Interview with UNC Asheville Head Coach, Mike Morrell

Thanks again to Coach Morrell for taking the time to do this, they return 5-great players in Taijon Jones, Lavar Batts, L.J. Thorpe Devon Baker, and Coty Jude. They also add 6’7 Forward Silas Mason who is the Highest-Ranked recruit in program history, Evan Claybourne, a grad-Transfer from NC Central, and B.J. Marable a 6’9″ Freshman to sure up the size.

Q: What did being on the Staff at VCU in 2011-2015 teach you as a young coach?

A: “Almost everything, for me it was I got there on the same day as GW Head Coach, Jamion Christian, it was right after the Final-Four and Mike Jones had left and gotten the HC job at Radford, we came in off an incredible tournament run. I got to VCU at an awesome time, one of the best places to be College Basketball coach, the fans, the players, it was just a great time. In my first season, we broke the school record for wins after the Final Four, we had a lot of good players, but when I was at VCU that’s when I developed a philosophy for myself how I wanted to coach, and how I wanted to play and what I wanted to be about when and if I got the chance to be a Head Coach. VCU meant everything to me just an awesome place to be at, I was very fortunate the first staff I was there with Mike Rhoades, Will Wade, Jamion Christian, what more could you really ask for? Then we lose Jamion and Jeremy Ballard comes in who is now the Head Coach at FIU now. It all goes back to winning and we were able to win a ton. To be able to win championships and it was just a great time to be there and it was a great place to be around”

Q: After your time at VCU you went to be an Assistant with Shaka Smart at Texas, you coached guys like Mo Bamba, Jarrett Allen, Kerwin Roach, Matt Coleman what did you learn from guys like that?

A: The best player I coached at Texas was Isaiah Taylor, he was the best pure-player there, but all those guys were special, coming from VCU it was a different experience, we had some guys who played in the NBA but we didn’t have any Mo Bamba’s or Jarrett Allen’s, or Isaiah Taylor’s or Cam Ridley’s the list can go on and on and on. We were just fortunate when we got there we had a good team left behind by Coach Barnes, we did well our first year we went 11-7 in a stacked Big 12, but it was a big-time for me. A different part of the country showed me new ways of coaching, recruiting, overall it was a really good experience for me to be able to go there with Coach Smart. Sometimes you’ll be sitting at your house late at night flipping through channels and you see Mo playing, there’s whoever playing in the NBA it was just an awesome experience to coach those guys. Being a guy who played NAIA D2 Basketball, literally the lowest possible level you can play at Milligan College, to going and coaching guys in the NBA and coach players like Matt Coleman who were coming in some of the best-high-school players in the country, was a treat, and I’m very grateful to have been apart of it.

Q: You were 35 when you got the UNC-Asheville Job, that’s really young to be a Head Coach, how much of a dream was it for you to be a D1 Basketball Head Coach?

A: “It was obviously something that was a goal of mine, but I tell people all the time when you go to these seminars as an Assistant Coach. Going to these different events across the country, you develop plans like everybody else I had my little book of things I wanted to do when I became a Head Coach and how I wanted that to go and the fact of the matter is when you get a head coaching job it looks different for everybody. Sometimes the team has a lot left behind and you can win early, I was in a situation where we had to sign 10 new players, we had 4 guys who transferred and 4 seniors that had graduated, it’s not how I always imagined my first opportunity to be but I was grateful for it. I was in a part of the country I knew very well, growing up close to here working at several schools in the region, I knew it was going to be a process here, but the plan early-on was we’re going to build it the right way, and understand there was a process for winning, and we’re on our way there two seasons in. Obviously we’re not where we want to be, but we’re moving in the right direction, but also Shaka always used to say “Don’t dream about being a Head Coach, Dream about being a successful Head Coach.” When you get the opportunity you have to make sure you keep that opportunity for a long-time, and really excited about what we’ve done here.”

Q: What would you attribute the huge 12 game swing in wins to?

A: You know what’s funny. If you count the Tournament game we won 9 conference games which is over quadruple the previous season. Part of getting better was getting older, recruiting at a high-level. We had 2 guys who sat-out the whole season in my first year, one is Lavar Batts who plays exactly how we want to play, and staying healthy. L.J. Thorpe missed half of his Freshman Year, and in his Sophomore year, he averages nearly 14 and 7 a-game. The biggest hurdle we’re going to have to get over is the next one going from making another jump after making a big one between years 1 and 2.

Q: You guys return 5-Double Figure scorers from last season, what do you think you guys can do this season with the returning talent?

A: We return our Top-7 scorers from last season, we started 5 Sophomores last year and they all-averaged double-figures what we need to do now is get deeper and get more help from the rest of our guys in guys like Jamon Battle and Trent Stephney got tons of progress as the year went on and we’re really excited about them, but the scoring load was really carried by Devon Baker who scored over 1,000 Points in two-seasons. L.J. Thorpe, Lavar Batts, and Taijon Jones those guys our Sophomores and you mix Coty Jude in and there’s not a lot of guys like him, he’s 8th in our program’s history in 3-point Field-Goals made and hasn’t even played as a Junior yet, we have a team that has a chance to really grow, but expectations can go one of two ways. We were projected 9th last season and finished 5th, now this season it’s going to be flipped, now can we play with that chip on our shoulder we did most of last year. If we can then we have a chance to exceed expectations like we did last year, but it’s not just going to be because of what’s coming back we actually have to make it happen.”

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