OAKLAND, Calif. — Murray State’s electric point guard Ja Morant stole the show on the first full day of the 2019 NCAA tournament.
Not only did the sophomore leave spectators in awe with an incredible triple-double performance in anchoring an 83-64 upset victory over the fifth-seeded Marquette, he also got the attention of a fellow former mid-major star: Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry.
“What he did on Thursday, it shows you he’s ready for whatever,” Curry told Yahoo Sports. “That transition to the NBA isn’t going to be difficult at all for him.”
Morant burst onto the national scene Thursday with 17 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds. He displayed supreme athleticism, impeccable decision-making and leadership in guiding the Racers to the largest win by a No. 12 seed in nearly two decades.
Morant was the first player to secure a triple-double in the tournament since Draymond Green did it with Michigan State in 2011 and 2012. Only eight players have accomplished the feat in tournament history.
“Welcome to the elite club, brotha,” Green told Yahoo Sports when asked what he would tell Morant. “That’s all I’ve got to say. That was my first time watching him play and he’s for real.”
The 19-year-old was already projected to be a top-five pick in June’s NBA Draft before the tournament, but because he played in the Ohio Valley Conference, his exposure was limited — until now.
“From what I’ve seen, he’s a beast,” Curry told Yahoo Sports. “He’s athletic, knows how to play, he’s fearless and he shows up for big games even though everybody knows he’s coming. That speaks volumes about his game.”
Curry, who led Golden State to a 112-89 win over the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night, is all too familiar with Morant’s trajectory.
As a sophomore in 2008, the two-time NBA MVP spearheaded a run that pushed Davidson to the Elite Eight and became only the fourth player in history to score 30 or more points in his first four NCAA tournament games.
He was the first player since 1994 to be named a regional Most Outstanding Player despite failing to reach the Final Four. Curry declared for the draft the next year and was drafted seventh overall by the Warriors.
“To be honest, I feel like in this day and age, I don’t know what the difference is now versus when I played in a mid-major,” Curry told Yahoo Sports. “I don’t know what their schedule was like earlier in the season, and I don’t know if they played some heavy hitters, but it doesn't even matter. If you can play, you can play. Damian Lillard at Weber State was like that as well.
“I’m sure the tournament is the first time most people get to see Ja. There’s no preparation for it because in the tournament, everybody wants to play in it, but it hits you in the face with the attention and the adrenaline rush. It’s a small window where everybody’s eyeballs are all on you and you can surprise a lot of people. But the biggest thing for me is I had the confidence going in and it sets you up to be ready for that moment.”
Morant averaged 24.6 points, 10 assists and 5.5 rebounds this season, and it appears that playing against bigger schools in front of massive audiences isn’t going to subtract from those numbers. In short, the 6-foot-3 guard is the truth.
As for the rest of Morant’s tournament journey, Curry shared some sage advice.
“Just be yourself,” Curry told Yahoo Sports. “You don’t have to do anything special. Whatever you’ve been doing, continue. The spotlight is just a little brighter. Don’t change it up, which obviously he’s off to a good start in that respect. But it’s the best time of your life. Playing for your school, trying to do special things, knowing most likely it’s your last run playing in college. It’s one of the best moments. Even when I see that red [Davidson] jersey pop up with me in it, it always brings me back to how cool it was. So, embrace it and enjoy it because it goes by quick.”
Murray State will take on Florida State in the second round on Saturday.
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