(They were) saying I’m a beast and all this stuff,” Morant said while laughing. “It was pretty nice.”

The first state title of Morant’s senior year was a foregone conclusion. The last two were a bit of a surprise.

Behind teammate Shabazz Muhammad’s 30 first-half points, Bishop Gorman rolled to the 4A state basketball title in Reno last February with a 96-51 victory against Hug High. There was never any doubt.

Morant’s most recent trip to Reno was a much different experience. He made the trip with Gorman’s track and field team for the state meet. Despite an undefeated record in both the high jump and triple jump, he didn’t feel comfortable with the situation.

“(In basketball) we went up there with confidence knowing we were going to win,” Morant said this week. “Out in track, I didn’t have any confidence at all. It’s not a team sport; it’s just me by myself.”

Turns out he’s OK by himself, too.

On Friday, Morant won the high jump with a height of 6-foot-10, then on Saturday, he followed it up with a triple jump title after leaping 46 feet, 1/4 inch. That’s two titles he never expected after feeling uncertain about himself athletically for the first time in recent memory.

The high jump performance let Morant know that no matter how he was feeling mentally, his body was locked in.

“I can’t even tell you what happened that day,” said Morant, whose best jump entering the meet was 6-5. “… I was shocked myself as soon as I jumped 6-6 because I never jumped that height before.”

Even in practice he wasn’t able to clear that height, yet in Reno he hit 6-6 and 6-8 on his first attempts, then made 6-10 on his second attempt to win the tie-breaker against Green Valley’s Durrell McDonald, who cleared 6-10 on his third and final attempt.

McDonald, a 6-foot-2 guard who’s going to DePaul in the fall, cleared a state-best 7-0 earlier this year, but on this day, Morant got the best of him.

In the triple jump, Morant won by just a quarter-inch against Sunrise Mountain’s Fharaad Zinnamon. Just like McDonald, Zinnamon had the best mark in the state this season (46 feet, 6 1/2 inch), but on the biggest stage, he couldn’t outdo Morant.

As a junior, Morant finished third and fifth in the triple jump and high jump, respectively, and if UNLV had a men’s track and field program, he would consider continuing as a dual-sport athlete. Alas, the Rebels only have a women’s program, which means all of Morant’s athletic exploits will be on a basketball court.

Just how soon that basketball career will kick into full gear is now the question. UNLV is expected to have one of the deepest frontcourts in the nation, a position buoyed by Anthony Bennett’s recent commitment.

Bennett missed this year’s Findlay Prep-Gorman game, but he and Morant will have plenty of chances to play against each other starting this summer. And while some may have expected Morant to be disappointed by a top-flight recruit coming in at his position, he sees it as a good thing in the long run.

“I’m not really disappointed because he’s going to push me to get better and I’m going to push him to get better,” Morant said. “I’m not mad that he’s on the team and think, ‘Oh, he’s going to take my spot,’ because I just got on the team, as well, and I didn’t have a spot to start with. I have to earn one.”

He’ll attempt to do that by focusing on the defensive end of the court and letting his admittedly raw offensive game develop over the years.

“Playing good defense will get you real far in basketball,” Morant said.

Being able to high jump over Mike Moser doesn’t hurt, either.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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