By LARRY VAUGHT
Despite a highly successful high school career, Maci Morris knew there were plenty of doubters who never expected her to succeed at Kentucky.
She heard the critics: Too slow, not athletic enough, couldn’t guard, would not be able to score.
Where are the critics now? Nowhere to be found after she averaged 17.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.1 steals per season last year while shooting 48.4 percent from 3-point range — the second best mark in the nation. She had a streak of seven straight games with 20 or more points, one reason she earned all-SEC second team honors. She’s already scored 1,209 points in three seasons.
Morris said the doubts served as motivation for her.
“I just wanted to show people I could make it up here,” said the former Bell County star. “I don’t know why so many people had doubts. I had success all through high school and AAU. I have always wished the best for everybody but people were just hating on me when I first came here.”
Was there a stigma that coming out of eastern Kentucky she was just a shooter and nothing else?
“They might have thought that because they have never seen me play against other athletes when I would play AAU or go to camps all over the country. Now that they see I am playing against other athletes and I am doing pretty well I hope they have changed their minds about me,” Morris said.
They should have.
She’s also done with other impressive thing — she’s opened the door for more eastern Kentucky athletes to wind up at Kentucky. Much like Kash Daniel is doing for the football team, she’s proved there are SEC-caliber players in eastern Kentucky.
Harlan County’s Blair Green, a life-long friend with the Kentucky senior, is a freshman at UK this year. Lincoln County senior standout Emma King plans to solve with Kentucky in November. Shelby Valley freshman Cassidy Jo Rowe has already verbally committed to coach Matthew Mitchell’s team.
Morris would like to think she’s been a role model for them and others.
“I know the girls there now have it a lot easier than I did. When I played people doubted me like crazy and said I would never be able to play here and this and that,” Morris said. “Now I think people respect me a lot more. I proved them wrong and they are respecting players there (eastern Kentucky) more now and they should believe they can play here.
“I think I have become a better shooter since I got here. The way I played in high school was different. In high school my game was drive and get fouled and get to the line. I was not just a spot-up shooter and it was funny people said that. But I think I am a lot better overall now.”
That certainly includes her defensive play. She points out a recent practice where she was paired against senior guard Taylor Murray.
“I was like, ‘Here we go. I can’t stop Taylor,’” Morris said. “Then I turned her (forced a turnover) a couple of times and was really proud of myself for doing that. It was nice to do something like that and know the coaches believe I can do that.”
At times Mitchell might have had more confidence in her overall ability than even she did.
“He tells me all the time to shoot and I tell him I do not think that was a good shot,” Morris laughed and said. “He does a good job telling me I know you can play defense, too. I just have to get past it mentally and do it, but he has never doubted that I can do it.”
She won’t forget that faith he’s had in her along with a few other things about her coach.
“I guess just the energy he brings is something I’ll never forget,” Morris said. “He is always loud and energetic. His will to make sure things are taken care of the right way is something else I’ll remember. He is willing to learn and build relations. We told him (last year) he had to build better relations with people and he has tried to do that. Anything we bring up he tries to better himself because he knows that makes our team better and I will always remember that about him.”