Building a team one stroke at a time

  • Tony Dondero<br>Enterprise writer
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 11:59am


The post-game discussion in the locker room of the King’s boys basketball team always ends with the players giving each other “strokes.”

A “stroke” in the parlance of King’s head coach Marv Morris is a pat on the back. A player tells another player he noticed how he scrambled for a loose ball. A player notes the charge a teammate took. Someone else points out a nice pass a player made.

“I like to finish with the positive strokes from the kids,” Morris said. “It’s one of the best team-building things.”

The exercise supports the team concept Morris wants to instill in his players. That it’s not always about one superstar player. Everyone gets credit for their contribution.

Morris wants his players to play for each other not out of fear of their coach. That’s not to say Morris doesn’t have high expectations. He does and he’s driven to win. But he rarely screams and yells. His approach may take longer to get results, he admits. But in the long-term, Morris believes it pays off.

A lot of coaches talk about the team coming first, but Morris’ squads embody it. When you look at King’s scoring this season, only center Charlie Enquist, the team’s top player, averages in double digits. Even then it’s a modest 13.5 points per game. More than 15 players have scored for the Knights this season.

“He expects guys to be unselfish,” senior guard Spencer Clark said.

On last year’s team, Enquist and guard Jared Madrazo led the charge, but a multitude of role players helped the Knights get to the state 2A final. This season, the Knights are loaded with talent and have gone 22-3, but with five new players it’s taken time for them to jell as a team. Duane Morris, Morris’ son and a varsity assistant for the Knights, said his father has had more sleepless nights this year, thinking about how to do things better. But there have been moments of triumph. A comeback win over Class 4A tournament team Kentridge in January. And with Enquist out hurt, an upset of No. 1 Vashon Island in a winner-to-state playoff game last week.

For 39 years, Morris has coached sports in the Seattle area, including the last seven as head boys basketball coach at King’s. He served as an assistant on the Cleveland boys teams that won a state 3A title in 1975 and a 4A title in 1976. Those squads are often regarded as the greatest boys basketball teams in state history. Morris, who also was a head baseball coach at Cleveland, spent eight years as head boys basketball coach at Shorecrest, leading them to second-place in 3A in 1992.

The Scots’ success rubbed off on the whole school, and made the principal more of a believer in athletics, Morris recalled.

“It made everybody a bit more positive around the school,” he said.

Morris had a saying that year that the team put on T-shirts: “It’s the striving, not the arriving.” Focusing on the journey and not the destination produces success, according to Morris.

Morris likes process and he likes structure. Guard Cameron George, who transferred to King’s from a school in Arizona, said his previous school’s style was run-and-gun while the offensive and defensive sets he’s learned at King’s are tight and structured.

“It teaches basketball in its purest form,” George said.

Morris, 63, moved with his parents to Seattle from West Virginia at age 5 when his father took a job at Boeing. He played basketball and baseball at Queen Anne High School. He played hoops at George Fox University in Newberg, Ore. and led the team in scoring his freshman year. However, he came up short on money and transferred to Seattle Pacific. Morris intended to play basketball again but he broke his right wrist after a fall off a ladder which ended his playing days.

Upon receiving his degree in health and physical education with a minor in biology, Morris considered a high-paying job that involved working on foreclosures or a lower-paying job teaching and coaching.

He chose teaching and coaching, starting out at Asa Mercer Junior High in Seattle.

“I went with a job I thought I would enjoy instead of the money,” he said. “I just liked it. I felt it was what I wanted to do.”

Morris has coached some standout players at Shorecrest and King’s, notably post Travis Greer, who the 1992 Scots team was built around; Mike Nielsen, a Shorecrest guard who went on to play on the first Gonzaga team to make a deep NCAA tournament run; and Chris Faidley, the King’s guard who Morris said is the best shooter he’s ever had. Faidley now plays at Whitman.

Morris, 63, lives in Shoreline with his wife of nearly 40 years, Caroline. Besides Duane, he has a grown daughter, Barb.

Morris came to King’s in 2000 and won state 1A titles his first two years as coach. The first year the Knights were expected to win, the next year they surprised the field. Teaching and coaching at King’s also allowed Morris to freely express his Christian faith with his players and students, which he could not do freely in his previous 30 years at public schools.

Still, he said he’s enjoyed each of his stops along the way at Asa Mercer, Cleveland, Roosevelt, Shorecrest, as well as King’s.

Many of his players have been taken his health class as well, where the lessons continue.

“He’s like a bigger picture kind of guy,” said Clark. “Basketball’s only a little part of your life but you can take things from it that will help you.”

Said George: “He doesn’t want to make this only a basketball team that goes out and wins but a family.”

Greg Tacon, a former Morris assistant who took over for him when he left Shorecrest before leaving to coach in Hawaii, called his mentor a “patient man, a thoughtful man.”

Tacon, who has coached at the elite private Punahou High School and Moanalua, a public high school in Hawaii, said he uses much of what he learned from Morris in his coaching.

In a preseason meeting with parents, Tacon recalled Morris asking each parent to write down how many points, rebounds and minutes they thought their son would get per game. After the results were tabulated, if the parents’ expectations came true, the team would average more than 200 points and 150 rebounds a game, Tacon said. The point of the exercise was to help parents have more realistic expectations and see what was good for the team rather than only what was good for their son.

The bottom line is that Morris will listen to parents, but has an “absolute unwillingness to compromise a team for an individual,” Tacon said.

When Shorecrest made the title game against Mount Vernon in 1992, Tacon said Morris asked the players to sit down and talk about their teammates before taking the floor. Some players became so emotional they cried.

“When you’re building a team and they are there for each other, they’re not afraid to say it,” Tacon said.

“I think Washington high school basketball has had great coaches,” Tacon said. “I think Marv, with all the success he’s had, is right there with all those guys.”

When asked how much longer he’ll coach Morris said: “When God tells me to quit. I don’t know when that’s going to be.”

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