Scott Morrison was born with basketball in his blood.
The Morell native grew up on the sidelines watching his father, legendary coach George Morrison, lead the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers varsity men to three conference titles in the 1980s.
Now 34, Scott Morrison is forging his own legend in Thunder Bay as coach of the Lakehead University Thunderwolves of the Ontario University Athletics Association, currently ranked No. 2 in the country among men’s basketball teams.
On Saturday, his Thunderwolves bested the Guelph Gryphons 93-70 in their first playoff game to earn another trip to the Wilson Cup Final Four, where they aim to defend their title.
Morrison is clearly a chip off the old block.
He was just a boy when he first joined his father as a water boy with the Panthers, re-hydrating players and getting a first-hand look at the team he would go on to star for.
Scott Morrison first put on a Panthers jersey in 1996 and went on to win team rookie-of-the-year honours.
For the next five years, he played a starring role, swishing home an AUS record 220 three-pointers in 99 regular-season games.
In 1999, he drained a whopping 62 threes, setting an Atlantic University Sport record that has since been broken by three players.
Then in his final year, the Panthers co-captain was named team MVP, graduating as the team’s all-time three-point scorer and assists leader.
Morrison admits that most Islanders still know him more as that “chubby kid” shooting jumpers at Panther games than as a championship basketball coach.
“That’s fine with me,” Morrison admits.
“It was a great time in my life and I’ve tried to create a similar close-knit family environment for my players here.”
In 2002, Morrison got his start in the coaching ranks, taking on interim head coaching duties with the Dalhousie Tigers women’s team.
He was just 26 at the time.
The following year, he landed on with the Thunderwolves.
Since then, he’s turned around the fortunes of the Lakehead program, leading the team to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Final 8 tournament last season.
Morrison was also named OUA’s coach of the year.
“It’s been quite the journey for our men’s basketball program since we hired Scott almost a decade ago,” admitted Tom Warden, director of athletics at Lakehead University. “He’s been an example of what hard work, sacrifice and team management can mean to an athletic program and university.”
This season, Morrison led Lakehead to a regular-season record of 20-2.
“While we often talk as a team about continuing to focus on our ultimate goal of being No. 1, I feel very well about the progress that we have made as individuals and as a program,” Morrison told The Guardian.
The Islander takes pride in the fact that the bulk of his current roster, himself included, are “second-chance type guys” who did not arrive in Thunder Bay to play with a contender.
Instead, they have helped build the program from the ground up with “nothing but effort and teamwork.”
“That is something each of us can be proud of,” Morrison said.
To date, Morrison’s top moment with Lakehead came Nov. 27, 2009, when his team used an impressive fourth quarter rally to upset the No. 1-ranked Carleton Ravens 76-73 at home in front of their rowdy fans who continue to create “the best playing atmosphere in Canada.”
Obviously, I am quite proud of him both as a person and as a coach. I think he has developed into a very good coach and this has been accomplished through a lot of hard work on his part. - George Morrison, on his son Scott
“That was a signature win for our program,” he said. “It represented our emergence on the CIS stage as a contender and legitimized the years of work we put in. Only winning a national championship would top that experience.”
Like all top teams this time of year, the Thunderwolves have their eyes on the national championship.
“If we take things one game at a time and work together within our game plan, I think we have as good of odds as anyone, aside from Carleton who remains a heavy favourite,” the coach said.
George Morrison has 30 years on his son and currently coaches the Holland Hurricanes men’s basketball team.
The two basketball minds communicate via telephone at least once a week — mainly talking basketball, but also catching up on family news.
They will also swap strategies and discuss game results.
“Obviously, I am quite proud of him both as a person and as a coach,” George Morrison said. “I think he has developed into a very good coach and this has been accomplished through a lot of hard work on his part.”
The success his son has had in developing Lakehead’s program is not achieved easily.
“He has developed a program at Lakehead, which is not the same thing as having a good team for a couple of years,” Morrison explained. “A program doesn’t mean that you are going to finish on top every year, but rather you put your team in a position to compete each year. Now and again, you have a run like he has had for the past three years.”
During his time at Lakehead, Scott Morrison has established a fine recruiting network, fundraising strategies, and a program where his players contribute back to the Thunder Bay community.
The Morrisons also contribute to the Island community every August, when they co-host their annual summer basketball camp in Charlottetown.
Growing up on the Island, Scott Morrison remains keen on local talent.
The Thunderwolves currently have three Islanders and three other Maritimers involved as players, coaches or support staff within the basketball program.
This includes Ben Johnson of Pictou, N.S., who has drawn rave reviews for his humble personality and on-court skill.
“Each man is the type of genuine and caring person I want to have representing my team,” said Morrison. “It also makes for some fun post-game celebrations and Maritime trash talk from time to time.”
The Lakehead coach remains a proud Islander, and a proud Morrison.
He often savours his memories as a Panther, and the impact his father had on both the UPEI program and the sport.
“At the end of the day, I am trying to just have as good a career as him and hope to have half of the positive effect on people that I know he has,” said the younger Morrison.
Morrison remains a Panther fan and tries to stay as up-to-date as he can with his alma mater.
Morrison and his wife, Laura (Diamond) Morrison, live in Thunder Bay with their miniature schnauzer, Moses.
Laura is a Charlottetown Rural graduate and two-time CIS soccer champion with the Dalhousie Tigers.