Scott Morrison is not supposed to be here, in a room filled with Hall of Famers and millionaire athletes. Morrison is supposed to be watching them from home, not making Las Vegas his residence for the next two weeks while they watch him. Yet, somehow, Morrison beat the odds. That’s because he didn’t believe that a kid from Morell, PEI isn’t supposed to amount to much in the game of basketball.
Morrison is currently coaching the NBA Developmental League select team at the NBA’s Summer League. It’s an honour that was bestowed on him as a reward for being named the NBADL’s Coach of the Year. For Morrison it’s been a long road but quick ascension. And it’s no coincidence he’s showcasing his talents in Vegas, because Morrison has been betting on himself for years.
After a playing career at UPEI that saw him hit an AUS-record 220 three pointers in his career, the coaching bug that had been passed on by his father, himself a long-time coach at UPEI, bit Morrison.
In 2002 Morrison took over coaching duties with the Dalhousie Tigers women’s team. His dad, George, was a fine coach at Dal in his own right, leading the Panthers to three conference titles in the 1980s. Morrison could have been fine just to follow his father’s legacy but instead he followed his heart and ventured to Thunder Bay to turn around the Lakehead program. With little money, exposure, and talent in the local area it wasn’t an attractive job to start. When he was hired, Lakehead was the worst team in the country. When he left they had reached four consecutive national tournaments, all while building a basketball culture that made “the thunder dome” one of the toughest places to play in he country.
Yet desperate for professional development he bet on himself again and took a sabbatical from his job at Lakehead to help out with D-League’s Maine Red Claws, an affiliate of the Boston Celtics. He assumed it would lead to a pro opportunity in the future and that he’d head back to Lakehead better for the experience. As fate would have it, the existing coach, Mike Taylor, was fired and Morrison’s all-hands-on-deck attitude led management to believe he was the right man to trust with the Celtics future prospects.
In just his first year in the NBADL, Morrison led the Red Claws to the best record in their conference and earned a coaching spot in the league’s all-star game, which takes place in conjunction with the NBA all-star game.
Despite all the success, Morrison knows he hasn’t hit the jackpot yet. “Although I’m close to the NBA,” he says, “I still feel I’m far away and have a lot to learn. It’s just that under dog mentality that I get from the Island. But I do ask myself ‘Why not?’ Work hard and shoot for the stars”.
His aspirations in the game are large, stating that his two goals are to coach in the NBA, and for Canada at the Olympics. “Even when I’m working with the junior national team, I get sense of pride when I pull that maple leaf on my chest. It means as much to me— if not more— than anything I’m doing [at Summer League]. In fact everything I’m doing here I’m trying to represent Canada.”
With the Red Claws last season, Morrison commanded the respect of NBA-level talent like Canadian Dwight Powell and Celtics 2014 first-round pick James Young. Here at Summer League he’s getting it from former 2nd overall pick Hasheem Thabeet and Taylor Griffin, brother of Blake, and a former standout at Oklahoma. Despite his passport and distinct Island accent, the affable Morrison’s communicates with his players effectively thanks to his passion and dry, self-deprecating wit.
After the NBADL season wraps Morrison heads to Boston, taking up a desk among the organizations’ analytics staff, helping out where he can with scouting. There is no offseason for the maniacal preparer. “Every year I want to study something,” says Morrison. “Whether its paint touches, to three’s and how they are created, to how best to defend the pick and roll. Every year I want to dial down and really study something.”
Although he didn’t have Steve Nash to look to like this generation’s great players did, he had have Jay Triano. It was a figure Morrison could point to and ask himself “If him, why not me?” at the sight of Triano on an NBA bench. The goal is to get NBA evaluators to themselves the same question. Why not Morrison?
Which is what makes summer league so unique: Not only is it a proving ground for the players, but the coaches are being scouted and evaluated, too. And so far Morrison has impressed; his group of D-League select players enter the 24-team tournament as a six-seed.
All Morison wants is a chance. He gambled to get here, and it’s paid off. Yet it’s the dues he paid during him time in Morel, Halifax, and Thunder Bay that are getting him paid now. His story offers a stark reminder that in the dog eat dog world of pros sports the smart play is betting on yourself. With the amount of heads he’s turning at the Las Vegas summer league Morrison is already getting a return on his investment.
“Success breeds success,” Morrison says. “Canada has great coaches—not just great players. As the players have success people down south will start to wonder who are training these guys. As guys like me have success hopefully I can help inspire the guys coming up behind me. If we keep knocking on the door we can break it down together”.