While taking a sabbatical from Lakehead University, where he served as head coach for a decade, Scott Morrison spent time as an assistant coach & scout for the Maine Red Claws during the 2013-14 season.
Apparently, the coaching vet left quite the impression. When their own respective head coaching position became available this past season, the Celtics' organization looked Morrison's way to lead the minor league affiliate. Fast-forward to the year 2015, and their decision has quickly seemed to pay off. Coach Morrison has the Red Claws off to the best start in franchise. They're also atop of the minor league standings, to boot.
The Celtics are obviously one of the most storied franchises in all of professional sports, so it's only right an affiliated squad more or less follows suit. Nevertheless, Coach Morrison understands full well the task at hand, valuing development and team-building alongside balancing wins and losses.
RidiculousUpside.com recently caught up with the head coach to chat about his team's fast start. What have been the keys to the season? How does he keep his team focused, and how difficult is it to coach in a league where there are a bevy (especially most recently) of moving parts on almost a nightly basis? What makes the Red Claws different from some of the other successful teams in the league?
Coach Morrison discusses all this and more in the interview below. Read on for more.
Q: The Red Claws are obviously not only atop of the NBA D-League standings, but you've also gotten the team off to its best start in franchise history. How do you feel about that type of accomplishment?
A: As a staff, we're not trying to get too excited or anything. We know that there's still a long way to go; we're only about 30% of the way through. If we're too looking too far, we'll slip back down to the middle of the pack. We want to stay where we are. It's much better than being off to a poor start, and there's always that recurring nightmare of being 0-50, so we've avoided that fate.
Q: The Rio Grande Valley Vipers shocked the minor league world last season, and the Reno Bighorns have been heralded as quite the run and gun squad this season as well. With a 3 and D style of play being a big focus for your squad as well, what makes what Maine does any different?
A: I can't speak for the other teams, because I don't really know their systems and/or specific philosophies. But I know from watching last season and seeing what other teams were trying to do, I'd like to think that we're a little bit more selective. We're trying to put more effort into getting high-quality three-point field goals. We're not caught up in the number of shots we take or how many possessions we have over the course of a game. We're more about trying to maximum the quality and percentage chance that we makes those shots. If it takes us longer to get them, that's okay with us.
Q: The NBA D-League is somewhat of a different animal, with so many moving parts from one season to the next. How did you come to build this current group in Maine, and then manage to get them on the same page so quickly?
A: I just have to give a lot of credit to the Celtics' scouting staff. We put a great effort into our tryouts and the draft process. We put an emphasis on getting high-quality people. Not only good character people, but guys who are staying here, working hard, and interested in getting better over the long haul. It's difficult in this league when you have guys that are looking to the next thing and not willing to focus on improving over a day-to-day (basis). We've been blessed with a group of players who are taking it one day at a time. They realize their goal should be to improve over the duration of a year.
Q: We're starting to see a handful of players start to go overseas midseason, or at the very least, entertain offers to do so. With that in mind, is coaching in this league difficult? How do you keep your players motivated to stay the course?
A: It's a challenge all over professional sports. You don't want to get caught up in one poor game or even a really good one. You preach to the guys that everyone needs to be focused on the process. Whether it's a rest day, whether you're shooting free throws, or simply watching film, you have to get something out of that. Compete in practice. Get in the weight room. Every day counts. I don't think wins and losses are the ultimate goal in this league, but you still need to take care of those by doing a good job with the product and developing players.
Q: Tim Frazier has certainly been a bright spot for the Red Claws this season. He's averaging upwards towards a triple-double and has already garnered Performer of the Week achievements, to say the least. What can you say about his impact and respective contributions? I know he's new, just like many players on this team.
A: He is new to the team, but the fact that he was an affiliate player in Boston and I was there with him gave us a head start. That was a benefit to both he and I because we came in with a comfort level already established. In terms of his play, I've been pleased with his effort. Everyone has to improve things, and Tim is no different. He knows what he has to work on to be successful at the higher level. Everytime he steps on the court, he's ready to battle. He's one of the toughest guys on the court. He plays well in crunch time, and I think we can give him some credit, not all, for a couple of our wins. He's been making big plays. He finds his teammates and makes his free-throws. I think when he shows people he can do things in terms of the pick & roll, keeping up a high assist/turnover ratio, and knocking down his three's, he'll be someone that people are talking about for a call-up.
Q: You talk about being in camp with Boston yourself, and the type of relationship your staff has with the Celtics as an affiliate. How has that relationship progressed since you've been head coach? How do the team's assignment players fit in to what you're doing?
A: One thing that the guys in Boston really pressed on me when they hired me was that they wanted a situation where their players could go back and forth and still feel comfortable with what we were doing, system-wise. The time in training camp was very valuable for me to see what Coach Stevens does and how he teaches it. We don't do everything that Boston does, but a bulk of what we're doing is based on their system. It's easier for their players to come in, with limited practice time, and still know what we're doing. I think a goal of the Celtics', when they hired our staff, is paying off, and I hope they continue to have confidence in us to develop their guys through the season.