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Morris, Walsh guardedly optimistic at St. Viator
By Marty Maciaszek | Daily Herald Columnist

St. Viator guards Kevin Walsh, left, and D.J. Morris with new head coach Mike Howland.


JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

St. Viator guards Kevin Walsh, left, and D.J. Morris with new head coach Mike Howland.


JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

St. Viator guards Kevin Walsh, left, and D.J. Morris with new head coach Mike Howland.


JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

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Published: 11/17/2011 11:10 PM

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D.J. Morris and Kevin Walsh weren't blinded by individual success.

Each of them ended up with Daily Herald All-Area boys basketball honors in their first varsity seasons with St. Viator. But they also understand why the team faded from an 8-1 start to a 14-13 finish.

"Maybe inexperience had something to do with it," said the sweet-shooting Walsh, who averaged 12.6 points and hit 40 3-pointers. "We kind of stopped playing together and lost what we did the first seven games or so. We got it back a little bit toward the end but it was hard to switch gears.

"We've preached being there for each other and sticking together."

That was something Morris said was missing and went along with times were shots were missing more often than making their way in the basket.

"Everyone is capable and we're all really talented," said Morris, who ran the point and averaged 14 points and 3 assists and hit 59 3s. "Everyone can score but we have to stay together when it gets hard.

"Last year we went into a little slump and instead of sticking together when we needed it most, it became 'I have to do this' instead of 'we have to do this.' "

"It wasn't being selfish. It was everyone trying to do it by themselves for the team instead of sticking together for the team."

Now Morris and Walsh know it's their time to lead the way in that regard. Especially as the centerpieces for a talented team that has plenty of experience but also a group of underclassmen who will play important roles.

And new head coach Mike Howland, who understands the balancing act they have as well as anyone, likes what he's seen.

"Especially those two, they have taken the younger guys under their wing and made them part of the group," said Howland, a two-time all-area point guard on Viator teams that went 39-15 and won the school's only varsity boys basketball conference title in 1997. "We talked a lot about player leadership. Not just by example but vocal leadership as well.

"At times last year they lacked that and they knew they had to step up."

To the point where Morris joked he's now screaming all the time in an entirely different game of hoarse.

"In the spring and summer we played together a lot and were developing our chemistry for each other," Walsh said. "D.J. looks better and better and has a better grasp of being a leader. He's doing a good job of leading the team as a point guard."

It doesn't hurt to follow the orders of one of the area's more accomplished point guards. Howland said Morris has done a great job of understanding when it's his turn to score and when it's time for others to get their opportunities.

"Last year we weren't really as jelled together as we could have been," Morris said. "This year's team has done a lot of stuff together.

"In the summer we spent a lot of time together and everything was flowing together a lot easier. We were getting used to each other and knowing what each other is thinking."

It doesn't hurt that these are roles Morris and Walsh have grown accustomed to through the years.

Morris always considered himself a pass-first, defensive-minded point guard who made major improvements with his shooting before he joined the varsity.

Walsh worked hard on his shooting through the years to develop consistency. But he also worked in the off-season to be another ballhandling option at times.

Both of them also hit the weights to be better prepared for the rigors of the East Suburban Catholic Conference. And they shouldn't feel as if they have to carry too much offensive weight this season.

"Last year at times we felt Walsh and D.J. had a lot of pressure and had to carry the team at times," Howland said. "This year we can put five guys out there who are all capable of being that guy."

Both players have received Division II and III interest and are solid students. Walsh scored 33 on the ACT and wants to study business and Morris has a grade-point average in the 3.5 range on a 4.0 scale and wants to study sports medicine or athletic training.

But the big thing they would like to do is recreate what they watched as sophomores when Viator made a historic run to the Class 3A supersectional.

"I'd love to get a little more excitement going," Morris said.

Walsh and Morris make it a definite possibility.