Scott Morrison comes from a place where Maritimers and Islanders are common words to describe locals. It’s a place more famous for lobster, mussels and blueberries than basketball.
The tiny coastal village of Morell (population 300) – between Savage Harbour and Saint Peters Bay – on the Eastern edge of Canada’s Prince Edward Island is “not exactly a hotbed for basketball,” Morrison said.
Morrison, 38, is the coach of the NBA D-League’s Maine Red Claws, the Boston Celtics’ affiliate, and took an unconventional path from Prince Edward Island to Canadian college basketball coach to D-League volunteer to impressive young NBA coaching prospect.
“I would say that Scott is amongst the five or six best coaches I’ve worked with,” Celtics director of scouting and Red Claws general manager David Lewin said. “He’s already good enough to be a front bench NBA assistant.”
Consider that Lewin has worked with Brad Stevens, Doc Rivers, Ron Adams and Mike Malone.
Morrison was the 2014-15 D-League coach of the year in his first season as head coach. The year before he was a volunteer coach for the Red Claws. And the year before that the head coach at Lakehead University in Ontario.
In Morrison’s final contract with Lakehead, which he turned into a strong Canadian program, he negotiated a professional sabbatical. Imagine a U.S. college coach taking a year away from the team to continuing education. But it’s common in Canada, and Morrison used his.
“At first, being kind of ignorant, I said, ‘Hey, I’ll go volunteer in the NBA and spend a year with an NBA team.’ Well, they’re not just handing those spots out. I really didn’t get much traction,” Morrison said.
He leaned on his contacts, had D-League possibilities and found an opportunity in Maine.
“I decided to learn as much as I could about the pro game and maybe meet some people and in the worst case, I would learn a lot, and in the best case, maybe down the road sometime, I would have a chance to turn one of those connections into a job at the pro level,” Morrison said.
He did a bit of everything for the Red Claws, including laundry and driving the team bus. “I was willing to learn and willing to stay in my lane and do what I was asked to do regardless of how glamorous or exciting it was,” he said.
The Celtics took note of his player development skills on and off the court. If a player needed extra shots or work in the gym, Morrison was there. If a player needed extra time watching video, Morrison showed up.
At the end of the season, Lewin conducts exit interviews with players. Among the questions: Who do you spend the most time with on staff? Who did the most to help you get better?
“They all said Scott,” Lewin said. “That’s incredibly important because there are lot of coaches who love and embrace the game preparation and Xs and Os side of the game and drawing up plays. That’s obviously an important skillset. But especially for a D-League coach, it’s equally if not more important that you love the process of working with players and helping them get better.
“Scott brought that at a high level.”
When the Red Claws wanted a coach who better fit the Celtics’ vision under Boston coach Brad Stevens, they conducted a comprehensive search in the summer of 2014.
“It became clear as we were doing that, that none of the people we were looking at were better than Scott,” Lewin said. “Scott was outstanding and stood out, even amongst these highly recommended people we were talking to.”
Lewin said Morrison is smart, learns quickly and understands Stevens’ offense and defense so that players going back and forth between the Red Claws and Celtics make seamless transitions.
“The single biggest thing is work ethic,” Lewis said. “Anything that we asked him to do, got done. It got done quickly. It got done well.”
Morrison, who studied economics in college, not only embraces the evolution of the game, he has a keen interest in creating more efficient offense. During his sabbatical, he researched shot creation, focusing on three-point shots created by plays that included the ball going to a player in the paint before the shot.
“I thought if you look a little further into something like that, maybe you would find there’s actually certain ways to attack offensively that would get you those shots,” Morrison said.
The answer after watching 30,000 three-pointers? That’s proprietary content. But that curious mind impressed the Celtics.
“From a coaching standpoint, I don’t necessarily think I’m better than anybody else,” Morrison said. “I try to work hard and try to learn as much as I can and listen to different people and take things from them and tweak it for personnel that I might have.”
Morrison provides a lesson in doing what is asked and necessary. He did it when he was younger, did it when he was an established Canadian college coach and does it with the Red Claws. One of his first jobs was an assistant women’s basketball coach at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia for “volunteer’s wages,” he said.
The son of a basketball coach, Morrison said he did “every job growing up that I could do from waterboy to manager to filming games until I was able to play for him.”
On those car rides to and from practice with his dad, George, they would “talk a lot of basketball. I knew always wanted to be a coach from watching him and see how he operated,” Morrison said.
Now, he is closer to reaching a goal and joining the NBA. D-League coaches of the year have a notable track record that includes NBA jobs. Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder won the award twice; Nick Nurse is a Toronto Raptors assistant; Chris Finch is a Houston Rockets assistant; Nick Nurse is an assistant for the Toronto Raptors; Bryan Gates an assistant for the Minnesota Timberwolves; Connor Henry is an assistant with the Orlando Magic.
“I don’t think you’re ever going to reach those goals if you get too caught up in them and forget about the process of where you currently are,” Morrison said. “If I’m successful at those things in the moment and the current process, maybe somewhere down the road someone will give me a chance for a bigger role. I’m happy to be here and grateful for the opportunity.”
To make the jump to an NBA bench, Lewin wants to see Morrison zero in on a definable niche, such as offensive or defensive specialist or player development and he wants Morrison to expand his network so more people know who he is.
Lewin will be happy to see Morrison take that next step.
“The deal I tell to all the players and coaches: I realize it’s not the most glamour assignment and certainly not the most lucrative,” Lewin said. “But if you come in here and do a great job for us – head coach, assistant coach, video coordinator, intern, point guard, whatever it is – we’re going to do everything in our power to help you get to that next stage in your career.”
Now, Morrison just wants to be “the best D-League coach I can be and be the best player development guy I can be and just be someone who the Celtics feel helps in some small way to what they’re trying to do,” he said. “If I can do that, I’ll be successful.”