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Emerging from the Shadows
The following article was first featured in the November edition of Flames Illustrated. Dymond Morgan is averaging 5.8 ppg for the Lady Flames, whose next game is slated for Dec. 18 at North Carolina Central.
About 18 years ago, 3-year-old Dymond Morgan picked up a basketball for the first time. The curious infant began bouncing the ball, and refused to let anyone take it away from her.
Today, the Liberty senior can't recall the exact circumstances surrounding her first experience with the sport. She just remembers having an urge to bounce the ball. "I didn't know it was supposed to go in a hoop, and I didn't know you were supposed to pass it to other people," Morgan remembers with a laugh. "I just knew I wanted to bounce it."
Eventually, Morgan did learn the rules, joining a recreation team at a young age. As she got older, basketball was her escape. "I've been through a lot, and basketball was always an outlet for me," she explains. And now, Morgan is poised to become this year's starting point guard for the Lady Flames. It's a position she's ready for.
Morgan transferred to Liberty out of Midland College, a junior college program in California that finished fifth nationally during her first year. After helping her team to a NJCAA Region 5 Championship as a sophomore, Morgan sparked the interest from Division I coaches across the nation. One of those coaches was Liberty's Carey Green.
After offers from other schools didn't come, Morgan made the spontaneous decision to commit to Liberty, even though she had never visited the campus. In fact, the California girl had never even heard of Liberty, or Lynchburg.
When she did finally step into the Vines Center for the first time, meeting teammates Amber Mays, Avery Warley and Devon Brown, she knew she had made the right decision.
"We just clicked," she said of her teammates. "I didn't know anything about the school, but I just wanted to play basketball."
During her first season, 2009-10, she primarily served as a backup for starting point guard Mays. She averaged the most minutes played out of all the Liberty reserves in the guard position, posting 16.4 minutes per game. Coach Green would bring her in when the team was in need of a defensive spark, and Morgan proved herself beyond that. She also showed her ability to score, especially with her season-high 13 points against High Point in the semifinals of the 2010 Big South Championship.
This year, however, she'll be expected to do more. And she's ready to take on the challenge.
"My role this year is different because I am a senior and a captain," Morgan said. "There is a weight on my shoulders and I have to lead by example, and show my team that I can lead them. That's a challenge for me. I love my teammates and a lot of them look up to me, so I really want to set a good example."
Liberty assistant coach Andy Bloodworth has enjoyed seeing Morgan progress, and is looking forward to watching her help lead this year's squad.
"Dymond's strengths on the floor are her physical strength and her athleticism, which have helped her become a great defender," commented Bloodworth. "Her desire to compete and be the best that she can be, as well as her fun-loving personality, are assets to our 2010-11 team."
As an individual, Morgan is feeling the pressure to perform in her new role. "I am nervous," she admits. "But as soon as I get out on the court, as soon as the ball goes up, all of that goes away. I just have to work on myself and continue to get better any way I can. "
As a team, the Lady Flames are picked to finish No. 1 in the Big South, and are ranked No. 8 in the first-ever CollegeInsider.com Women's Mid-Major Top 25 poll. But Morgan says those numbers aren't something the team focuses on. "We don't care about that," she says about other Big South teams gunning for them. "We just take it one game at a time, one practice at a time. We're concentrating on getting to our goal, which is winning and becoming a better team."
Also, Morgan has no doubt that the Lady Flames are ready to compete. "Everybody's mindset is the same," she said.
With the experience of being part of last year's Big South champion squad, Morgan says that feeling helps encourage her to get better. But her main source of motivation isn't a feeling, it's a person: her niece, five-year-old Symone Baptiste. Being an aunt is something that brings Morgan a lot of joy, and she talks to Symone regularly.
"She's like me," Morgan said, smiling. "She's a little Dymond. She wants to learn, she's energetic, and when I look at her, I see me."
Symone suffers from seizures, and there have been times where Morgan and her family thought she might lose her life. But Morgan strives to be someone the youngster can look up to, and thinks about her often before heading out onto the court.
While Symone helps motivate her, Morgan lists her mother, Devona Steward, as the most influential person in her life. "She's very strong," Morgan said. "She's been through a lot, and I've never seen her cry." Her mom hasn't been able to see Morgan in action at Liberty yet, but plans are in motion for her to be present on Senior Night at the Vines Center, March 7 against Presbyterian College.
Even Morgan relies on thoughts of her loved ones to put her in the right mindset to compete, she also takes pride in her ability to motivate herself, as well as her teammates.
"Dymond has contagious charisma," said Liberty Senior Woman Administrator Meredith Eaker. "No matter what situation she is facing on any given day, she always makes room for laughter."
And as she emerges from the shadows to try and lead her team to its fourth straight Big South title, the self-professed "silly girl" will do her best to help everyone shine. With her positive outlook and infectious energy, she shouldn't have a problem doing so.
"I try to be a motivator," she said. "I want to be that person who makes everyone smile."
Jennifer Shelton is an assistant athletics communications director for Liberty University.