2019 NBA draft prospect Juwan Morgan: ‘PJ Tucker, Jae Crowder and Paul Millsap are the three guys I try to emulate’

Finishing a remarkable four-year collegiate career, Indiana Hoosiers star forward Juwan Morgan is now looking for a spot on an NBA roster.

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Morgan, who made All-Big Ten 3rd Team as a senior, had the best Player Efficiency Rating (PER) in his conference as a junior and the second-best in his final college year. He also had the fifth-most rebounds and eighth-most points in the Big Ten last season. He ranked Top 15 in box plus-minus among all NCAA players as well.

After our own Alex Kennedy spoke with his Indiana teammate Romeo Langford, we caught up with Morgan about his own journey to the NBA.

How have you been preparing for the NBA draft so far this offseason?

Juwan Morgan: It’s been a lot of work on movement. I’m trying to create space and knock down shots while moving and make plays off the roll. I want to set a screen, get on the wing and be able to drive. I want different moves in the arsenal to create for myself and for my teammates. After every workout, I try to make as many shots as possible. I’ve been working out with Joey Burton out of Indianapolis.

What were some of the biggest lessons you learned while you played for Indiana?

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JM: I learned how to work hard. When I was in high school, I was the best player on the court. But it was different in college. I was going against guys who wanted to do this for the rest of their lives. It was a different type of path and I was introduced to a new kind of work ethic. I also learned to be a pro at everything that I did. I took care of my body. I was punctual. Yogi Ferrell and OG Anunoby super helpful with that.

How much did it mean for you to earn your degree and finish your studies?

JM: It meant a ton to me. I was the first person in my family to do that. It was an amazing feeling being able to walk across the stage and have all my family supporting me. I know that having a degree from Indiana holds a lot of weight. I feel it will carry me long after my basketball career is done. My degree was in sports communication and broadcasting.

Is that something you are interested in pursuing after your basketball career?

JM: Definitely. The media school at IU did a great job making me a more versatile person. I’d be happy behind the scenes in radio or television but I would love to be on camera, too. I think I would be best at radio play-by-play because I love being able to speak about what is happening and people can picture it based on how I describe it. If you listen to Don Fischer at Indiana call a game, it is amazing. The two of us have had more conversations than you can probably imagine and it is so insightful to pick his brain and learn how he sees the game. I also love Gus Johnson.

How much do you think your journalism degree is going to help you in the draft process?

JM: It has honestly prepared me a lot. I feel comfortable speaking to people, making sure my voice is clear and making sure I get across my intentions. I don’t stutter or ponder anything for too long. When I ask them questions, I’ll make sure they are open-ended and not yes or no.

Tell me a little bit about your experience at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament with the nation’s other top seniors.

JM: It was a business meeting. Every time I stepped on the court, it was another job interview. Pretty much every team I spoke to told me that. I had to feel ready to go. There was no time for second-guessing. Everything was so fast.

How did you find yourself involved in the 3X3U National Tournament?

JM: My teammate Rob Johnson did it last year. It was a good environment. There were some NBA guys out there watching. It showed how I am able to guard and play in open space because it was just halfcourt. I showed I was able to guard my man without much help and make moves in isolation.

What were you able to take away from entering the draft process last season that has helped you this time around?

JM: Now I knew what to expect going into it. I knew the kind of drills they would put us through so I’ve been able to get my body in shape for that kind of moves that will thrive in situations like one-on-one, full court and three-on-three. I’ve been keying in on those things as well as obviously shooting, which have been the main focuses.

What are some of the biggest motivators that drive your success?

JM: I’m big on self-motivation and always feeling like I can be better than what I am. However, I remember going into my first EYBL game my junior year, I guarded Stanley Johnson for like three or four possessions. He scored every single time, easy. From that point on, I knew there would always be people that would be better than I am. But I can close the gap with my effort and intensity.

You finished top-two for Player Efficiency Rating (PER) in the Big Ten two years in a row. Where did you feel you thrived the most during your junior and senior year?

JM: I feel I was best at being able to facilitate at whatever spot was being required of me, whether that was at the five on the wing. I tried to be efficient on both sides of the ball. I took pride in my defensive effort. On offense, I’d say I feel really comfortable in the pick-and-roll both popping and rolling. I can make reads before I even get the ball in my hands. I also got some cutters on the weak side after the pick-and-roll happened. When playing against big guys, I had to get creative and make things happen in different spots. It made me a better player and I used different kinds of finishes like hook shots and scoop layups under the defender’s arms.

You also spread the floor a little bit as a spot-up shooter too. How big of a role do you expect this to play in your game moving forward?

JM: Definitely. Guys are great iso scorers so when defenders go into double them, you have different space to knock down a shot. If you can knock those down, there will be a place for you in the league. I’m very comfortable from the NBA distance. At first, my arms would get tired or I would use more legs than usual. But now, it feels like a regular jump shot.

What position do you feel is the most natural fit for you at the next level?

JM: Power forward. I am comfortable working out of the mid-post to block but I am definitely comfortable on the wing, too. I don’t need the ball in my hands but I can pick-and-pop, drive and kick with that as well. On defense, I feel good guarding whoever is in front of me. I think people will be surprised by how effective I am even when I don’t have the ball in my hands beyond my scoring and my rebounding.

Are there any players in the NBA that you feel your game may resemble a little bit?

JM: There are a few. I would say PJ Tucker, Jae Crowder and Paul Millsap are the three guys that I really look at as far as who I want to try and emulate when I am out there on the floor. I’m always going to get after it on defense. That’s the quickest way to get on the court and I am able to guard as many players in the league as I will be asked. On the offensive end, I want to feel like a big guard. I’m not going to break you down off the dribble or even create my own shots but I will run the offense efficiently and get people open and that has been one of my biggest strengths.

What are some of your interests and how do you stay busy off the court? 

JM: Honestly, I have a dog and I hang out with him a lot. I don’t play video games as much I as I used to. I do a lot of stuff with my church. Community activity events are great because I like helping other people.

I’d love to hear about some of your goals for the immediate as well as the longterm future.

JM: I want to perform as well as I know I can in front of these teams. I want to give myself the best opportunity I can to land on a roster. For the future, I want to provide a stable situation for my family and take care of my parents and make sure they don’t have to worry about anything. We moved around a lot as a little kid because both my parents were military. So we all got really close.

Oh, that’s interesting. How often did you move when you were growing up?

JM: The last time I moved was from Texas to Missouri in third grade. But I moved a lot when I was younger. Eventually, we had it where if one of them was deployed, the other stationed in Missouri. But having to move schools so much, you had to make friends. That’s how I got so good at talking to people and being a likable person. I was around a lot of different cultures. I was born in Germany, we went back to Texas, I went to Korea for a little bit.

How much do you think that might help you find comfort when you’re in the NBA, which relies so much on travel?

JM: Wherever I am, I’ll be able to mesh with whatever group I’m with. That is half the battle, as well as being able to play, is not having any issues. It feels like those that adapt the best are the ones who end up staying in one spot for the longest.

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