After a non-conference season with more losses than wins, the Seattle University men’s basketball team begins anew with the start of Western Athletic Conference play, beginning Thursday at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Senior guard Morgan Means, a constant for the Redhawks through four seasons and two coaches, is determined to make the most of it.
“It hasn’t really hit me that it’s my last year yet, but I’m trying to do everything I can to make this year memorable and special,” he said.
The level of competition in the WAC certainly won’t intimidate the Redhawks (7-8), not after playing games at Syracuse, Mississippi, Washington and Saint Mary’s.
The 6-foot-3 Means, who can play point guard and shooting guard, does a little bit of everything. That was on display in the Redhawks’ 79-57 win over Long Beach State on Dec. 23 when he had 12 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. He had 11 points, six rebounds and six assists in Saturday’s 84-58 loss at Saint Mary’s.
He shot .500 from the field in those two games, breaking a seasonlong shooting slump.
“For us to have a great conference season, we’re going to need Morgan to have a great conference season,” Seattle U coach Jim Hayford said.
In his family, it’s no surprise he ended up as a college basketball player. His mother Dana played college basketball at Fresno State; his father Kelvin played basketball at San Diego before becoming a football player; and older brother Devin recently finished a good career at Cal State Los Angeles.
“My mom was my basketball coach all the way through middle school,” Morgan Means said. “(The family) was outside playing basketball all the time. We would play shooting games against each other and my mom would always win.”
Then-Redhawks coach Cameron Dollar recruited Means out of Redondo Union High School in Southern California. Means was a team captain as senior and averaged 12.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists while leading his team to a 28-7 record.
Means became a key player for Seattle U as a freshman, starting all 29 games he played in and averaging 6.7 points. But Dollar was let go after the season, and Means wondered what that meant for him.
“When Coach Dollar left I was concerned,” Means said. “What was my future about to be like? Would I still be welcome here? But then Coach Hayford and his staff came in, and I realized it was a good fit. We really meshed well together.”
Hayford brought in several graduate transfers, including guards Jordan Hill from Wisconsin and Richaud Gittens from Weber State. Means mostly came off the bench as a sophomore, averaging 8.6 points.
“I just tried to learn,” Means said. “There were people who came in who knew more than me, who had been there before and had a lot to offer.”
Means returned to a starting role last season and was the team’s leading scorer through the first half of the season. Teams started keying on Means after injuries to several key players. It didn’t help that Means suffered a bone chip in his shooting wrist.
“I would have sat for a couple of weeks, but there was no option for that,” he said. “I’ve never been on a team where so many dudes were hurt at the same time.”
Means finished the season second on the team in scoring (14.0 points per game), first in minutes (35.4), first in steals (41 total) and second in assists (3.1).
“He was playing at a really high level last year, and then he got injured and had to play the whole conference season injured,” Hayford said. “He never complained, never made it an issue.”
This season he is tied for second in scoring (10.4), third in rebounding (5.2) and second in assists (2.9). But Means wants more from himself and his team.
“It starts with our mind-set,” he said. “When we have good energy, when we’re playing hard and we’re talking and we’re moving out there, we can be good. If we come out flat and underestimate people, we can be beat.”
Means said he is taking it upon himself to ensure the Redhawks, picked third in the WAC before the season, bring energy to every game. The ultimate goal is still out there, to get Seattle U back into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1969.
“I just want to win,” he said. “I want to make that run. I want it to be everyone’s best year, not just my own. … If we (made the NCAA tournament), that would be special. I have memories that I’ll never forget, but that is something I would tell my grandkids about.”
No matter what, Means has no regrets coming to Seattle U. Means, a communications major, was on the All-WAC academic team last year. Taking school seriously is not optional in his family, with his mom a middle-school principal and his father an assistant principal at an elementary school.
Just as important are the relationships he formed.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to be around,” he said. “I owe a lot to Coach Dollar for getting me here, and I owe a lot to Coach Hayford for trusting me these years.”
Means, of course, earned that trust.
“Morgan is a really good basketball player, but the best thing about Morgan is who is and how he carries himself as a man,” Hayford said. “He’s just a mature young man, and he does things the right way.”