The motivation doesn’t come in the form of a scholarship or significant playing time for Valparaiso University men’s basketball sophomore Luke Morrill (Lombard, Ill. / Montini Catholic).
For the Valpo basketball walk-on, the juggling act created by the time demands of playing basketball while pursuing a challenging major is fueled by his love of the sport and his love for his teammates.
“First off, I just love basketball,” Morrill said. “Playing at a high level is something that not a lot of people can do. I appreciate the opportunity that I have. I don’t know what I would do with all of my time if I wasn’t playing basketball. I think I’m a better student when I’m playing a sport; it forces me to manage my time to take care of business in the classroom.”
Morrill has forged strong bonds with all of his Valpo teammates, but perhaps none stronger than his deep friendship with Valpo star sophomore Donovan Clay (Alton, Ill. / Alton). The two roomed together as freshmen and although Morrill now lives with fellow walk-on Brock Pappas (Valparaiso, Ind. / Washington Township), Clay is a frequent visitor.
“Donovan would tell you I’m his brother,” Morrill said. “We lived together for a whole year, including four months where we had to quarantine. He’s my guy. We come from very different backgrounds, but we’re in many ways the same person even though we’re so different. We get along so well and have a similar personality. We’re just two chill guys.”
In the classroom, Morrill is pursuing a degree in computer engineering. As a Valpo basketball walk-on studying engineering, there are obvious parallels to 2020 graduate John Kiser (Noblesville, Ind. / Noblesville), who walked on as a freshman before earning a scholarship for his final three seasons. Kiser made a well-documented rise throughout his collegiate career and was a key cog in Valpo’s run to the MVC title game last season.
“John is an inspiration knowing that someone can go from being a walk-on to earning playing time or a scholarship,” Morrill said. “He was a big help for me from an engineering standpoint when I first started classes as a freshman. He mentored me both on the court and in the classroom.”
Morrill saw action in nine games during the 2019-2020 season, totaling nine minutes while accruing five points and two rebounds. He came to Valpo after earning a place on the IHSA all-academic team all four years at Montini Catholic, where he also played football and baseball. Valpo’s nationally-ranked engineering program coupled with a basketball program rich with tradition made the University a natural fit.
“First off, I wanted to get a good education and become an engineer,” Morrill said. “I reached out to Coach (Luke) Gore and asked him about the possibility of me walking on. I visited during the (2018-2019) conference opener against Illinois State when Valpo won on a half-court buzzer-beater. My decision came down to Valpo being a great academic school. I could get a great engineering degree and play basketball.”
So far, that choice has proved to be a good one for the Valpo sophomore.
“Engineering is definitely challenging, but what’s nice about Valpo is the small class sizes,” Morrill said. “The professors are willing to work with me, especially when I have to travel for basketball. It’s all about finding a way to balance homework and practice.”
When he finds a few free minutes outside of athletics and academics, Morrill enjoys fishing and wakesurfing, which is surfing in the boat’s wake without being directly pulled by the boat. But the bulk of his time is spent on his two primary passions — basketball and engineering.
“Even as a walk-on last year, I felt the same as anyone on the team,” he said. “I enjoyed practicing with my teammates and helping the team get better while continuing my development as a player. I had a great time, especially during our MVC Tournament run. This year, I think our team is even closer than we were last year. The new players are fitting in very well. We all like each other and I think it’s going to be a really good year.”