- Greg Billing Contributing Writer
One scouting report describes Kenton Ridge High School junior Mikala Morris as a “power-post prospect with deceptive quickness” and a “blue-collar banger on the glass.”
The scouting report could use a tweak, just like Morris has done to her game this season. As the lone six-footer on the Cougars’ roster, the 6-foot-2 dominating post presence knew she had to step up. So she stepped out.
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Along with her prowess in the paint Morris is now a three-point threat. Known for her double-doubles generated around the rim – she averages 23.9 points and 19.1 rebounds per game – defenders can’t ignore Morris when she steps outside. She’s hit on five of her 12 three-point attempts. That might not seem like a big deal, but it adds another option to Morris’ already sizable game.
Prior to this season she’d attempted two career three pointers. She missed both.
“Most people aren’t used to bigger girls being able to shoot outside so I think I surprised some people,” said Morris, who started practicing more perimeter shots last spring with her Cincinnati Angels Elite AAU team. “I knew we weren’t going to have that much size so I needed to do more this year.”
That’s saying something considering what she’s already accomplished.
On Dec. 23, 2017, she scored 32 points against Thurgood Marshall to become the 19th player in KR history to reach 1,000 career points (1,177 through 14 games). Jamari McDavid, a 2017 graduate now playing at Wofford College, tops the list with 2,022.
On Saturday, Morris grabbed 24 rebounds in at win against Jonathan Alder to surpass 1,000 in her career. With 1,022 career rebounds she joined 1991 grad Tara Cosby (1,219 rebounds) and McDavid (1,033) as KR’s third player with 1,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds.
Cosby is KR’s all-time leading rebounder and is No. 2 in scoring (1,985).
As for Morris, she already holds Kenton Ridge’s No. 1 and No. 3 spots in single-season rebounds with 392 as a freshman and 362 last season. Angie Finkes (1996) is No. 2 with 372 her junior season. Morris has 268 rebound this season.
Morris said there’s no real secret to her rebounding ability. Hard work and being blessed with size helps, of course. Morris, though, seems to have a knack for knowing where a shot is going to end up.
Morris is also considered the program’s all-time leader in career blocks (227). Her 84 this season surpassed her then-school record 80 set in 2015-16.
“I basically just watch the girl I’m guarding and I can guess what they’re about to do. I can anticipate it and that helps me,” Morris said.
“I usually don’t look at the numbers. That’s more my mom and my dad. I just go out there and play. I don’t think about it too much. Everybody reminds me about it but I don’t really think about it.”
Her basketball talent started emerging in the sixth grade. That’s when Morris knew she wanted to play in college.
“That’s been a goal ever since then,” said Morris, who has about 15 offers mostly from Mid-American Conference schools, Cincinnati, Xavier and Duquesne. While there’s no front runner, she’s waiting on one offer that would top them all – a scholarship offer from a Big Ten program.
“That’s one of my big dreams,” Morris said. “Hopefully this AAU season I can impress someone.”
Colleges aren’t the only ones showering Morris with attention. Teams often collapse on her with two and three defenders. A quick first step and jumping ability – aided from her seasons as a standout volleyball player – still makes her tough to stop. Morris has logged 51 double-doubles through her first 62 varsity games. Career highs include 38 points, 29 rebounds and 10 blocks.
“Opponents pack the paint with two and three girls every time she touches it,” Kenton Ridge coach Matt McCurdy said. “For her to be able to put up the numbers she has speaks volumes about the type of player she is.
“She’s extremely humble. You can see it in the way she plays. If you double and triple team her she’s looking to make the pass. She has trust in her teammates and she carries that off the court. She’s a great leader.”
Kenton Ridge (9-5) sits second in the Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail division at 7-2, trailing co-leaders Tecumseh and Shawnee (both 7-1). In addition to Morris, the Cougars have veteran leadership in senior Desiree Jones, who averages 10.1 points and averages 3.2 assists. Junior Kirsten Wiley, who leads KR with 3.4 assists, showed her ball handling ability with just two turnovers against a Tecumseh team that forces 15 per game.
Juniors Mallory Armentrout and Mariah Baker are defensive stoppers. Sophomores Ellie Schleinitz and Ellie Shinkle are key players off the bench.
“Right now they’re understanding their roles and starting to excel,” McCurdy said. “We feel we have the talent to (win a sectional title), but it comes down to are we going to play unselfish and play with a lot of energy? If we do that we’re giving ourselves a chance. We’re a fairly young group and we’re getting there. It’s a learning process and they’re embracing it.”
The Cougars are a win away from their 20th straight season with double-digit victories. As for Morris, she earned another coveted victory her freshman season with a pick-up game win against her 6-foot-3 dad.
“He claims that he lets me win but I think I really beat him,” Morris said. “Honestly I thought he let me win (the first time), but then he told me later he didn’t. I bragged about it.”
Now when they play, he has to guard against an emerging outside shot. Then again, maybe her parents can take a script out of opponents’ defense and double team her.
“All the time I’m getting double or triple teamed,” Morris said. “But that’s a good thing because it’s getting teammates an opportunity to score.”