October 14, 2020

After Emerging as Key Player for PU Men’s Hoops, Point Guard Morales Heading to Spanish Pro League

GOING PRO: Jose Morales goes in for a layup against Columbia on March 6 in his senior season for the Princeton University men’s basketball team. Point guard Morales, a former Hun School standout who scored 261 points in his career with Princeton, is heading to play in the Spanish pro league for Agrupacion Deportiva (AD) Cantbasket 04 in Santander, Cantabria. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Jose Morales won’t be needing more leg room on his flight to Spain this month.

Few fellow passengers would guess that the 5’9, 170-pound Princeton University graduate is heading there to start his professional basketball career, but he is following his heart.

“That’s one thing I’ve wanted to do basically my whole life,” said Morales, a former Hun School standout who scored 261 points in his career with the Princeton men’s hoops program.

“You grow up and everybody has a dream, everybody has certain jobs they want. For me, it was always being a pro basketball player. So to finally be able to do that was super exciting.”

Last month, Morales signed a deal with Agrupacion Deportiva (AD) Cantbasket 04. The team plays out of Santander, Cantabria, in Spain. They play in the Liga Espanola de Baloncesto Aficionado (EBA), which is scheduled to begin in October and runs through May.

“They’re known for their level of basketball over there,” said Morales of the Spanish pro league.

“I don’t know too much about the league or how competitive it is, but I have done a little research and it seems like a pretty competitive league. There are a lot of guys in it that played Division I basketball at pretty high levels. There are guys that have gone from there to higher levels in Spain and other places around the world so it’s pretty competitive for sure.”

In pro circles, Morales may have been overlooked by some because of his height and his supporting role for the Princeton men’s basketball team. He has had to overcome doubters before to help teams in a number of ways and is looking to do the same in Spain.

“It’s not like I was at one point tall,” said Morales, a native of Miramar, Fla.

“I’ve always been one of the smaller players on the floor, so it’s not anything new to me. I’m going to approach it the same way I always have. I’ll play harder than everybody else, I’m going to try to outsmart people, I’m going to try to use my quickness to my advantage, all the same things I’ve always done. Be a pest out there, use my height almost as an advantage. I’m a little closer to the ground than most people. I have to be the first on the floor for loose balls. I have to make certain plays that a guy my height can make and just play harder than everybody else.”

Morales heads to the next level after establishing himself as a reliable player who mostly came off the bench for the Tigers. He started six games as a junior, but most of the time he was counted on for his reserve guard play.

“For me, my four years was all about growth, not just in basketball, but as a student and a man, and all these different ways I feel like I really matured in my time there,” said Morales, who earned a degree in psychology.

“Coming in, I wanted to do everything. I wanted to break every record and win every game. That’s the mentality you take into a situation. I fell into my role and I felt I did my best in that role to help the team win.”

Following the post-graduate year at Hun that came on the heels of leading Cardinal Gibbons to a 32-1 record and 5A state title in his home state of Florida, Morales worked his way into the Tigers lineup more each season and enjoyed his finest output as a senior.

“At the end of the day, it was all about winning games for me, and whatever they needed from me, that’s what I wanted to give them,” said Morales.

“My freshman year, that was the scout team. I was a killer on that scout team. As the years went by, I got a bigger role. Whatever I can do to help, that’s what I was willing to do, and I’ll take that wherever I go.”

Producing a career in which he averaged 12.7 minutes per game, 3.3 points per game, and 1.3 assists per game, Morales is thrilled to get a shot a pro ball.

“I didn’t put up incredible numbers in college so unlike some guys I had to put myself out there somewhat,” said Morales.

“I had to put together some film and reach out to certain people and try to find an opportunity for myself. That’s how I came about getting it. I put a highlight tape together, put it out to a few guys that I know in the basketball community and it made its way over to Spain and somebody liked me enough to give me a chance.”

Over the course of 2019-20 season that was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic in March, Morales emerged as one of Princeton’s most efficient players. In 27 games, he shot a blistering 54 percent from 3-point range and was three assists away from having a 2:1 ratio in assists to turnovers (45 assists, 24 turnovers), and shot 80.8 percent from the foul line (21-of-26). He enjoyed career highs in points (10 vs. Columbia on March 6) and assists (six vs. Iona on December 17).

“I’m so happy for Jose,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson in a statement. “He brings energy, toughness, and moxie wherever he goes and I have no doubt that he will be all those things and more at his next stop in Spain. All Tiger fans will be following along closely and pulling hard for him at this next step.”

Putting in consistent work over the years paid off for Morales as his ball-handling and shooting in particular took significant jumps in his final year.

“It came down a lot to knowing my spots, knowing where I want to shoot it, where I don’t, shot selection, and time in the gym,” said Morales.

“I decided me and coach JJ (PU assistant Jonathan Jones), we were going to shoot every day, sometimes a couple times per day, and it paid off. Putting the work in, I was able to knock down a lot more shots this year. I’m going to miss that guy. I’ve been hitting him up for those shooting workouts so I can maintain this shooting percentage.”

Morales has been looking forward to the opportunity to get back on the court since Princeton’s season was cut short due to the pandemic after the Ivy League regular season concluded. The conference tournament had yet to start when the Ivies and then the NCAA ended play.

“Obviously myself and my team, we were really upset at the time about how everything went down,” said Morales. “I don’t think we really understood what was happening or what was going to happen with this pandemic. Looking back, they clearly made the right decision.”

The Tigers were 14-13 overall, 9-5 in Ivy League play at the time. It was their best Ivy record since they went 14-0 in the freshman year for Morales, Richmond Aririguzoh, and Will Gladson.

“It felt like we were playing really good basketball; we were going to be an issue for whoever we matched up against,” said Morales.

“We really wanted that chance, especially for myself and my two fellow seniors, Richmond and Will. We really wanted to go out with Princeton basketball at the top of the league and giving our younger guys a chance to experience that March Madness, that NCAA tournament, the way it happened for us our freshman year. That was our goal. We didn’t get a chance to, but it was a great season. We put together a pretty good record for how young we were and how inexperienced we were. That was a pretty good team and I can’t wait to watch them over the next couple of years.”

Since the end of the college season, Morales has been working to stay in shape and improve his skill set.

“I want to improve in everything,” said Morales. “Fifty-four percent or whatever it was from 3, I want to be able to do the same thing off the dribble at the mid-range. I want to be able to finish better at the basket. On defense I want to be able to take more charges, find a way to get my team more possessions, everything on the defensive end. I want to be able to guard all different types of players. At 5’9, it makes it a little more difficult, but I have to find a way because that helps me stay on the floor. Finding different ways to guard bigger guards or finding ways to be able to hold my own if I do get switched onto the post. I really do want to get better at everything.”

Making big strides while at Princeton, Morales feels the biggest changes came in how he analyzed and saw the game.

“When you play at Princeton, you hear ‘these are the smart guys,’ not super athletic or whatever, but they’re going to make the right plays,” said Morales.

“I agree with that first part — everybody on our team was super smart and our coaches approached the game in a way that you have to be able to make reads and the game slows down for you, you see things differently. I don’t agree with the athletic part — we had some pretty freak athletes — but Princeton basketball really helped me in how I see the game. It slowed the game down for me and I see the floor better and I’m able to make certain reads that I didn’t even know existed coming out of high school. The game opened up for me playing at Princeton.”

At Agrupacion Deportiva (AD) Cantbasket 04, Morales will be one of three international players on the Spanish team’s roster. Morales’s father was born and raised in Dominican Republic and his mother was born and raised in Puerto Rico.

“Like most teams, you’re only allowed a certain amount of imports,” said Morales. “I’m actually playing as a Dominican. As a Dominican over there, you’re almost considered a semi-local. We have one guy from Canada and one from the U.S. Those are the other two foreign guys.”

Having represented Puerto Rico as a junior player in high school, Morales has designs on someday representing the senior national team in the Olympics. Playing any level of professional basketball in a county of Spain’s reputation can help.

“They’re pros,” said Morales. “Once you say you’re a pro, it doesn’t really matter — those guys can play. When you take into account the level of basketball that Spain is known for, you can expect some pretty good basketball.”

At first, Morales wasn’t sure he would get the chance to be a pro. With his college career over, Morales started the summer looking for a job. He ultimately gave that up when he signed his professional basketball contract and realized anything else would be a temporary post until he left for Spain. He’s also putting graduate school plans on hold to defy the odds and give professional basketball a chance.

“Just the idea of being in a new place, getting to explore the world while still playing the game, it’s nice,” said Morales. “Not really having to worry about much of anything else except playing basketball, it’s going to be really fun.”