This article is part of The Diamondback’s 2020 Basketball Preview. Click here for the rest.
There’s a lot to like about Baltimore, Darryl Morsell says. It’s a city filled with passion and camaraderie. It has a dialect — and culture — all its own.
But those traits rarely draw attention. Baltimore is under constant surveillance, subject to criticism by those who don’t walk its streets, people who will never see what Morsell sees: a city teeming with life.
That liveliness is particularly evident on the basketball courts that dot the Charm City landscape, canvases of joy where constructs such as age and experience wash away in favor of intangibles like grit and toughness.
It’s in this environment that Morsell became the player — and person — he is today. And as he enters his final season with Maryland men’s basketball, the senior guard is hoping to channel that intensity fostered on the courts of his youth to help lead the Terps through a densely packed schedule.
“Darryl Morsell has probably grown as a leader more than any player I’ve ever had,” coach Mark Turgeon said. “It’s just a natural thing for him.”
Much of Morsell’s leadership stems from his Baltimore roots, which provided a platform for young talents to test themselves in a physically draining environment. The city has produced a number of household names on the hardwood, none bigger than perennial all-star Carmelo Anthony.
The city has also made a sizable mark in the college game. Jalen Smith starred at Mount Saint Joseph with Morsell before making the switch to College Park. Former Kentucky guard Immanuel Quickley and Rutgers’ guard Montez Mathis are also from the city, part of a growing contingent of Baltimore-based hoopers making their presence felt on the national stage.
“It’s really like one big community,” Morsell said. “In Baltimore, we embrace each other as a basketball community.”
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Morsell said he felt that sense of belonging at a young age, often turning out for sports teams filled with players much older than him. He’s always had the physicality — his eight years of youth football took care of that.
In those years, Morsell’s mentality took shape. Sharing the court with older players helps foster a certain level of maturity, one that, when coupled with Baltimore’s physical brand of basketball, creates a sort of resolve for younger athletes.
“[It’s] toughness, that’s all I can say,” Mathis said in March. “We just [bred] different … Baltimore basketball is [some] of the best basketball in the country.”
Morsell has brought that physical toughness to College Park since he arrived, establishing himself as one of the best defenders in the Big Ten.
But it’s those mental tools that stand out to Turgeon, tools rooted in Baltimore’s basketball culture that have only sharpened under his tutelage.
“All the players know that he really, truly cares about them,” Turgeon said. “His leadership has been great.”
Often, it’s Morsell’s voice that rings loudest along the Xfinity Center walls during practices, his competitive spirit fueling him and his teammates. It can make for some terse encounters at times, Turgeon said.
But, these traits have also made Morsell such an integral piece of Turgeon’s squad over the past three seasons. They were evident on Feb. 26 when the then-junior, a career 27.2 percent three-point shooter, sank a game-winner from five feet beyond the three-point line to lift the Terps over Minnesota, 74-73.
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And they’re evident now, nine months later. This time, Morsell is looking to lead a squad that saw its two best players — along with three more rotation pieces — depart over the offseason; a team that enters this season with more questions than answers for the first time in a while under Turgeon.
Now, Morsell is the mentor, looking to impart wisdom on Maryland’s youth — just as those older players did for him back in Baltimore.
And the early signs are promising.
“Darryl’s been a big inspiration to me,” guard Marcus Dockery said. “Starting off in the first workout just to … work extremely hard and to not focus on any of the errors you make but to focus on doing better the next play.”
When he takes the Xfinity court as a senior, Morsell will be representing more than just his team or his family. He’ll be carrying the legacy of Baltimore, a city of joy; a place bursting with energy and delight — and a passion for basketball unlike any other.
“It’s a great feeling,” Morsell said. “Usually, all the media, all the publicity Baltimore gets is bad stuff … It’s great to promote some positivity out of that city.”