NCAA tournament has become a habit for Morrell

Joe Avento • Mar 15, 2018 at 3:37 PM

Mike Morrell says the NCAA tournament never gets old, and he should know. He’s spent the better part of a decade taking part in college basketball’s biggest event.

Morrell, an Elizabethton native who is now an assistant coach at Texas, will be in the NCAA tournament for the ninth time in 11 seasons Friday when the Longhorns take on Nevada in Nashville.

“For a lot of coaches and players, March Madness is a huge reason why you fell in love with college basketball,” Morrell said Wednesday. “Getting to go and compete in the tournament is the ultimate.”

Texas is seeded 10th in the South Regional and takes on seventh-seeded Nevada on Friday at 4:30 p.m. in Bridgestone Arena. The game will be televised by TBS.

Being in his home state means Morrell will have some familiar faces in the stands, which hasn’t always been the case during his previous NCAA journeys.

“I have some friends and family coming from Elizabethton and Johnson City and I have a few friends in Nashville,” he said. “That’s going to be neat. I’ve never been in an NCAA where we played close enough for family and friends to come. We’ve been out West a lot, Portland, San Diego. It’s good to be somewhere close. That’s exciting.”

Morrell’s current NCAA trip wasn’t certain when the Selection Show began on Sunday. Texas was 19-14 after losing to Texas Tech in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament. That left the Longhorns hoping to make the field, but they were anything but a lock.

“When you’re sitting there and you don’t know 100 percent, you’re just squirming a little bit,” said Morrell, who has been on Shaka Smart’s staff at VCU and Texas. “The food doesn’t taste quite as good until you see your name on the screen. When you do, it adds to the excitement. Seeing your name pop up for sure, that’s always definitely the most exciting thing. It’s the most exciting time of the year and it’s a culmination of all the hard work, a chance to compete for a national championship.

“This is the first time we’ve ever really been on the bubble, but getting a 10 seed, maybe we weren’t on the bubble as much as we thought we were.”

Now that they’re in, the Longhorns have drawn a tough opening opponent. Nevada is 27-7 and ranked 24th in the Associated Press poll.

“They’re really talented and you don’t win that many games, no matter what level, unless you’re really well coached,” said Morrell, a 2005 graduate of Milligan College. “But once you get to the NCAA tournament, you can look at your draw and analyze it all you want. When the ball goes up in the air, there are going to be nerves and jitters, and the team that handles it the best will be the one that wins.”

Morrell participated in three NCAA tournaments while at Clemson, four at VCU and this is his second in three years at Texas.

“I’ve been fortunate,” he said. “It never gets old, none whatsoever. For 68 teams, it feels like a new season. That’s the most exciting thing about it.”

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