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Morrell officially introduced as UNC Asheville coach

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Apr 17, 2018 at 8:52 PM

Former Elizabethton High School and Milligan College standout Michael Morrell was officially introduced as the new men's basketball coach at UNC Asheville on Tuesday, achieving what he called a dream to be an NCAA Division I head coach.

Morrell, 35, who previously served as an assistant at Texas, Virginia Commonwealth, Clemson and King College, takes over for Nick McDevitt, who took the Middle Tennessee State job last month.

The new coach took time during his busy day Tuesday to talk about how his background in East Tennessee led to today's opportunity.

YOU HAD SOME OF THE NATION'S TOP RECRUITING CLASSES AT TEXAS AND THE RESOURCES THERE ARE SECOND TO NONE. HOW HARD WAS IT TO LEAVE?

Morrell: "The reasons it was hard to leave Texas weren't because of the resources. It was because of the relationships with the players and staff there. When I decided to come here, I focused on what Asheville has, a great facility, a great place to recruit to and to live. And there's a winning tradition."

HOW HAVE YOUR OLD ELIZABETHTON COACHES LIKE FOOTBALL COACH DAVE RIDER AND BASKETBALL COACH TONY HARDIN INFLUENCED YOU?

Morrell: "I'm really proud of to be from Upper East Tennessee and Elizabethton specifically. Those coaches really encouraged me to dream big. It allowed me to think an opportunity like today could come true. It meant a lot for Coach Hardin and his son, Steve, to be there today. All the coaches, not only in high school, but middle school and elementary school, I was lucky to be in a place where they invested in people like myself. I was in a single-parent home with my mom and the community helped raise me."

WHAT KIND OF INFLUENCE DID COACH (GEORGE) PITTS HAVE ON YOU AT KING?

Morrell: "Coach Pitts had a tremendous impact on my career. Of the coaches I've worked with, he takes a back seat to nobody. He's as good as any of them. You learned what it meant to compete working with him because he settled for nothing less than your best every day on the practice floor and game floor. I was 23 at the time and he was a great, great guy for me."

HOW NICE IS IT TO BE BACK HOME? YOU’VE MENTIONED THAT A FEW TIMES ALREADY.

Morrell: "That wasn't the only reason I was interested in the job, but I'm happy to be only an hour away from where I grew up and to be able to spend time with people I really care about. It's a really special day for me. Coach (John) Shulman was there and he's another one who's had a huge influence on me. Being a Johnson City guy, when he was the coach at Chattanooga, it was affirmation that here's a guy who grew up the same place I did and I really looked up to him."

YOUR REPUTATION AS A HARD WORKER PRECEDES YOU. WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO BE YOUR BEST?

Morrell: "I learned from (Texas coach) Shaka Smart, who is the best in the business that when all things are equal, you just outwork people. That's what we expected from us as coaches and from our players every time we stepped out there. That's what recruiting is and in a lot of ways what relationships are. You have to work at those and show people you care about them. I'm glad to have my own program because I have a lot of pieces of all the guys I worked for, but I have my own motivation of wanting to win and having our players move forward. It's not money or fame, but to compete at the highest level. I'm lucky to compete at Division I, the highest level, and to be afforded this opportunity."

FINALLY, WHY HAS MILLIGAN COLLEGE PRODUCED SO MANY HEAD COACHES AT A HIGH LEVEL?

Morrell: "That's something I've thought about a few times. I got to spend time last spring with (former Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers coach) Del Harris. There aren't that many Milligan alums running around. He had written a book and was in Austin, and I got a lot of one-on-one time with him. There is (former ETSU and Auburn coach) Sonny Smith obviously and (Carson-Newman coach) Dale Clayton. Milligan is a special place and a place that really helped to shape me. I don't know why, it must be something in the water. But, it means a lot to me to be able to rise up the ranks."

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