#STINGDAILY: At Last

Oct. 7, 2012

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

Anthony Morrow and Isma’il Muhammad had only one season together as teammates at Georgia Tech.

While 2004-05 was enough for Morrow, an incoming freshman, and Muhammad, a senior, to form an unbreakable bond, it wasn’t nearly enough time playing together.

They’ve constantly played and worked out during summers past in Atlanta, but have never had the opportunity to play together professionally — until now.

Fittingly that chance has come with the Atlanta Hawks.

Morrow and Muhammad played their first professional game as teammates Sunday afternoon at Philips Arena, when the Hawks hosted the Miami Heat in Atlanta’s exhibition opener.

“It’s funny how things turn out,” said Morrow. “It’s just great to have him around. He’s always been somebody that could push me. He’s still pushing me in training camp. I’m really proud of him and I know he’s proud of me.”

Morrow, 27, a 6-5 two-guard, played four years at Tech (2004-2008) then, after going undrafted, signed with the Golden State Warriors. He had an immediate impact, becoming the first rookie to lead the league in three-point shooting. In a way, he’d simply picked up where he left off on the Flats, where he ranked third all-time in three-point shooting (258 three-pointers made) — he also left as the school’s top career free throw shooter (.867).

After one more season in Golden State, he was traded to New Jersey (now Brooklyn), where he played the past two seasons before being acquired in the July 11th trade that sent Joe Johnson North.

Muhammad, 28, took a more circuitous route to get to his hometown team, getting assigned to Atlanta’s training camp roster on Oct. 3.

Like Morrow, Muhammad went undrafted following his four years at Tech (2001-2005). After leaving school, he required surgery to repair his right knee, which slowed him during the magical 2004 NCAA Tournament run and hindered him throughout his senior season.

The procedure took away much of the explosiveness from the 6-6 forward, whose thunderous dunks made him a regular on nightly highlight shows. Regaining his form led him to play professionally in such faraway places as Iceland, France, Saudi Arabia, Colombia, New Zealand and Venezuela.

But he never lost hope and found a bright side to his travels.

“It’s been great to keep my career going, playing basketball, which is a sport I love,” he said. “It was frustrating that when I first came out of Tech I ended up having knee surgery and I was out a couple of years. It’s been a battle ever since then. I lost all my athleticism, but I ended up getting that back eventually. Getting to see the world and getting paid for it is a good thing.”

Another good thing happened on Oct. 3, when Muhammad earned an invite to Hawks camp, giving him the opportunity to be reunited with Morrow, for as long as he sticks.

“When I found out, I let him know that I’d be joining him,” Muhammad said. “We’re still good friends, so it’s good to experience this with someone from Tech. It is a good situation because I’m from here, Atlanta is still my home during the off-season. My family’s here. It would be great if I could get on the team.”

Regardless of how far apart their pro leagues took them, Morrow and Muhammad were bound by 2004-05 on the Flats.

Tech was coming off its appearance in the championship game of the NCAA Tournament and the 2004-05 team carried over some of that magic.

Led by the back court of Jarrett Jack and Will Bynum, both still playing in the NBA, center Luke Schenscher, who is playing professionally overseas, B.J. Elder, a recent graduate from Tech, who had been playing in Italy, Muhammad and Morrow, the Jackets jumped out to an 11-2 start and were ranked No. 3 in the country for five of the first six weeks of the season. But injuries eventually took their toll and the Jackets finished 20-12, 8-8 in ACC play, but saved one more great performance for postseason.

They beat Virginia Tech in the first round of the ACC Tournament, then were led by Bynum’s career-high 35 points to upend top-seeded North Carolina, 78-75, in the Tournament semifinals. Tech would be the last team to beat the Tar Heels, who were on their way to an NCAA Championship. Tech fell to Duke in the ACC Tournament Final.

In the NCAAs, the Jackets topped George Washington in the first round before losing to Louisville, which was bound for the Final Four.

The season ended sooner than the Jackets wanted, but Morrow and Muhammad have not forgotten beating North Carolina, the nation’s second-ranked team.

“Man, any time we beat Duke and Carolina, those are the games I always mention to all my friends back home because I’m from North Carolina,” said Morrow.

“I talk to Anthony, Jarrett Jack, B.J. Elder, all these guys,” said Muhammad. “They’ve all had great careers in the NBA and overseas, but they always say their favorite time was their time at Georgia Tech, beating the Dukes and North Carolinas and big games like that.”

Morrow and Muhammad are excited to see those big games this year in brand new McCamish Pavilion.

“I walked through it. It’s unbelievable,” said Morrow. “I can’t wait to go to some Tech games this year.”

“I did see it a few weeks ago and I was blown away,” said Muhammad. “It was one of those great feelings because I still love Georgia Tech and I root for them in every sport, but at the same time, you have that little sense of, ‘Oh, I wish I could have been here for this.’ It’s a beautiful, beautiful facility and I’m sure we’re going to start landing some of those top recruits when they come on campus and see that facility.”

Both also have high marks for head coach Brian Gregory, who replaced Paul Hewitt, the coach for whom both played.

“I really respect [Gregory],” Morrow said. “I’ve sat in on some practices. He’s a great coach from what I’ve seen. I really like the fact, and I think I speak for everybody, that he’s bringing a lot of the older guys back to kind of bring the tradition back. That’s something that I think was missing. I applaud him for that.”

“I love the direction he’s going,” agreed Muhammad, a lifetime Falcons fan who sat with Gregory during the recent Atlanta Falcons-Carolina Panthers game at the Georgia Dome. “I got to spend some time with him away from basketball and I love where he’s taking the team. I think they’re going to be very, very successful in the near future.”

The duo hopes to be able to say the same thing about this year’s Hawks. They admit it’s a unique situation, with the mentoring shoe now on the other foot, with Muhammad now the student.

“I’m learning a lot from Anthony now because he has four years in the league now, so he’s a veteran,” said Muhammad. “But it’s that big brother-little brother thing. The younger brother outgrows the big brother sometimes. That’s how it is with me and Anthony now. But it’s all good.”

“[Isma’il’s] support and the way he pushed me when I was at Tech, a lot of that stuff stuck with me and put me in the position I’m in now,” said Morrow. “At the end of the day he’s still like a big brother to me. I’m praying that he makes it and we continue to keep that battle going like we did that first year at Georgia Tech.”

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