MOUNT CARMEL, Ill. -- A love for the game -- a simple phrase that explains the draw for many in seeking a career in sports. Such is the case for Wabash Valley College men's basketball assistant Tanner Morris.
Unlike many others, Morris has literally been around basketball since birth, recollecting that his first basketball game came when his parents took him to a game when he was just two weeks old. Morris' father, Bob, was formerly an assistant at Illinois State University and Northern Illinois University, with stops at several other schools, including the junior college level, affiliating the younger Morris with the game since day one.
"From day one I've basically been around the game, it's all I've ever wanted to do," coach Morris recollected. "With him being a coach, I've seen everything, I've been around everything, learned a lot at a young age, still to this day he's one I talked to everyday. When I have questions, when I want to know something, always someone I can call back on and get home."
Hailing from Normal, Ill., Morris' love of the game continued to grow as he watched his dad coach, his inspiration for his career. Very early on it was clear to the younger Morris what his career was going to be when he was older.
"What I've always wanted to do is follow in his footsteps," coach Morris said. "They had me on TV in first or second grade, we were at one of Illinois State's practice, but they had the whole class over and they interviewed kids after, asked what they wanted to be when they grow up. Most said firefighter, pizza boy, I said a coach. Since way back then, I've always wanted to coach."
Morris then attended University High School in Normal, playing on the varsity golf team, as well as playing two years of basketball before realizing his physical limitations would restrict his playing career down the road. Still, he spent all four years of high school helping the basketball program.
Upon graduation, he then attended Illinois Valley Community College, at which he played collegiate golf for two years and continued to be involved in basketball, working as the head basketball manager. He transferred from Illinois Valley to Lincoln College-Normal, graduating from the school with a B.S. in Sports Management.
Oddly enough, after graduation, Morris was babysitting for the head men's basketball coach at Lincoln College-Normal when the coach mentioned to Morris about a job opportunity as an assistant coach in Texas at Howard College. Morris was immediately interested, citing the need to get his food in the door despite it being 19 hours away from home. The Lincoln coach called and Morris had the job, set to move to Texas in two weeks.
He had worked at a golf course during the summer to save up money for such an opportunity, money he would certainly need. The job was unpaid, but he would receive free living and meals at the cafeteria -- it got interesting from there though -- the dorm room that Morris was set to live in was flooded by faulty water pipers above it, creating a dilemma for Morris and his father, who drove down to help situate his son into this unfamiliar city.
"The room above and mine were destroyed," coach Morris recalled. "So the coach said, we can try to find you an apartment in town, my dad said let us think on it. We went to the hotel for the night and came up with the idea of staying in the locker room. I went and bought a blow up mattress and for two months I lived in the locker room."
Living in a locker room for two months, it could only go up from there for Morris. But through all the initial adversity, it proved to be an awesome experience for him to pull from. Despite losing a couple preseason Jamborees, he helped coach a 32-2 team to a NJCAA National Title with seven Division I signees at Howard, including current Utah Jazz forward Jae Crowder.
"Being there made me enjoy it even more," coach Morris said. "The fact that it wasn't all glory and everything great that everyone sees on TV, all these coaches living the luxury life and makes you really realize and appreciate everything a little more. I think it was the best thing that's happened with me."
He stayed as an assistant at Howard for a season, eventually leaving. They tried to work out a deal to have him paid, but it didn't work out. The money and the distance serving as the primary reasons he left for Lincoln College in Lincoln, Ill.. Lincoln won the NJCAA National Title in his first season there as well, giving him back-to-back championships as an assistant coach.
He would stay at Lincoln for four seasons, serving as a top recruiter for the program, prior to being contacted by now WVC head men's basketball coach Mike Carpenter after he had taken the Wabash Valley job. Morris knew Carpenter from Carpenter's days at Danville, which was in the same conference as Lincoln.
"Knowing coach Carpenter and the success he had at Danville, I wanted to move up to the Division I junior college level," coach Morris said. "I knew this was a great opportunity, my dad's best friend was the coach here two different times, Mark Coomes. I had talked to Mark some, he said there's not a better place than Wabash Valley. Knowing coach Carpenter, he's someone I felt comfortable working with. Knowing that he would probably be here for a while and be successful, I thought it'd be a great opportunity."
Now in his fifth season, Morris serves as the utility guy, serving many different roles on the staff, coaching, recruiting, laundry, leading study groups, he basically does it all, citing advice his dad gave him.
"The biggest thing he's taught me is my job is to make the head coach's job easier," coach Morris said. "Not to be big time for anything, always be willing to do whatever is asked and then some, whether it's do laundry for the team, pick up vehicles for the day, go out and recruit, stay in the office and watch film till late, he's always taught me you're not too good to do anything. Everywhere I've been that's kind of been my philosophy, willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done."
This work ethic is realized by coach Carpenter too, as he has said, he feels he has the best staff in the country. Morris, as one of the assistants is honored by how complimentary Coach is of their work.
"It's nice to hear him say that," coach Morris said. "I like to think we're the four best in the country, we work very well off each other, we compliment each other very well and we get along well. That right there is probably why we're so successful. There' some staffs that you hear of, not everyone gets along, that makes it hard to come to work everyday. The four of us enjoy coming to work everyday, I think that makes it run so well here."
From living in a locker room 19 hours away, picking up medicine for his athletes, all the way to his time now at Wabash Valley, Morris continues to be fueled by one thing -- his love for the game.
Morris and the Warriors will have their home opener on Friday, Nov. 9, hosting Danville in the Warrior Classic at 7 p.m., as Morris begins his quest for a third National Title as an assistant coach.