03/23/08 — Morgan, Stephens Boys Coaches of the Year

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Morgan, Stephens Boys Coaches of the Year

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on March 23, 2008 2:03 AM

Tod Morgan and Russell Stephens guided their teams through more adversity than expected, and both lived to tell about it once their respective 2007-08 seasons concluded.

The duo expected challenges at their most-recent stop -- tradition-rich, boys' basketball programs that consistently challenge for conference championships and advance to postseason play.

Each persevered and directed their teams to runner-up finishes in league play, and second-round appearances in the sectional playoffs. For their efforts, Morgan (Goldsboro High) and Stephens (Southern Wayne) have been selected the 2007-08 News-Argus All-Area Boys' Basketball Co-Coaches of the Year.

Former Cougar coach Randy Jordan resigned in July, but Morgan didn't arrive on the Goldsboro campus until November. East Carolina signee Daquan Joyner and junior college recruit Tim Kornegay graduated. Reco McCarter transferred during the summer and Tim Hobbs moved on after the first semester.

Morgan faced a precarious situation.

Teaching his system "on the go" and learning about his players on a daily basis, Morgan prayed the Cougars' non-conference schedule would set up a successful run through the Class 2-A Eastern Plains Conference.

The nay-sayers appeared in full force when Morgan's team started 0-2.

But Goldsboro prevailed in six of its next 10 games and made important strides during a Christmas tournament at Lenoir Community College. The Cougars reached the championship game and that success carried over into the EPC season.

"The biggest thing was trying to keep it positive until conference play," said Morgan. "If we could just keep it positive during non-conference play, even if we came out .500 or below, I felt like we had a good chance of having a good season.

"I think the key with the conference season was getting off to a good start."

A firm believer in the importance of conditioning and getting the most out of his club in between game days, Morgan pushed his club to the brink in practice. Morgan's practices included running stadium stairs while wearing 40-pound weight vests, suicide runs, ball handling, jump stop and fast break drills.

The conclusion of practice focused on teaching players responsibility with a thought of the day, and an offensive and defensive emphasis to remember. Forgetting either one simply meant more running. Morgan's unforgiving practice mentality played a large part in Goldsboro's 17-12 record, its second-place finish in the EPC and berth in the state sectional semifinals.

Stephens found himself in a similar predicament when his youth-laden Southern Wayne squad started 0-6. Much like Goldsboro, the Saints began turn to things around at the same Christmas tournament at LCC.

The Saints (13-14 overall) reached the third-place game that weekend and went on to finish tied for second in the challenging Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference. After falling to Wilson Hunt in the semifinals of the league tournament, Southern Wayne reached the sectional semifinals.

"I think the Christmas tournament was probably when we started playing some of our best basketball," Stephens said. "Our kids' mentality changed during that tournament. We started getting hustle points and hustle plays.

"By the time we hit conference play, I think we started to understand what our roles were as individuals."

An excellent game manager, Stephens credits his ability to adapt his basketball philosophies around his personnel to his peers and mentors. A graduate and former assistant coach at Mount Olive, Stephens stills relies on the teachings of Trojans head coach Bill Clingan as well as his friends in the coaching community.

"I learned a lot of my game management skills from coach Clingan," Stephens said. "I've always been impressed with his demeanor during games and his ability to take over games at crucial times.

"I've always looked at the game of basketball as you're never too old to learn when you have kids and you want to succeed you might have to call up a friend."