Above: What’s in a number? A lot says the Morris family. Pictured after Masen’s recent game at Salesianum are ( l-r): Masen, Tiana, Maia and Larry.
By Kevin Noonan
Photos by Lindsay Rudney duPhily
This is a story about a basketball family, with emphasis on family — three generations of it.
Larry Morris is the patriarch of that family, and he’s been a pillar of his community for years, mostly working with kids. He’s spent his life making Wilmington — especially inner-city Wilmington — a better place to live. He was so effective at that, then-congressman John Carney recruited him to be his director of constituent affairs, and when Carney became governor, Morris became his community liaison, a position he held until he retired in 2019.
Morris, now in his early 70s, also served two terms as president of the Wilmington chapter of the NAACP and he’s won too-many-to-count awards and honors for his work in the community.
But as much as he loves his community, his family is the most important thing in his life. And even though he wasn’t much of a basketball player as a youth, Morris loved the game and worked at it and became a decent player and even better coach. He passed that love to his daughter, who passed it on to her children.
And even though you can’t measure love with statistics, in this case you can put a number on it — 12.
That was the jersey number worn in the mid-1990s by Tiana Morris, Larry Morris’ daughter. She played at Alexis I. du Pont High, where she was a team captain and scored more than 1,000 points. She also wore No. 12 when she played at Wilmington University.
And No. 12 lives on with the next generation – her daughter, Maia, wore it at Caravel Academy and her son, Masen, currently wears it for St. Elizabeth Middle School. According to his proud Pop Pop, Masen will play varsity basketball at St. Elizabeth High next year as a ninth-grader.
Wearing that No. 12 is a tradition fostered by love of family, as well as some interior decorating by an unlikely source.
“Tiana had such a great career at A.I. and I was so proud of her, so when she was a senior I took a picture of her jersey and had it framed and hung it on the wall,” Larry Morris says. “So, her kids saw it all of the time, Tiana’s A.I. jersey with the No. 12, and I know Tiana was really touched when Maia and then Masen decided they wanted to wear No. 12, too.
“It makes me proud because they think so much of their mother that they want to follow in her footsteps in the game of basketball. That’s what family is all about, that love and respect for each other.”
Still, even in families that love and respect each other, children don’t always want to follow the same paths as their parents and older siblings. In fact, they often go in the opposite direction to create their own identities. And to the Morris clan, that’s what makes No. 12 so special.
Tiana Morris, who started all of this, says there was no special reason she initially chose No. 12. At the time, she was an eighth-grader on A.I. du Pont’s varsity team, which meant she was the low girl on the totem pole when it came to choosing numbers. So, she took 12, not knowing, of course, that she was establishing a family tradition.
“I never even considered that they would want to wear the same number that I did,” Tiana Morris says of her children. “It was a complete surprise when Maia told me she wanted to wear No. 12. When she chose it, of course, I went through the roof.
“And I was really surprised when Masen wanted to wear it, too. He’s a boy, so I’m not as close to him as I was to Maia when it comes to talking about those kinds of things. And he was a big Kobe fan, so I was surprised when he ended up choosing 12 instead of 8 or 24 [Kobe Bryant’s numbers with the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA].”
Masen Morris says he picked No. 12 because of his mother. “She made it stand out,” he says. “And it looks good.”
It makes him look good, and it makes his mother feel good.
“When your children do something like this, it makes you think that you must have done something right when you raised them,” Tiana Morris says with a laugh. “And the best part is that they both did this completely on their own. It’s very special to me and, really, to our entire family.”
Speaking of the entire family — most of the Morris clan attend the kids’ different sporting events, and Masen’s games for St. Elizabeth, where he plays for coach Teddy Pankowski, are really a family affair. And even though a lot of teenagers would be embarrassed by all that attention from so many relatives — grandparents, parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces and cousins — Masen Morris says he likes looking up in the stands and seeing so many familiar faces.
“They give me energy,” he says. “It makes me go even harder for them, and I want them to feel like it was worth the drive to come see me play. It’s special, because a lot of guys don’t have that kind of support.”
So, do those family members politely sit back and cheer when No. 12 does something good on the basketball court?
“Not at all,” Masen says. “They’re always loud.”
But even though the Morris family members can be loud and enthusiastic, they’re not pushy. Larry Morris coached youth teams in Wilmington for many years — his former players include all-time Delaware greats like Terrence Stansbury, A.J. English and Devon Chambers — and he’s aware that some players lose their love of the game because of the pressures that come from family and friends.
“I’ve seen that many times, when kids get burned out on a sport and it’s no longer what it’s supposed to be, which is fun,” Larry Morris says. “And my kids and grandkids always played more than one sport, which I think is important — Maia played volleyball, basketball and lacrosse, and Masen played baseball, football, basketball and lacrosse. But we never pressured them into playing those sports. They did it because they enjoyed it, and as a parent or grandparent, that’s all you want.”
Now Masen has focused completely on basketball, which includes playing for an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team as well as his school team. He’s a 6-foot-1 (and still growing) guard, and as his mother says, “He’s a shooter — we were all shooters.”
So, expect to see a lot of Morris family members roaming around the gym at St. Elizabeth for the next several years. You’ll know who they are, because they’ll be loud and there will be a lot of them.
“I know how lucky we are, when you look around and see so many fragmented families out there,” Larry Morris says. “I have many, many blessings in my life, but that’s No. 1.”