Winding road leads Jesse Morgan to help Owls take flight

Listen

For the first few possessions, the giant scoreboard inside the Liacouras Center displayed two big zeros.

Neither Temple University nor the University of Houston had sunk a shot during this Thursday night conference matchup in Philadelphia.

Enter Jesse Morgan, the Owls’ starting two-guard.

He raises up behind the three-point line.

Swoosh.

The next possession: different spot. Same result.

Another three. Nothing but net.

Timeout Houston.

The Owls went on to win the game 66-54, keeping their season loss column in the single digits and their NCAA tournament hopes alive.

Morgan’s college basketball career wasn’t always this sweet. He’s making the most out of a second chance.

After graduating from Olney High School in Philadelphia, the now 23 year-old headed to the University of Massachusetts.

His time there was a bit tumultuous, particularly his junior year.

That’s when an ACL tear sidelined him for the season.

And, when he left UMass after the school reportedly asked him to withdraw for disciplinary reasons.

Playing for the home team

These days, Morgan doesn’t like to talk much about his time in Amherst.

“It didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, so I came home to play for Temple,” he said.

He’s happy – and grateful – he did, even if it meant waiting more than a season to don his No. 3 jersey.

“It’s been easy to play with these guys. They welcome you with open arms,” said Morgan.

Per NCAA rules, all transfers must sit out a season before competing for their new school.

Temple tried to get a waiver for Morgan so he could play sooner, but that was denied.

For someone eager to put the past behind him, it was frustrating.

Basketball is his sanctuary, his “best friend.”

“It helps me when I’m feeling down or upset. You can always come here, just put some shots up, work out. So basketball is a savior for me. It helps me keep my composure, and I can block everything out,” said Morgan.

Before this season, Morgan had one semester left of eligibility. Typically, that means the first semester – the one that doesn’t include postseason play.

Temple again appealed to the NCAA.

This time, the school won. Morgan would get to choose which semester he played.

It was an easy decision and a joyous moment.

Setting an example

“Just to get back on the court is to show people that I take this serious, I take basketball serious, I take college serious and you know I want to do something positive with my life,” said Morgan.

And, be a role model.

“I’ve got nieces and nephews, and I wanted to show them that you can do it, you can do the same things I did. You don’t have to be perfect, and you can do the same things that I’ve done and even more,” he said.

Morgan has been an important part of Temple’s turnaround this season.

The Owls were 6-4 through the squad’s first 10 games – before he started playing.

They’ve gone 16-5 since.

As a result, they’re on the verge of being selected for this year’s tournament.

The 68-team field will be set this Sunday.

Morgan has never suited up for the Big Dance.

Of course, he’d love to.

“My birthday is in March. It would be a great birthday gift,” said Morgan.

Still, he won’t be crushed if it doesn’t happen.

His college career certainly hasn’t turned out the way he pictured it. But it’s by no means been a bust.

Not by a long shot.

“Just being able to have this experience, the things that I’ve been through, the mistakes that I made, and just to still be able to be here and compete for a national championship, hopefully, is something that I can’t describe,” said Morgan.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.