Happy Holidays and Seasons’ Greetings!
I hope this note finds happiness for you and yours during this celebratory time of year…. with respect to the more obvious reasons to celebrate, one of the more exciting byproducts of the Christmas season is that it represents the unofficial change of “football season” to “basketball season”. High School rivalries heat up, college and university conference foes collide and professional play-off spots are solidified all over the next 8-12 weeks.
The New Year also marks the unofficial half-way point in the CIS season and I thought it time to update you all on my experiences in Maine for the season with the Red Claws of the NBA D League. (As well address the Lakehead Thunderwolves progress below!!!).
While the CIS season is at a mid-point, the “D-League” season is still in the early stages. Our squad in Maine, for example, is currently 5-4 with 41 games left to play.
After a 2-0 start the team’s best player, Jermaine Taylor, was lost for the year with a torn ACL. I was elected to take Jermaine to the Celtics’ surgeon both after his injury and again last week for pre-surgery and we talked of the Lakehead players who had similar injuries and I believe he was comforted a little bit hearing of the success and determination of Mac, Henry and Ryan throughout their recoveries.
Also on the team is a former NBA player named Chris Wright who is one of the most exciting athletes I have seen first hand. We hope Chris gets called up soon as 7-8 guys from the league have signed into the NBA after the first few weeks and Chris should be up soon. He does something like this a couple of times each game.
My role with the staff is quite demanding from a time perspective but, admittedly, the least stressed I have been on game days in ten years! Just like the players in the D League are “grinding” to try and break the NBA “Bubble”; the staffs and coaches are all trying to do the same thing in their respective fields. Whether it be coaching, training, scouting or operations… in order to be respected, keep up, and contribute each person has to really put in long hours at their respective tasks.
Much like I had hoped when I left for Maine, I have been given a variety of areas in which to work that is providing me the full feed of coaching at this level. My main role is to provide an advanced scout on each opponent from both a team and personnel perspective. I work ahead of the schedule and try to have the next opponent ready for the other coaches to review on the evening of our previous game. (If we play Delware Dec 31, I have the Delaware scout ready on Dec 28 when we play Iowa for example). What I like about this job is that I am learning every team’s offensive and defensive system. I also have a good handle on all players on each team which comes in handy in practice and walk-thru with the team. So far the best player I have scouted is Pierre Jackson who played at Baylor last year.
The other part of the job I am enjoying is the “individual development” with the players. Each assistant (there are 4 of us) has 3 players assigned to them for development. The average week this would include 2-3 on court workouts (usually 30-40 minutes after practice) as well as a 10 minute 1 on 1 film session where I cut clips of those players in practice or games and go over some points to improve with them.
Any coach would like this aspect of the job because it has a direct affect on the players but also I enjoy learning how to best “get through” to different personalities…. While the players here are all talented for the most part, they still have similar strong and weak characteristics like any high school or college player.
(If any of you are interested, the players I have been working with since November are Chris Babb, Frank Gaines and Corey Allmond.
I am also very fortunate to have a great group of coaches to work with here for the season. Head Coach Mike Taylor has a wealth of pro experience and coaches with a positive and energetic demeanor. He is a big Lakehead (and CFL) fan as he used to work camp with Coach Erdman’s uncle Mark and has known of Coach Erd for a long time.
My main guys on staff include Jim Moran & Ron Nored. Jim is from Long Island and recently retired after a 10 year career in the ACB (Spain’s top league). He brings a player’s viewpoint and I have been learning from him the expectations and attitudes that a successful pro player must portray. Jim played in Spain for multiple seasons with Canadian Carl English, who of course is the cousin of Coach Mark English.
Ron Nored was a starter at Butler University and was the “Greg Carter” of those Butler final four teams a couple of years back. When Coach Stevens left Butler for the Celtics this summer, he hired Ron with Boston. Ron spent the summer and fall with the Celtics, learning their system, before switching to his other role as our assistant coach in Maine for the D League season. Ron is a mature and knowledgeable basketball person who has a bright future in coaching. We spend many hours discussing X’s and O’s – often comparing what they did at Butler to what we do a Lakehead. He has also been a great teacher to me of the differences between university style and NBA style as it pertains to things like team defense. (which we both share a love for)
In addition to these guys there are many other excellent people involved in the organization - I am doing my best to represent both Lakehead and Canada to the best of my abilities by working hard and contributing where I can. There is not a day that goes by that I do not miss being with the team back home, but that is also one of the strongest motivators for me to continue working hard to learn and become a better coach for our program next season so that this time away can be a positive addition to our quest for a CIS title.
While it is hard (for me) to avoid looking ahead to next season – 2013 has brought us (Lakehead basketball) much to be thankful for and reflect on. A quick review of 2013 would include reaching new heights as the team defeated Windsor in the old Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto to qualify for a 4th straight CIS Final 8. Of course the team would ride the momentum to Ottawa and send off a group of 6 graduating players with a CIS national Silver medal in March.
The off-season was also exciting as we welcomed in some new members of the “Lakehead Family” that would quickly show in late 2013 that they have all the potential to fill the big shoes left for them by their most recent predecessors.
We also have many “New Year’s Resolutions” to look forward to for 2014. Both the players and coaches in Thunder Bay have a great opportunity to make a run at the OUA West competition and drive us into the post season. Coaches Erdman, English, Searle, Jones and Charlebois continue to do a great job and will build on what they have learned in October and November in addition to their own extensive post-season experience. Veteran players have shown a desire to step up and now will be their chance to put their own stamp on the leadership of our team. Transfer players have a few months under their belts and should be comfortable in the blue/white while our young guys are eager to show that a few good games in the first semester are a sign of things to come on a regular basis as they look to become the foundation for this next era of Lakehead Basketball.
Like you all I look forward to watching the guys grow and working with them toward these goals over the next number of months – I also look forward to seeing or speaking with you all in the near future. Until then, Happy New Year and all the best from Portland, Maine to wherever you are spending your holidays.
Yours in Basketball
Coach Scott Morrison