Harris: Back in the mix, Malik Morgan awaits his turn

Malik Morgan is no malcontent.

The last time we left off with the taciturn sophomore-to-be, it was May. Word leaked out of the LSU practice facility that the New Orleans native might be coming home. Or at least a little closer by transferring to Tulane.

On its face, the whole notion makes sense. With forward Johnny O’Bryant III wisely shunning an early jump to the NBA, the Tigers were one scholarship over the limit. The arithmetic was solved simply in April when forward Jalen Courtney and Corban Collins departed for Morehead State.

But Morgan?

It was a head-scratcher, to say the least.

The John Curtis product started 14 games, put up a modest 5.3 points per game and offered up 18 minutes a night to spell starters Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer. The 6-foot-4, 199-pound guard flashed a nice jumper and the usual hit-or-miss defense from a freshman taking a step up in competition.

Maybe it was just Morgan weighing his options. Maybe it was a counselor whispering that Morgan could find minutes more plentiful elsewhere. Maybe it’s just part and parcel of the offseason now. More than 500 players transferred this offseason, or roughly 10 percent of those on Division I rosters.

“I was just looking at some options,” Morgan said. “There was nothing really too big about it.”

Three days resolved the controversy, and it was quietly announced that Morgan intended to stick around Baton Rouge.

But the dalliance and momentary buckling of loyalty defined Morgan’s offseason, which runs against type for a combo guard whose persona eschews self-promotion.

“It’s a little different,” Morgan said of having his deliberation aired. “It’s never a process you’re looking forward to having out there. All that matters is that I’m comfortable with my decision.”

The interesting part is that Morgan’s role has been lost in the high-decibel buzz surrounding a top-10 recruiting class that filled out a threadbare roster.

As evidence, here’s how Morgan is described when you slap together descriptions from the glossy pages of three preview magazines:

“Morgan is a streaky scorer with a slashing game. With added strength, the staff believes he could have a breakout season. He should be able to pick up the slack for the graduated Charles Carmouche. He also should provide depth.”

Translation: Morgan is typecast as a “glue guy.” One who defends and reliably knocks down open jump shots in 15 minutes of solid play.

But take a look at Morgan’s frame, the one more with muscle mass on his shoulders and sculpted arms. Or watch the physicality of block-outs during rebounding drills. Notice the healing floor burns near his knees — a reward for being the first man on the bottom of a loose ball scrum.

“With my body being a little bigger, I can’t take a few more of those hits, fight through more of those screens,” he said. “I can just be a little more physical on the ball.”

Or hear the words of guard Anthony Hickey.

“He’s quiet, but Malik brings it every day,” the junior said.

No one is projecting the kind of spike in productivity to pop off stat sheets or break the advanced statistical metrics of Ken Pomeroy. Obscurity, for now, doesn’t irk Morgan. Nor does the label stapled to his name.

“Coach Jones and the staff know everything I’ve done from last year, and they know the work I’ve put in to improve,” Morgan said. “I don’t find there’s pressure there from younger guys coming in. You work with them to get them better as quick as you can.”

Uttering these words and answering these questions, he sounds earnest enough. Truthfully, if Morgan were to seek a release and a new start, it’s questionable whether the average fan would be upset.

A week ago, forward Ben Simmons, the No. 5 prospect in the 2015 recruiting class, committed. Two weeks ago, 2014 four-star center Elbert Robinson pledged loyalty. Add in this year’s freshman class, and the casual observer might conclude that the pipeline of incoming talent simply made a departure inevitable.

Perhaps, though, the opposite process played out. Toiling in the shade from the spotlight shone on the precocious newcomers, Morgan’s efforts might make him indispensable.

“We don’t always get recognized sometimes,” he said. “It doesn’t affect how hard I play. There’s a role for every player. Mine is waiting.”