Former Indiana forward Juwan Morgan dribbled to the right block, backed down an invisible man, twirled on his pivot foot, and laid it in. He then looked to his left to see basketball trainer Joey Burton.
Burton was then quick to tell Morgan that he had done the move wrong. He went onto to explain that Morgan needed to be more like a ‘ballerina.’ Morgan had to spin faster, and keep his pivot foot on the ground.
So, he tried it again. He tried it over and over again until he mastered it. Morgan had mastered a post move that has been a lethal part of Denver Nuggets’ center Nikola Jokic’s arsenal.
“I study film religiously,” Burton said. “That’s probably why I’ve been effective with a lot of players. I try to find things that players can mimic that are being done by the best players in the world. Just seeing, what does an older guy do? A guy that’s been at a high level.”
As talented as Jokic is, Morgan has been trying to mold his game after NBA veterans P.J. Tucker and Trevor Ariza. He also tries to learn from his favorite player to watch, Paul Millsap. All serve as similar reminders to Morgan that someone with his skillset and body can carve out a role in the NBA.
They’re strong examples for the former Hoosier standout, but Burton has his eyes on another NBA big man.
“I’ve been watching a lot of Draymond Green and how he plays on the perimeter, while he still has a solid presence on the inside,” Burton said.
Burton didn’t get into running individual workouts until 2012, when he left his job coaching on the staff for Mississippi State Women’s Basketball to become a business partner with current Indiana assistant coach Ed Schilling. After Schilling left his job in skill development to coach at UCLA, Burton began to work on his own. From there, he went onto use a similar approach for his first ever pre-draft client.
“I did that with Yogi (Ferrell),” Burton said. “CP3(Chris Paul) is about the same height as Yogi and we studied him religiously and not say, ‘this is a guy you have to be like,’ but say ‘these are the things he does off of ball screens, these are the things he does on pick and roll passing.”’
Since working with Ferrell, Burton has trained the likes of Zak Irvin, Kelan Martin, Dakota Mathias, Bryant McIntosh, Jae’Sean Tate, Rob Johnson, James Blackmon Jr., Nick Zeisloft, and Christian Watford.
None of these athletes compare, however, like Ferrell does.
Although Ferrell and Morgan play completely different positions, their stories are remarkably similar. Both serve as Indiana Basketball legends that led their teams and still found themselves labeled as simply “good college basketball players.”
Ferrell rarely found himself on draft boards in 2016 and Morgan the same. Instead of hearing his name called, Ferrell was forced to wait for his opportunity. Then when he got it, he was ready.
“It’s a testament to his perseverance,” Morgan said. “Just never giving up on what you want to achieve.”
Morgan, an underappreciated player in the upcoming draft class, is comfortable with a potentially similar experience.
“Just to hear my name called,” Morgan said. “If I don’t, just for a team to take a chance on me. Allow me to get a foot in the door and make the most of it.”
That comfort level comes from knowing the facts of the NBA Draft.
In the 2015 NBA Draft, 14 of the last 20 picks never played a game in the NBA. In that same draft class, 21 undrafted players hit the court.
In the 2016 NBA Draft, 36 undrafted players eventually played games in the NBA. In addition, Ferrell has played more career games than every single true point guard (Ben Simmons doesn’t count) drafted that year.
In the 2017-2018 NBA season, a record 53 percent of players on end-of-season rosters had spent time in the NBA G League during their careers.
“I think Juwan has a spot in the NBA,” Burton said. “Everybody has a different journey to get there…as Yogi proved it’s not always about getting drafted, it’s just about finding the right fit and the right opportunity, but also being patient enough to let that opportunity come and as you’re waiting for the opportunity, preparing. That’s what Yogi did so well and I think Juwan is going to have that opportunity. He is going to have the opportunity to showcase his abilities as not only an inside player but an outside player, play on the perimeter, and add value to his team with his toughness and his ability to lead.”
With the similarities in mind, Morgan has reached out for the insight of not only Ferrell, but a few of his other former teammates in the NBA.
“They said it’s a business,” Morgan said. “Just treating your body right, making sure you’re on top of it. It’s your job now. In college you’ve got to worry about school, you gotta worry about meeting with academic advisers…but there it’s just basketball.”
So, what now?
In preparation for the NBA Draft, Morgan is spending time every week with Burton. Every time, he drives up to Zionsville in his red truck. Then, he simply puts in work.
Working on new skills, Morgan will spend up to two hours breaking a sweat so extensive that he needs to bring multiple shirts to change into. The skills all come from what he learned last year at the NBA combine.
“They wanted to see a little bit more of perimeter oriented person,” Morgan said. “Not so much being a guard, but just being comfortable out there on the wing. Just being able to make plays from the wing, but also being able to guard multiple positions which I think I’ve done over my time at IU and I think I’m ready to really showcase that.”
Even with the perimeter work, Burton was very adamant about the fact that Morgan can’t ever stray away from his bread and butter. It’s about always keeping that bully mentality in the post.
The last major similarity between Ferrell and Morgan is ultimately what will determine if he gets his chance at the NBA.
Growing up in a military family, Morgan’s discipline and work ethic will have him ready when the time comes.
“He’s an outstanding guy to be around every day,” Indiana head coach Archie Miller said. “Battles hard. You know, easy to coach. Just a great guy. Great teammate…I think he a chance to be a heck of a player here for a long time at whatever level he can get to. He’s a guy that could add value to any locker room; that’s the one thing about him, and he’s going to better as he sort of gets away from college and really starts to hone in on his game and his body and whatnot. I think he’s got a bright future.”