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End of an era

The Scott Morrison era is over at Lakehead University.
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New Lakehead basketball coach Manny Furtado (from left), athletic director and former coach Scott Morrison pose Friday at a news conference announcing the change. Morrison is taking over head coaching duties with the Maine Red Claws of the NBA D-League. (Leith Dunick, tbnewswatch.com)

The Scott Morrison era is over at Lakehead University.

The men’s basketball coach made it official on Friday that he’s leaving the Thunderwolves to assume the head coaching duties with the Maine Red Claws, the Boston Celtics farm team in the NBA Development League.

He’ll be replaced by former Carleton Ravens assistant coach Manny Furtado, winner of a pair of championships under Canadian coaching legend Dave Smart.

Morrison, who guided the Wolves to four straight appearances at CIS nationals starting in 2010, spent last year as an assistant in Maine, taking a one-year leave of absence, returning to Lakehead earlier this summer with every intention of taking the reins of a team he’s coached for the past 11 years.

But when the Celtics came calling earlier this month, the Morel, P.E.I. native said he couldn’t say no.

“I feel bad for the timing of the announcement, but at the end of the day it’s a great opportunity that I can’t pass up and I’m excited to get going,” Morrison said, wrapping up his farewell press conference at the Hangar.

Morrison, whose father George was a longtime CIS basketball coach, says the move takes him one step further to his ultimate goal.
“I’m not in the NBA yet, but I’m hoping this is a giant step toward it,” he said.

“Basically I’ll be working with the Celtics for the entire pre-season. I’ll go there Monday and be there until late October. Then in late October the D-League season gets going and I’ll move down to Maine and be the head coach of the team down there until the D-League season is over and then I’ll rejoin the Celtics anytime the D-League is off.”

His players say it will be a big loss.

Anthony McIntosh, who arrived in Thunder Bay four summers ago, said he considers Morrison a father figure in his life.

But he understands.

“It’s sort of an opportunity he can’t give up. But I think we’ll be all right,” McIntosh said.

“I came in here a boy and he really, really helped me grow as a person, as an athlete and as a student. It really hurts to see him go. It’s a big disappointment, but change is good and I’m really happy for him.”

LU athletic director Tom Warden joked he always knew when Morrison was in the building, his booming voice barking out plays during practice, the gym a few short feet away from Warden’s office.

Warden couldn’t say enough about what Morrison brought to the program since arriving 11 years ago. During his tenure Morrison, whose team finished 1-21 in 2006-07, won an OUA championship and capped his career winning silver in 2013, falling to Carleton in the gold-medal game.

“He’s just done a fantastic job and that’s not just been through luck. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve met. He’s very smart and he’s got some charm. I think if you put all those things together and you’ve got a professional basketball coach,” Warden said.

“And I suppose that’s what Danny Ainge thought and he’s been hired by the Boston Celtics. We’re sad to see him go, but we’re certainly happy that he’s moving on and following his dreams.”

Furtado, 36, spent the past two years with the Ravens following 10 years at Hamilton’s Blessed Sacrament club team, as well as coaching at his former high school, St. Mary’s Catholic Secondary.

He knows he’s got big shoes to fill, but thinks he’s ready.

“To me it was a no-brainer. I made the decision a couple of years ago to go work for Dave Smart at Carleton and go learn from the best.

When this opportunity came up I had to jump on it … I’m real excited with what we’ve got here and some of the commitments from some of the recruits we have,” Furtado said.

Furtado takes over from assistant Matt Erdman, who coached the team in 2013-14 during Morrison's sabbatical in Maine.