Army and Navy Academy's Caleb Morris, center, playing against Santa Fe Christian Tuesday during the Senators Division of the Holiday Classic high school boys basketball tournament at Santa Fe Christian. photo by Bill Wechter
CARLSBAD — Content to be one of the pieces — “sit in the corner and shoot jump shots” for two years, one of those on a championship team — Caleb Morris was thrust into a leadership role last season.
The sudden departure of Army-Navy Academy star guard Devin Watson, who transferred to El Camino, left a huge void on and off the court for the Warriors.
“I had to grow up in a hurry,” said Morris. “We had Devin and a 7-footer (Cheikh N’diaye) my first two years, and I was the chubby kid who shot jumpers.”
N’diaye, who was a senior, and Watson, a junior, led Army-Navy to a San Diego Section title in 2012-13 before losing in the Southern California Regional semifinals to Torrance Bishop Montgomery.
With N’diaye moving on to Oregon State, Morris knew his role would increase last season.
“So I lost 35 pounds,” he said. “My weight was holding me back. I decided to stop super-sizing things, watch my diet and become a better player.”
A varsity player since his freshman year, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound senior averaged 2.7 points and 2.2 rebounds as a ninth-grader on a team that went 22-7.
He averaged 6.6 points and 4.6 rebounds on the 29-5 championship team as a sophomore.
The Warriors went 14-13 last season as Morris averaged 19.1 and 7.0.
This season, bolstered by the maturation of 6-8 sophomore Richard Polanco and the solid play of Connor McClurg, Ed Fenzi and Weijie Zhang, Army-Navy is 12-2 and ranked No. 6 in the section. And 6-7 Aziz Seck from Senegal, who transferred from Faith Baptist in Georgia, becomes eligible this week.
Morris is averaging 19.5 points and 5.3 rebounds.
Talent evaluator Aaron Burgin of fulltimehoops.tumblr.com says Morris “is as sweet a shooter as you will find in San Diego.”
Over his career, he has made about 40 percent of his 200 3-point shots.
“Caleb is a coach’s player,” said Warriors coach John Maffucci. “He runs our offense and defense.
“He’s averaging close to 20 points a game, but he’s unselfish.
“It’s not about him. For him it’s about the team and winning. He gives up a lot of individual things for the betterment of the team.
“He’s finally getting to shine. He has always been able to shoot, but he’d pass the ball to Devin.
“Last year was a little unfair for him. This is his team now.”
Army-Navy is one of the few boarding schools in the nation with students from all over the world.
But like Watson, a two-time All-San Diego Section player who is now playing at USF, Morris is a local, living with his family in Vista.
“I learned a lot from Devin, and we still keep in touch,” Morris said. “He did what he thought was best for him.
“When he left, I knew I had to step up as a player and leader. I needed to be more vocal.
“We struggled a little last season, but this team has as much talent as the championship team.”
While Morris lives at home, he often spends 12-13 hours a day on Army-Navy’s Carlsbad campus.
He reports to school at 7:30 a.m. and — if he stays after practice and eats with the team — he doesn’t leave until after 7:30 p.m.
Like all Army-Navy students, he’s required to be in uniform, abide by the rules and participate in parades and academy functions.
“I’m good with all that,” Morris said. “Hey, I understand. Army-Navy isn’t for everyone. It makes you grow up.
“It’s not worth coming here if you don’t do it right, make the best of it. If you do it right and listen, it sets the table for success.”
Morris is a decorated cadet and a staple on the dean’s list, carrying a 3.4 cumulative GPA and a 4.0 this semester.
He’s being recruited by Portland State, Biola, Point Loma Nazarene and San Diego Christian among others.
He’d like to major in business/finance or kinesiology but would also like to fly. Recruiters from the Air Force Academy have come to see him play.
“Caleb has an incredible basketball IQ,” said coach Tom Tarantino, who led Army-Navy to the section title in 2012-13 and is now at El Camino. “He’s a high-energy guy, a relentless worker.
“He was overshadowed as a sophomore by Devin and Cheikh, but he has emerged as a great player.
“He’s not an armpits-above-the-rim guy, but he’s a great team player who has gotten better each year. He might be the most underrated player in the county.
“But he’s starting to open the eyes of the college recruiters.”
A varsity player since his freshman year, Morris has played in 102 varsity games as the Warriors prepare for the start of Coastal League play — a league that includes No. 1 Foothills Christian, No. 10 Francis Parker, Santa Fe Christian, Bishop’s, La Jolla Country Day and Horizon.
“I didn’t even know about the 100 thing until someone told me last week,” Morris said. “That’s a crazy number.
“I guess it means I’m doing something right.”