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After Football Career Cut Short by Concussion, Lebanon Junior Finds New Life in Basketball

  • Lebanon’s Dominick Morrill gets vertical to defend against John Stark’s Zachary Gagnon in a game last week. At right is Lebanon’s Kalin Sou. Morrill’s football career was cut short by concussions, but he has found new life on the basketball court. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    Lebanon’s Dominick Morrill gets vertical to defend against John Stark’s Zachary Gagnon in a game last week. At right is Lebanon’s Kalin Sou. Morrill’s football career was cut short by concussions, but he has found new life on the basketball court. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Lebanon head coach Kieth Matte talks with junior Dominick Morrill (20) and his teammates during a timeout last week against John Stark. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    Lebanon head coach Kieth Matte talks with junior Dominick Morrill (20) and his teammates during a timeout last week against John Stark. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Lebanon’s Dominick Morrill gets vertical to defend against John Stark’s Zachary Gagnon in a game last week. At right is Lebanon’s Kalin Sou. Morrill’s football career was cut short by concussions, but he has found new life on the basketball court. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)
  • Lebanon head coach Kieth Matte talks with junior Dominick Morrill (20) and his teammates during a timeout last week against John Stark. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

Lebanon — The junior who has given the Lebanon High boys basketball team a reliable third source of offense didn’t necessarily picture himself being in this place at this time. His mother certainly didn’t.

Had everything gone to plan, Dominick Morrill would have been in the middle of the Raider football program’s plans last fall. A series of concussions changed that.

Gridiron is most likely over for Morrill, who is still grateful there’s basketball upon which to fall. Now fully healthy, the Lebanon junior has become an accurate 3-point threat — and occasionally, if judiciously, a physical defender and rebounder — on a team that will require both if it is to achieve its goals this winter.

“I’ve always loved basketball more; I’ve been playing football, though, because that was my second-favorite sport,” Morrill said last week, after scoring 12 points — half of them on 3-pointers — in the Raiders’ 80-51 win over John Stark. “I’m glad I can still play basketball and the doctors allow me to.

“As the (football) season ended and the basketball season started coming around, the doctors said it would be better if I didn’t play (football), and I could still have the chance to play. But I decided I didn’t want to risk two sports, and I’d rather play basketball.”

For that, Lebanon coach Kieth Matte and Morrill’s teammates are pleased. At 3-1 in NHIAA Division II and 4-2 overall, the Raiders are also successful, sharing third place in the league heading into Friday’s home date with Bishop Brady.

Morrill’s contributions have a direct correlation to Lebanon’s early results. With the junior, not to mention several others, capable of punishing from long distance, defenses haven’t been able to collapse on seniors David Hampton and Mathew Cowles, the Raiders’ top offensive threats.

“He’s a player, he can do it all: shoot, drive, he gets rebounds, he can defend,” Hampton said. “He’d good to have on your team because you know he has your back.”

Morrill sustained his first concussion in junior high football. The second came as a varsity freshman. The third, which occurred during the 2011 gridiron season, ended the football conversation.

“I got a head-on collision with one of the players from John Stark, actually,” Morrill said.

“I got knocked out, and I don’t remember much. I was in the hospital, and the doctors thought it would be a better idea if I didn’t play because it was my third one.”

It took about five months to feel fully recovered.

“I had a lot of dizziness and side effects,” he said. “Whenever I started doing physical activity, I’d feel kind of third-body. When I played basketball, I felt off. But it’s been getting better and better as the concussion went away.”

As for his improvement as a shooter, Morrill can thank Noah and “the gun.”

Matte employs two tools to help the Raiders improve their perimeter accuracy. One device, from Noah Basketball, measures the arc and depth of every shot and provides feedback for making adjustments in technique. The other — what Hampton calls “the gun” — casts a wide net under the basket, collects misses and makes and quickly fires the ball back to the shooter for another attempt.

With a 6-foot-9 body anchoring the paint, John Stark tried to shut down Lebanon with a 2-3 zone defense on Friday night. The Raiders tore a big hole in it with Morrill, Hampton and guards Kalin Sou, Austin Whaley and Vinnie Guerin all hitting shots from beyond the arc.

It’s become a trend. During two games at Keene State College’s Zero Gravity Holiday Tournament over Christmas break, the Raiders shot 18-for-40 from 3-point land, with Morrill going 5-for-10 to play his way into a starting role.

Lebanon converted 12 out of 23 trifecta tries in Friday’s win.

“When you have kids who can really shoot the ball,” noted Matte, “you’re not going to see a lot of teams play us zone.”

Morrill’s position on the floor is a concession to the health issues he believes he’s overcome. Playing on the perimeter lessens the chances of head-to-head contact, although Morrill still gets his share of banging around when defending or rebounding against similarly physical foes.

“When he was in junior high, I don’t think people thought of him as an outside shooter; they thought of him as a big, strong kid who played rough and was pretty skilled for his size,” Matte said.

“But he’s really worked on shooting the ball well, and he’s a great shooter. He’s really worked on attacking the basket and pulling up. He’s one of our more versatile offensive threats.

“Where he’s really come a long way is defensively and rebounding. (Junior varsity coach Blendon) Salls drilled with him for his entire freshman year, ‘You’ve gotta rebound, you’ve gotta rebound.’ Now he’s one of our best rebounders. He’s really rounded out his game nicely. I think it shows that if you put time into this sport, it pays off.”

Morrill’s mom, Theresa DePalo, once thought Dominick would be the football player in the family, with older brother Alexander applying his quick feet on the hardwood. Instead, Alexander developed into a 300-pound all-state star on the line with a future in the defensive trenches at UNH. Dominick now is the basketball player, and his good fortunes appear to be mirroring those of the Raiders.

“I get plenty of physical contact in basketball,” he said. “I’ve been playing it year-round, AAU as well as (high school). Basketball is enough for me at this point.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.