When most kids are taking a break for lunch, Kai Morphy is in the gym.
The Bishop Diego sophomore has spent countless hours at the Brick House. He is revered by his teammates for his relentless work ethic. Whether he’s taking jump shots from the perimeter or refining his ball handling, Morphy is willing to do whatever it takes to help his team win.
“I just have this mindset where I always believe I’m the best player on the court. Except for being in classes or during a break between class, I’m in here,” Morphy told the News-Press following a recent basketball practice. “I feel like I spend an equal amount of time in the classroom that I do here.
“I take a lot of pride in that.”
Morphy’s drive is not lost on his teammates. Junior Matthew Cunningham and sophomore transfer have started to follow Morphy’s lead, spending time working on their craft. It’s safe to say that hard work hasn’t gone to waste, as the Cardinals prepare for their CIF-SS Div. 5AA championship showdown with Arrowhead Christian at 4 p.m. Saturday.
When participating in shooting drills, Morphy wants to finish on top. If the team is running sprints, he wants to be first. When the Cardinals hold an intrasquad scrimmage, Morphy will do whatever it takes to win.
The basketball journey for the Montecito resident began during grade school. He played in a YMCA league in the fourth grade and played in the Paige Youth Center League as a fifth-grade student. He credits his coach, Juan Villarruel, for motivating him to keep playing basketball.
The motivation began to shrink when Morphy was in middle school, only to grow leaps and bounds when Morphy hit his growth spurt.
“In eighth grade, I started stretching out and I was playing for a team where I was the key player again,” he recalled. “I started working out more, and then I knew I would be a key player for a team.”
The 6-foot tall youngster knew he had a bright basketball future. The only question was which school he would attend.
Morphy’s family has a long history with Cate School. His dad, Matthew, played there and ended up attending Pepperdine, where he helped the men’s volleyball team win back to back NCAA Championships in 1985 and 1986. Matthew Morphy coached the Rams’ volleyball team for a time in the early 2000s. He went on to become a two-time USA Volleyball Adult Nationals Gold Medalist (2014, 2015) and USA Men’s Masters Gold Medalist in the 2015 Global Cup in Greece.
Kai applied to Cate but was not granted admission. He didn’t take it as a slight, rather as a way to build his own legacy.
“I just didn’t want to be like another Morphy,” Kai said. “I kind of wanted to start my own thing somewhere else. Obviously there are public schools, I just felt like here it would have been the best fit because I’m used to small schools and there’s good education here. I just feel more comfortable.”
Evidence of that comfort level manifested last week, when Morphy calmly knocked down six free-throw attempts in the final 43 seconds of Bishop’s quarterfinal victory of Estancia.
He hopes to continue his basketball career in college, but for now Morphy knows there is work to be done.
“I think the main thing that motivates me is seeing that ’78 poster for the boys basketball team and just wanting to put the 2020 poster up there,” he said, pointing to the wall of the Brick House adorned with a banner for the 1978 championship team – Bishop’s last boys basketball state championship.
“It’s honestly something I’ve never felt before,” he said. “Obviously coming from a non-playoff team last year to a team coming to a championship this year… I just feel really good knowing that we’re still practicing right now.”
Bishop struggled to a 7-17 finish a year ago. Despite missing out on the postseason, Morphy said he had high expectations for the 2019-20 campaign.
“I knew I was going to get better and I knew Matthew (Cunningham) and everyone else was going to get better,” he said. “Especially adding Tyler (Williams) and Brian (Lopez) to our team and getting some of those freshmen that are pretty key for our team, like Bryan Trejo.
“I knew we were going to be a pretty dangerous team for the next couple of years.”
Junior Connor Streett told the News-Press that Morphy has been a great influence for the young team, which features Austin Ziehl as it’s only senior.
“He’s a grinder,” Streett said of Morphy. “It really shows in the games. He’s making buckets left and right and it helps us all.
“There’s no limit for him. He’s never going to let up.”
Earlier in the season, coach James Coronado pulled Morphy and Cunningham aside. He told them they would have to lead the Cardinals and they would be coached harder than the others.
“I told them that they had to be our hardest workers,” Coronado said. “If our best players are our hardest workers, then everybody else falls in line.”
When Bishop took on Thacher Dec. 14, Morphy was the lone starter active for the Cardinals. The Toads rolled to a 60-29 win, though Morphy never gave in.
“He never once cried about it,” Coronado said. “He could have taken some nights off and he never did. That’s a credit to him.
“I know a lot of players, knowing that we were going to lose, they could have said ‘hey coach, I’ll take a sub’ and just sit out, but he wanted to stay in the whole time. I actually had to pull him out and say ‘enough is enough.’”
As the Cardinals look to make history this weekend, Morphy hopes the trip to the title game won’t be his last.
“I’m looking for more than one ring,” he said. “That’s all I’m worried about.”