Not when Tierra Morris is on the basketball court.
Game? Practice? Individual workout when no one is watching? Doesn’t matter. When basketball is involved, Collegiate’s dynamic 5-2 senior point guard brings off-the-charts fire, heart, and dedication to her sport of choice.
“That’s true,” said Rachel Lifson, her teammate the past three years. “Tee definitely brings the energy. She gets people hyped up. She makes everybody better. She’s remarkable, honestly.”
This season, Tee is averaging 14.7 points, 2.5 assists, and 2.5 steals per game for the Cougars, who are 8-3 going into tonight’s game with St. Gertrude.
During her career which began when she transferred to Collegiate as a freshman, she’s averaged 12.2 points, hit 171 3-point shots (tops in program history), dealt 202 assists, and accounted for 181 steals.
Twice an All-League of Independent Schools honoree (2016 and 2017) and second-team All-VISAA selection last year, she’s scored 975 points in the 80 games she’s played for the Cougars. Very soon, she will join Annie Hawthorne (1,562 from 2009-2015), Anna Wilson (1,213 from 2011-2015), and Dominique Meeks (1,191 from 2005-2009) in the rarefied air of the 1,000-point club.
“That’s something I’ve wanted to do,” Tee said. “I’ve always been working to get it, but I’ll be so involved in the game that I probably won’t know how many points I have left.”
With Tee, though, it’s not all about individual stats or personal acclaim. It’s about pitching in, doing her share, contributing to her team’s success, and setting a positive example.
“We like to put Tee on the other team’s point guard,” said Coach Rives Fleming. “She sets the tone for our defense. She has this little ‘sneak-steal’ thing where if they throw the ball in without paying attention, she’ll sneak up behind them and steal it.
“On offense, she’s learned that some people can catch the behind-the-back pass and some can’t, that she can hit some people in stride and some need to have two dribbles before they score. She’s great about adjusting to different players.
“She plays with a lot of flair and style, but not in a showy way. Her strength is that she pulls the other kids up.”
Tee, who’s committed to Gettysburg College, got her first taste of basketball as a second grader at Goochland Elementary School when she joined a boys’ “parks and rec” team. The guys cut her no slack. Her skills often surpassed theirs. She saw the floor well. She never seemed to tire. Then as now, she could dribble through defenders and “thread the needle” with her passes. She reveled in the competition and the challenge.
At home, she enjoyed watching her older brother (Cory Johnson) and cousin (Mark Sampson Jr.) play pickup basketball (wooden backboard, chain net) on the asphalt slab in the driveway.
“It looked like fun,” she said, “but they wouldn’t let me play because I was too small and they didn’t want me to get hurt. They would let me play H-O-R-S-E. When I was about 10, they let me play in an actual game.”
As her love for hoops intensified, she suited up for Goochland Middle School and played for a couple of AAU squads, including the elite Cap City Ballerz where she competed with the region’s best.
“In her first open gym, we recognized that Tee had great ball handling and shooting skills,” said Fleming, who has headed Collegiate’s girls’ basketball program since 1997. “That year,
we had some strong players, and Tee came in and challenged them at their level, which was great. Since then, she’s been the focal point.”
One recent afternoon, I invited Tee to share her thoughts about Collegiate and her basketball career. What I found was a young woman who speaks confidently but humbly and without pretense. There was no brag, just fact. She has a brand – quick, fast, athletic, intentional – but she speaks of her skills and accomplishments only when questioned. Her brand, you might say, speaks for itself.
How have you improved over the four years?
I think my (basketball) IQ has developed. I’m able to see the floor better and make better passes, look out for teammates and help them score. Bringing together everybody as a team.
Talk about your evolving leadership role.
Over the years, you learn from other people. You learn about the game. You have the ability to show younger players where they need to be on the court and show them good sportsmanship.
You play a high-risk position in an emotional, fast-paced sport, yet nothing seems to faze you. How do you remain so unflappable?
She pauses. She smiles.
I guess that’s the kind of person I am. We all make mistakes. You have to make mistakes in order to get better and learn. You just have to keep moving.
How would you like to be remembered?
I’d like people to recognize me as a leader, hustling on the court, helping my team out, pushing my teammates to the best of their ability so we can win, and even if we don’t, showing them that you never get down on yourself. It’s a lesson to learn from.
And as a classmate?
As somebody who doesn’t talk much but is always listening and has an open ear. And as that girl with a smile on her face.
-- Weldon Bradshaw
(UPDATE: Tee surpassed the 1,000-point mark in the Cougars' 45-35 victory over Bishop Sullivan Friday, January 19.)