‘Neesy’ Morrow is young, but mighty and leading the NCAA

Last week, Morrow became the fourth player to have a 30-point double-double against Connecticut. The previous three, Candace Parker, Angel McCoughtry and Jackie Young, were taken first overall in their respective WNBA drafts.

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Aneesah Morrow leads the NCAA in rebounds per game and double-doubles and is the only freshman on the watch list for the John R. Wooden Award.

AP/Sam Craft

DePaul freshman forward Aneesah Morrow didn’t start playing organized basketball until she was in fifth grade, but the work started earlier.

She grew up in a house full of athletes. Between her three older siblings’ basketball schedules and that of her mom, Nafeesah, who was a coach, she couldn’t stay out of the gym — not just standing by, but getting out there and practicing.

By the time Morrow began playing, Nafeesah was coaching at Morgan Park. That was Morrow’s first taste of two-a-day practices.

“After my practices, my mom would take me to hers,” she said. “The way my mother is, she talks. So, she would be telling her players, ‘I bet you can’t score on my daughter.’ They would beat me up on the court, but it made me tougher.”

That toughness has contributed to Morrow’s historic freshman season under coach Doug Bruno. In DePaul’s season opener against Texas Southern last November, she put up 31 points, the most by a Blue Demon in her debut in 36 years.

And that game was just the beginning. With eight games left in Big East play, Morrow leads the NCAA in rebounds per game and double-doubles and is the only freshman on the watch list for the John R. Wooden Award.

Last week, Morrow became the fourth player to have a 30-point double-double against Connecticut. The previous three, Candace Parker, Angel McCoughtry and Jackie Young, were taken first overall in their respective WNBA drafts.

Morrow’s goal of playing in the WNBA is tempered by discouraging realities about player compensation.

“We know how much our bodies have to go through,” she said. “And we’re not getting paid even close to the amount as men.”

If she entered the draft after her senior season, she’d be part of the 2025 WNBA class. The current collective-bargaining agreement runs through 2027. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced a $75 million capital raise for the league this week and said she expects that to be reflected in the next round of negotiations.

But Morrow isn’t getting ahead of herself, even if others in the women’s basketball world already are anticipating her WNBA debut. Her college goals are changing constantly, and she long has preferred the unpaved road to success, starting when she was an eighth-grader.

Her reputation as a future great had spread to every South Side high school near where she grew up. But she wanted to attend Simeon, where the boys’ program has a reputation for winning championships and producing NBA prospects but the girls’ program had never won a state title.

That is, until Morrow arrived.

She led the Wolverines to their first city championship her freshman year. As a junior, she averaged 23 points, 12.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists en route to another city title and the program’s first state championship.

“I didn’t want to go to a school where history had already been made,” she said.

When she was being heavily recruited as a junior and senior, the same mentality guided her to commit to playing for Bruno. His DePaul teams have made 24 NCAA Tournaments and four Sweet 16s and have won six Big East regular-season titles and five conference tournament titles. But they have never reached a Final Four or won a national championship.

Morrow is aiming for both.

At practice, her nickname, “Neesy,” is shouted on a loop. Bruno’s teams are big on communication — the little things that he cites as the reason for his program’s success.

“No matter how good or bad we’re doing, he’s paying attention to the details,” senior guard Lexi Held said.

Despite her obvious role in the post, Morrow is a positionless player. She used to run point for her mom’s teams and at Simeon. To keep her guard skills sharp, she often spends time in the gym by herself before and after practice.

On the court, she has become known for her dominant presence. When she goes for a rebound, she moves with an agile force.

Off the court, she’s reserved, moving almost undetected in a crowd of teammates.

In the final minutes of a recent practice, this shift was especially noticeable. Morrow went from controlling the paint against a male player to bashfully greeting her teammates at halfcourt as they screamed in celebration of her 19th birthday.

Looking at what Morrow has accomplished in her first three months of college ball, it’s easy to forget she’s just getting started.

“I set my goals and say the sky is the limit every day — even in the classroom,” she said. “It’s about knowing your goals and having the belief that you can accomplish them.”

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