Victoria’s Conor Morgan departs UBC for pro basketball

VANCOUVER — Conor Morgan sure knows how to make friends. Nothing like being part of a team that just handed your new teammates a shocking loss to ingratiate yourself.

“Hopefully they’ll welcome me with open arms,” laughed the Victoria native and UBC forward, who just inked his first professional contract with the Southland Sharks, who play in the New Zealand National Basketball League.

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Two weeks ago, the 6-foot-9, 225-pound Morgan was part of the Team Canada squad that upset the Tall Blacks in the Commonwealth Games semifinal in Australia, a 88-86 stunner that came on a Mamadou Gueye three-point buzzer-beater.

Morgan, a Mount Douglas grad, paced Canada, which was comprised completely of U Sports players, with 19 points in that game. It was also where he caught the eye of the Tall Blacks staff, including Judd Flavell — the Sharks’ head coach — who was a former assistant to national team coach Paul Henare in the NBL.

“It’s a pretty good league. All the national team New Zealand guys play in it,” said Morgan, who was fourth in USports scoring (23.9 ppg) and rebounds (9.7) in his final year with the Thunderbirds.

“Really excited to start playing against some professional guys. It’s really good competition there, so I may as well do it there than train in Vancouver all summer.”

Morgan’s contract is a three-month deal — the duration of the 18-game summer league — and will give him a chance to establish a body of work before European teams open their training camps in the fall.

His play in the Commonwealth Games — where Canada won their first medal in men’s basketball, earning a silver after falling to powerhouse Australia 87-47 in the final — also went a long way in opening some eyes. He had fielded some pro offers prior to his final U Sports season, but elected to return to UBC to finish his masters in kinesiology.

“I’m just thrilled he’s able to end his [collegiate] career by getting this job offer. To play professional basketball was one of his goals when he came to UBC,” said T-Birds coach Kevin Hanson, who served as an assistant to Manitoba’s Kirby Schepp on the Commonwealth Games team.

“He chose to come back [last season] and he was a little worried whether his stock would drop or whether it would be enhanced, but obviously it paid off.

“It’s pretty exciting for him to have a chance to have this opportunity to start his career.”

Morgan said the national team went into the Games with the goal of medalling, a lofty aim considering they were the youngest team at the tournament, and only one without any professional players. Gueye’s stumbling, off-balance game winner in the semifinals avenged an earlier group-play loss to the Kiwis matched that

pre-tournament goal.

“The journey that I’ve been on with these guys in these three weeks here has kind of felt like a full season almost. We’ve come together and they’re people that I’ll call up the rest of my life,” Morgan told the Canadian Press. “Even though we didn’t win gold, I think [the semifinal win] was one I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Morgan fell in love with the southern hemisphere during his time on the Gold Coast.

“The first day we were there, he said ‘Coach, I want to play here. This is where I want to be. You gotta help me get here,’ ” recalled Hanson.

But Morgan doesn’t know much about his home for the summer.

“I know Lord of the Rings and Jurassic Park were filmed there. That’s about it,” he said with a laugh.

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