DALLAS (AP) — Alexis Morris will finish her college career playing in a national championship game for Kim Mulkey, the coach who five years ago kicked the standout guard off another team.
For Morris, it has been quite a journey of growth and maturation from her freshman season at Baylor and through two other programs before a reunion with Mulkey at LSU that will end on the biggest stage.
“Every player just has that coach that’s for them. Coach Mulkey, she’s my coach,” Morris said Saturday, a day before the Tigers play Iowa. “I asked God, if you ever gave the opportunity (to play for her again), I will never waste that. I will literally maximize it, maximize the opportunity, and that’s what you’re witnessing.”
Morris had 27 points in the national semifinal game Friday night, when the Tigers beat top-seeded Virginia Tech 79-72 to advance to the school’s first national championship game in basketball — for women or men.
Mulkey has known Morris since she was a seventh-grader at a private school in Beaumont, Texas. It was a difficult decision to dismiss her from Baylor's team in September 2018 after what was called an unspecified violation of team rules. The school didn't offer any details then and they haven never been detailed publicly by Mulkey or Morris, though the player does accept responsibility for what she called a “youthful mistake.”
That came just weeks before the Bears opened their season that ended with Mulkey's third national championship.
“Just a coach decision, one of those tough ones you have to make. But it wasn't like you didn't love her,” Mulkey said at this Final Four. “It was the right decision. Not just for my team at Baylor at the time, it was the right decision for that young lady.”
After Morris transferred to Rutgers, NJ Advance Media obtained police records that showed she was arrested by Texas State University police for allegedly assaulting another woman inside a dormitory on the San Marcus campus. That was two days before Morris was dismissed by Baylor.
Morris spent nearly two years at Rutgers, but played only seven games because of transfer rules and injuries before taking advantage of the NCAA waiver of transfer rules during the pandemic. She went to Texas A&M for a season before reaching out two years ago to Mulkey, who had left Baylor after 21 seasons to return home to Louisiana.
“Just come on, I’m waiting for you," was the response Morris got from the coach.
“She has owned her mistakes and is a better person because of it," Mulkey said. “Now she’s being rewarded.”
Mulkey said Morris told her she needed discipline, tough love and direction.
“I remember playing with coach Mulkey my freshman year and how she pushed me in the things that she had, the standards, the expectations that she had in place, like the organization, the structure, like being on time,” Morris said. “I was just so youthful and didn’t understand at the time. As you grow and you you go through life, you you find the things that you need, and not necessarily want.”
Between Rutgers and Texas A&M, Morris spent a few months with a friend in Reno, Nevada, where she would go to a park every morning to stay in shape physically and mentally.
“At one point, I didn’t know if I wanted to play basketball no more, but something in me, that was just the mental, the mental breaking down," she said. "But physically, I was so used to being in a routine, like I couldn’t just wake up and not pick up a ball. This is what I’ve been doing my whole life.”
It was on one of those days in Nevada that she said she sat in a car and had a conversation with God about what she would do if given the chance to reunite with Mulkey.
“She’s been through everything. You admire what she does. She’s the comeback kid,” Tigers teammate Angel Reese said. “She came back from everything and she’s done everything they said she couldn’t do.”
AP coverage of March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25