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UNC Asheville signs Mike Morrell to contract extension

CONTRIBUTED BY UNC ASHEVILLE ATHLETICS

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – UNC Asheville Director of Athletics Janet R. Cone announced Thursday that Head Men’s Basketball Coach Mike Morrell has agreed to a contract extension through the 2022-23 season.

Morrell, who will be entering his third season with UNC Asheville in 2020-21, has led one of the biggest turnarounds in Division I men’s basketball over his first two seasons.

Leading two teams that consisted of mainly underclassmen, Morrell helped lead the Bulldogs to an 11-win improvement from his first season to his second.

The 11-win improvement was tied for the second-largest improvement that season, and Asheville was one of just four teams in the nation to increase its win total by double digits.

Following the 2019-20 season, ESPN named Morrell one of its Top 40 coaches under 40 years old, citing the Bulldogs’ 11-game turnaround.

“We are very proud to have Mike Morrell as the leader of our men’s basketball team,” said Cone. “His leadership has been outstanding to date, and I have no doubts that our Bulldogs will continue to thrive under his guidance.”

Morrell said he is grateful for the support he and the program has received from the University’s leadership.

“I am very thankful to Janet Cone, Chancellor Nancy Cable, the Board of Trustees and everyone involved with UNC Asheville for the faith and support they have shown me and our program with this extension,” said Morrell.

“The opportunity to work here at UNC Asheville is one that I am very grateful for. Our players, staff, and program as a whole have made tremendous progress these last two years, and I am extremely excited about the future moving forward. I am looking forward to a very exciting 2020-21 season!”

After the first season with eight freshmen learning the ropes of collegiate basketball, Morrell truly began to establish his desired style of play in year two.

The Bulldogs played aggressive pressure defense, led the Big South and ranked in the Top 25 nationally in turnover margin (plus-5.2), turnovers forced per game (16.9), total steals (250), and steals per game (8.3).

Morrell coached two All-Big South performers, as DeVon Baker was named to the second-team while LJ Thorpe earned honorable mention recognition.

Additionally, Baker eclipsed the 1,000-point mark as a sophomore. He is the 34th overall player in team history to reach this milestone, and just the sixth sophomore in Big South history to do so.

The Bulldogs finished fourth nationally, even leading the nation for a period during the season, in turnover margin. 

Under Morrell’s direction, Lavar Batts Jr. led the Big South in steals, and three other players – Baker, Thorpe, and Trent Stephney – all ranked inside the Top 15 in the conference in steals. No other team had more than two players in the Top 15.

The Bulldogs also were much improved on the offensive end, as four players – Baker, Thorpe, Tajion Jones, and Batts – all ranked inside the Top 16 in the Big South in scoring. No other team in the league had more than two in the Top 16.

In addition to those four, Coty Jude also averaged 10 points per game, and he moved into the Top 10 all-time at Asheville in career three-pointers, as he is tied for ninth with 140.

Morrell and the Bulldogs will look to take another step forward in the 2020-21 season as the team returns all five starters, five other players that logged vital minutes off the bench while welcoming five newcomers.