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Another surprise: UM's Morris stays in draft

Late last night, Draft Express's Jonathan Givony tweeted something that caught most Michigan fans, not to mention most college hoops and draft observers, off guard:

Darius Morris has decided to keep his name in the draft and will not be returning to Michigan, according to a source close to the situation.

According to a news release from Michigan's athletics communication staff, that decision is now official:

University of Michigan sophomore guard Darius Morris (Los Angeles, Calif./Windward HS) has decided to forego the remainder of his college eligibility and remain as an early entry for the 2011 NBA Draft.

"There have been long discussions with my family, friends and my Michigan coaches," said Morris. "After gathering all the information possible, I have decided to stay in the NBA Draft and pursue my dream of playing professional basketball."

Here we were, describing how surprising Terrence Jennings and Iman Shumpert's decisions were. But this might be the most surprising early entry decision of them all.

It's not that Morris isn't very talented. He is. What makes this so surprising how quickly Morris made the transition that put him in this position. In the course of a few months, Morris has gone from "unknown sophomore guard on a seemingly bad team" to "quietly impressive, efficient player that could be a year away from a huge leap" to "just-this-close Duke dropper" to "potential NBA prospect." That path takes some players years. It took Morris exactly 35 games.

To say this metamorphosis flies in the face of what many expected is an understatement. The Michigan guard raised eyebrows the minute he declared for the 2011 NBA draft. Curious bemusement greeted the decision: "Oh, he's just testing the waters. No chance he actually stays in, right?" At that point, Morris was widely considered a second-round pick. He's improved that stock in recent weeks; Morris currently listed as a first-round bubble pick by ESPN's Chad Ford, ranked No. 32 on Ford's listInsider of NBA prospects.

Still, just Tuesday Ford wrote a columnInsider giving advice to the still-undecided underclassmen based on what he's hearing from NBA scouts. His advice to Morris? Go back to school.

There may be something to Morris' potential decision. After all, he was as good a distributor as there was in college hoops last season. Morris ranked third in the nation in assist rate, became Michigan's all-time single-season leader in assists, and notched only the third triple-double in the school's history in the process. Dude can play.

The problem is that the evolution, or at least its accompanying perception, appears to have happened even faster in Morris' world. If he continues on this path, he should be an NBA guard in at least some capacity. But it's hard to say he couldn't have used another, even more impressive year in school on the way to lottery status in the summer of 2012.

That was the hope of revitalized Michigan fans everywhere. Instead, the Wolverines will lose their best player and primary ballhandler, and while there is still young talent in this backcourt -- most notably Tim Hardaway Jr., who exceeded all expectations in his freshman season -- Morris' departure does rob John Beilein's team of momentum after 2011's surprising run to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Ultimately, it's another surprising decision from a player many expected to return for another season. Will others follow Morris' lead? How many seemingly borderline players will this overstocked draft retain?

In any case, if the best advice you can give to a college player considering the NBA leap is to sell high, then Morris' decision to leave after a strong sophomore year makes sense. But it's hard to imagine he couldn't have sold much higher in just a year's time.