After four knee surgeries, junior guard Reese Morgan has continued to follow his dream of playing Division I basketball. | Ian Billings/Mustang News

Erik Chu
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Reese Morgan studied the long, threadlike scars that formed a circle around his left knee. After four surgeries, he hadn’t been able to bend his knee more than a few inches.

Morgan simply shook his head and smiled. Now, the redshirt junior guard is finally healthy and a key member of an NCAA Tournament-caliber team.

“It’s been a hell of a ride.”

It certainly has been a long journey for Morgan, and an up-and-down one to say the least.

The 6-foot-3 guard dominated the prep ranks at Peninsula High School in San Pedro, California, accumulating nearly 2,500 points in his career. In his senior year, he averaged an astounding 27.3 points and seven rebounds per game and earned fourth-team Parade All-American honors.

However, it was in high school that Morgan first dealt with the heartbreak of injuries. In his sophomore season at Peninsula, he tore a ligament and cartilage in his left knee.

“My first knee surgery and the rehab was so painful because it was the first time,” Morgan said. “To have something you love so much taken away from you for months broke my heart, but I knew I could come back.”

The injury ultimately convinced Morgan to work more on his outside shot instead of forcing his will into contact among the forwards and centers.

With a much more complete game, Morgan attracted national attention and became known for his shooting. Morgan was described as “one of the elite shooters in the country,” according to

Cal Poly men’s basketball head coach Joe Callero took notice.

“His ability to score really impressed me,” Callero said. “I remember going to one of his games his senior year and he was wearing this really clunky brace on his knee. Yet, he was still able to beat his defender and make it to the free-throw line using pump fakes and cuts. He used his injuries to develop a game that doesn’t rely on athleticism, but rather on his intelligence and craftiness.”

Cal Poly was one of the first schools to offer Morgan a scholarship — he committed to Callero’s program even before his breakout senior year.

With a coach who believed in him, Morgan was excited for his new beginning at Cal Poly.

His true freshman season, though, would end prematurely.

In a pre-season game, Morgan injured his left knee again. He suffered a torn meniscus, ending his true freshman year before registering a single regular season minute. That summer while rehabbing, Morgan re-tore his left meniscus. The injury required surgery, the third operation on the same knee.

Morgan completed his comeback his redshirt freshman year when he went off against UC Santa Barbara, dropping a career-high 26 points, including seven 3-pointers, against the rival Gauchos.

The hard work Morgan put into his recovery began to pay off.

Despite the success of the 2012-13 campaign, his body couldn’t handle the wear and tear of a full NCAA season. He played all 32 games, but the knee was still in the back of his mind.

“Not playing for such a long time takes such a mental toll on you,” Morgan said. “Every once in a while, I’ll have a lack of confidence in my knee. Sometimes I’m weary of whether or not I’m still able to make the plays I used to make.”

The left knee would require another procedure, his fourth surgery.

Once again facing months of difficult rehabilitation, Morgan had the option to take a second redshirt. This would require Morgan the leave Cal Poly and find a different school, an option he wasn’t interested in.

Despite not being at 100 percent, Morgan would end up playing toward the end of conference play last season to preserve his eligibility. He played sparingly, but the time back on the court allowed him to get in a rhythm.

Morgan would prove to be a vital part of Cal Poly’s magical Big West and NCAA Tournament run in 2014.

In Cal Poly’s First Four victory against Texas Southern in the Big Dance, the program’s first and only NCAA Tournament victory, Morgan added nine points on three 3-pointers in only 10 minutes of action.

“That was the moment I was working for my entire life,” Morgan said of his success on the big stage. “I was really confident out there and it felt so good being able to help my team out.”

This past summer, Morgan continued to gain more confidence in his knee and began to feel more comfortable out on the court. More importantly, it was the first offseason he remained healthy.

“It was a really big summer for me to get through and feel good enough to get ready for this season,” Morgan said. “I’ve been working really hard to strengthen the other parts of the leg so that my knees don’t feel overwhelmed. Mentally, I’m confident.”

To alleviate the stress on his knee, Morgan received stem cell injections — the stem cells in his hip were removed and placed into his knee.

Everything has gone according to plan in the 2014-15 season thus far. Morgan has remained healthy and continues to be a reliable rotation player.

He is averaging 10 points per game and is the third-leading scorer on the team.

“Reese has had a very good season,” Callero said. “He is our sixth man and provides instant offense off the bench. He’s always aggressive and looking to attack — he’s very valuable to our team.”

The highlight of this season was a 17-point explosion on the road against San Francisco. He shot an efficient 5 of 8 from the field and hit two of his four shots from downtown.

The question that will always be asked of Reese is if he can stay healthy.

“I understand where the questions are coming from,” Morgan said. “I’ve come to terms that all the injuries that I’ve had have just been the hand that I’ve been dealt.

“Is this the way that I have wanted things to play out? No, definitely not, but basketball’s worth it to me and all I’m going to do is to try my best.”

Callero plans to limit Morgan’s workload in practice and maybe increase his playing time to 25 minutes per game now that conference play has rolled around.

“What a great story,” Callero said. “Most people would be hesitant to come back after their first surgery. Reese just has the perseverance, toughness, character and commitment that it’s amazing.”

Reese Morgan was supposed to be another story of how injuries derailed a promising career.

“I’ve been waiting for my moment my entire life,” Morgan said. “And I’m not going to let it go.”

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