It didn’t take much time for Morgan Safford, a Columbus, Ohio, native, to settle in at Miami.
Safford spent the last three seasons at Wofford before transferring to Miami this summer. He was not listed as a top transfer prospect last offseason, but his play this season has shown critics why he belongs in Mid-American Conference (MAC) basketball.
Safford plays very comfortably and at his own pace. He said his time at Wofford was beneficial to his game in many ways.
“My redshirt year and in my freshman year, I had a lot of older guys show me the ropes,” Safford said. “I played with a point guard that went on to play at USC, so you learn a lot from those guys and had great coaches around me too. So I definitely think it gave me a foundation to help get me to where I am today.”
Safford, a captain for Miami this year, has used his experiences from Wofford to become one of the vocal leaders on this RedHawk team. Miami has won four straight games at the most critical point of their season. Before the season, most people had the RedHawks pegged as the worst team in the MAC. At one point this season they were 2-11. All of a sudden, they’re one of the hottest teams in the MAC and sitting in a spot in the conference postseason tournament.
Miami Head Coach Travis Steele commends Safford as an impressive worker. Someone who leads by example.
“We have what we call the Black jersey,” Steele said. “So basically it's a player of the week in practice and we track missed shots, made shots, rebounds, charges, fouls, draws, turnovers and and this equation spits out basically who the player of the week was. Well, he's won nine times this year, I have never had a guy win that many times in my career. But it just shows you he's the same guy every day.”
According to the Miami basketball Twitter, Safford has actually won the award twelve times this year.
When you’re watching a Miami game, you can see that the other players on the court gravitate toward Safford.
“I just play hard, you know, playing with tenacity and competitiveness,” Safford said. “It just carries me throughout the court. I think when players have that, they're hard to guard, and definitely hard to scout. So, I think that's probably my best attribute. I feel I'm a high IQ player.”
If a teammate commits a turnover, Safford is there immediately with a chest bump and a little hug, along with a stern look. When someone makes a good play he’s in their face even faster. When Safford is at his best, the Miami bench seems just a little more lively.
Safford is conscientious in his own game too. He’s not flashy, but night after night, he fills up the stat sheet and makes an impact on all facets of the game.
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“I try to find the right shots on the court and just get to my spots and knock it down,” Safford said.
This mindset is exactly what allowed him to be a top scorer this season and have a standout performance against conference front-runner Toledo when Safford put up 25 points, 11 rebounds and four assists back on Jan. 31. More recently, Safford dropped 24 points on 5-for-9 shooting in the team’s biggest win of the season to this point, on Feb. 25 against Ohio.
Morgan Safford: a compliment for Steele’s Philosophies
Steele emphasizes that his team must play selfless-team basketball. In order to play for Steele your play must be team based rather than individual.
“We want to build walls around that ball constantly and we don't want the ball to touch the paint,” Steele said. “That's our goal. Good things happen when we don't let it touch the paint. On the other end we want to promote ball movement and player movement and we want to share the ball. Always said the go to guy for us is going to be the open guy.”
Steele, in describing what he expects from his team as a whole, believes Safford is the prime example of a Miami basketball player.
“Competitive is the first word that comes to mind when I hear Morgan Safford,” Steele said. “His ability to take information and apply it is incredible. He's really hard on himself, which I love because it means he cares. He just loves to compete. In practice he will ask me, ‘Coach, who's got the record in this drill?’”
This is Steele’s first season at Miami University. The RedHawks have played well this season despite their 11-18 record, losing only 6 games by more than 10 points. After losing game after game to start the season, Miami has won four straight. All of a sudden, the RedHawks control their own destiny in the MAC standings.
Safford is a standout player for the Redhawks this season. He’s averaging 15.5 points per game, 6.0 rebounds per game and 2.4 assists per game so far. Safford, a versatile and athletic guard, often defends the other team's best player.
Looking towards the future
Steele and Safford have one thing on their mind as March approaches: winning. After two big Conference wins last week against Bowling Green and Ohio and another crucial victory on Tuesday over Western Michigan, Miami is one win away from clinching a spot in the MAC postseason tournament.
Miami basketball is making its way back to the top of the MAC one day at a time. As long as Morgan Safford is around, rest assured: They’ll keep moving forward.