Richard Morton's shooting has always meant a lot to him. Shooting gave him self-confidence and respect. It was his friend.
But Morton and his friend had a falling out not long ago. The jump shot that had helped him earn a college scholarship was betraying him. It strayed off course, taking much of Cal State Fullerton's basketball fortunes with it.
Many of the Titans were stricken with flu in January, but Morton managed to avoid it. "I escaped that very well," he said. "I stayed away from the guys."
His trouble was making baskets. And this did little to improve the general well-being of what once was a promising team. Fullerton was 7-2 during December and ranked in the United Press International poll of coaches.
In January, however, the Titans began a slide that would take them out of the Top 20 and to the bottom of the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. After opening PCAA play with a 65-47 victory at Fresno State, Fullerton lost six straight games and was beginning to blend in nicely with the rest of the mediocrity in the lower nine-tenths of the PCAA.
There were several theories and explanations as to why the Titans had fallen:
- The flu had made it impossible for them to stage productive practices, and left them as many as three players short on game nights.
- Coach George McQuarn, who was suffering from bronchial pneumonia, wasn't himself.
- PCAA coaches were more familiar with Fullerton, and therefore better prepared to defend against it.
There is some merit to all the theories. But some rather revealing numbers suggest that things might not have gotten so bad had Morton's friend not abandoned him. During the six losses, Morton's statistics dropped like the value of the dollar. He shot 36% (36 of 98) from the field, including 6 of 36 (16%) from three-point range. He averaged 13.6 points a game. Those around him were as perplexed as he was.
"To me, there was nothing technically wrong with Richard's shot," McQuarn said. "Sometimes, I really believe that when you've got a shooter in a slump, it's better to just leave him alone and not really confront the issue. He was aware of it as much as anyone. There wasn't a whole lot you could say to him."
Said Herman Webster, Fullerton senior center and team captain: "The only problem Richard had at that time was himself. I just tried to keep him in the right frame of mind. He's a shooter. It happens to all of them."
Morton said he tried not to let the slump bother him, but that it wasn't easy.
"What happens is that you begin to get more tentative on your shot," he said. "And when you're tentative, that knocks off your concentration."
Fortunately for Morton and the Titans, the condition was not permanent. With a little patience, and some helpful tips from a volunteer shooting coach, Morton's jump shot has returned.
If there was any question as to how much Morton's jumper means to the Titans, it has been answered in the last four games. In that span, Morton has made 34 of 63 field-goal attempts (54%), including 12 of 19 three-point shots (63%), and has averaged 23.5 points. He scored 22, 28 and 24 points last week in victories over San Jose State, New Mexico State and Cal State Long Beach and was named the PCAA's player of the week. Not coincidentally, the Titans are back among the living, breathing contenders for second place in the PCAA.
So who is this shooting guru who helped Morton regain his touch? A former professional? Maybe one of those guys who conducts clinics out of his backyard? Actually, her name's Colleen, Morton's girlfriend. She didn't like the way Morton was letting defenders distract him.
"She attends all our games," Morton said sheepishly. "She's criticized me a lot. She said what I was doing was catching the ball and sizing up (a defender) before shooting, and that was when I'd miss. But when I caught the ball and just shot it, she said I made it most of the time. I've been doing it lately, and it's working.
"She played ball all four years in high school. She has a pretty good idea of what she's talking about."