Transcript: Orange and Blue Podcast with Women's Basketball Coach Brian Morehouse

Alan Babbitt [00:00:05] Welcome to the Hope College Athletics Orange and Blue Podcast, Alan Babbitt, sports information director here at Hope College. It's been really enjoyable and rewarding being on this end of the mike this semester. We've talked to Hope College coaches to get their insights on certainly an unusual, unprecedented ... We can't come up with enough words to describe the semester ... but a tremendous effort by our students to do in-person learning this fall, finishing up with online exams this week. Today, we're privileged to have Hope College women's basketball coach Brian Morehouse with us. Welcome to the Orange and Blue Podcast, Brian.

Brian Morehouse [00:00:47] Thanks, Alan. I've really enjoyed listening to the other coaches and appreciate you having me on.

Alan Babbitt [00:00:53] Take me through this, we'll start with this year's team. Obviously, we don't know when you're going to play or all those other things are decided by outside things. But I know your team has been hard at work, working together, practicing - individual workouts and team workouts. Take me through what it's been like. I mean, last spring we had the NCAA Tournament (canceled). You had to deal with that and all the emotions with that tremendous team. New year, a lot of familiar faces, but a new team. Take me through the progression since last March of how this year has come together and worked during this pandemic.

 Brian Morehouse [00:01:37] I think the first thing we have to acknowledge is just that last spring was tough, right? While we may not want to dwell on it, I still think that it impacts our players, some of them on a day-to-day basis, some of them weekly, some of them it might be more hit and miss. It's difficult to put the disappointment of last spring completely out of your mind and say, 'Oh, you just need to focus forward' because that was then and this is now. It's a little bit like grieving. You can go through the grief process. But I think the other part of the grief process is that doesn't ever mean it's necessarily over and done on a specific date. We've had to really work our way through a lot of those emotions, a lot of those feelings. I think one of the really cool things was our players had to go home. I mean, it was season over and everybody evacuated campus.  We didn't have postseason meetings. We didn't have face-to-face stuff. They were just gone. And then to reacquaint ourselves with them when they get back on campus in August to just look at the work that they put in. We had some players improved dramatically. I mean, some of them as much as I've ever seen a player make an improvement from one season to the next. That was super exciting to see just the work that they did with no one looking over their shoulder all summer long, without the benefits of gyms, without the benefit of a weight room for most players. Most of our players were getting better on a playground, on a hoop, by themselves. (I am) really excited about the improvements of our players coming back. If you look at our roster, it has a lot of familiar faces. We only added two new players to this year's program. But the players that we do return improved a ton. I'm really, really excited about their growth. Obviously, a senior-laden team with nine seniors, which is, as I tell people when they ask me about our roster and ask me about our team, I'm like, that is really, really poor roster management. But it's really, really exciting as the head coach to look out there and see players that are just great. You can't always control a great class. We happen to have a great class four years ago that decided to come to Hope. We reap the rewards of a lot of their growing pains early on when many of them played a lot as freshmen. Now you're to their senior years and you look out there ... we had practice one day and I walked out and I called Courtney Lust on my way home and I said, 'We're really good. We're really good, and I said, 'You know me, I am the last person to say that any of my teams are really good.' I said, but that practice that we just had right there, first of all, I felt like I didn't even need to be there because our seniors just took control of the whole practice and everybody just followed along and they just competed at such a high level. That was sort of the theme for the fall, is whether it was the conditioning, or whether it was once we started practices, there was just a high level of competition, while there was also a high level of support and leadership for our freshmen through our senior groups. It was a really cool dynamic.

Alan Babbitt [00:05:34] Do you think it was a matter of that, whether conditioning or once you were able to practice that it was just kind of a release and escape from everything? I mean, everything's been thrown at them this semester adjusting to a new way on campus for the semester classes and all the different things that are just hard for everybody, but hard for them, particularly was basketball that escape. They could just have fun and be with their friends and not have to think about some of this other stuff that we've been having to contend with.

Brian Morehouse [00:06:08] Yes and no. If there's one thing I've learned from the last however many months are we on right now since March? It's hard to remember. But if there's one thing that I've learned is everybody is not processing this. In the same way and so to your point, Alan. Many of our players that were coming into practice, absolutely, yeah, that was their release, that was, you know, their release from stress and from wearing a mask and all of that stuff. It was their release. Absolutely. And they attacked the competition piece of it. They attacked the self-improvement part of it. But for some players when you've been really burned in a relationship and a relationship with basketballs, what I'm talking about, it's difficult to go back into the relationship again. So for many of them, yes, stress relief, see their friends for others harder because they were coping with. There is risk involved in investing in this season coming ahead, because what if they're disappointed again? Oh, my goodness. I mean, it was so painful last March and now they might be disappointed. Again, difficult for players to risk. So a little bit of everything. Everybody process it differently. We need to meet each individual player on where they are and not where we are as coaches.

Alan Babbitt [00:07:44] Trying, obviously, with a basketball team, and especially with the large team, I know you have some JV players as well, how do you try to do that? Is it just making sure whether, between you and your assistant coaches, you're connecting on a one-on-one basis, maybe not that you heard before, but maybe more?

Brian Morehouse [00:08:03] I think real intentionality and reaching out to players, not as well, you're all seniors and you should all be at the same spot, but talking individually to Kenedy (Schoonveld) or Ashleigh (Thomas), Jess (Moorman) or (Mallory) Gerber and making sure that we understand what's on their plate. We understand what their emotions are instead of trying to group them all together and then really having our freshmen be in a completely different boat. So, I mean, the freshmen the good thing is they don't really know what they're missing. They know that masks are no fun and they make running sprints really difficult. But they don't really get that they missed out on some of the beach workouts or things like that because they've never done them before so you truly have people at both ends of the spectrum.

Alan Babbitt [00:09:04] You talk about that intentionality and that support staff, you mentioned Courtney Kust and there are some great coaches on this staff, Colly Carlson, and this year adding Julie Potts. Talk about your assistant coaches and what they've done to support you and our student-athletes.

Brian Morehouse [00:09:27]  I'll be the first to say that there's no way I navigate from March until now without my staff. They've been incredible. They have they've been intentional about staying in contact with our players in our program, both the new players coming in and also the returning players. Kyle Lurvey, Courtney Kust, Julie Potts, Colly Carlson. Just because we're not out in front of people practicing or having an exhibition or playing games ... We would be, What? Three games into this thing right now? ... I almost think that they've worked harder than they would have in the past. Going recruiting was very difficult this summer, and yet they would hop in the car and head down to Indiana because that's the only place that they played basketball this summer. We burned up more miles going to Indianapolis than I've ever experienced in my life. We were at one point there for five weeks straight. I was there every week in Indianapolis and my staff was right there with me. But going back to your point about support, just their ability to listen, I think has been big. Instead of telling our players how they should feel or what they should do, really meeting them on an on a level playing surface and saying, what do you need from us? How can we help you? And then also giving them some direction when they ask for it on how they might better navigate the emotions of cope with the emotions of and I mean, this has been a hard semester. We just jammed 16 weeks into 14 and professors didn't back off on their syllabi. Our players are doing the same thing, going to class on Saturday mornings so that they can get all of their contact hours in with professors. So it's been hard. But you know what? Through our staff and through the support of player to player, they've navigated it really, really well.  I think that our freshmen have succeeded because of our upperclassmen, which really helped them understand how they can do this and that it will be OK and that they got this. That's a common theme in our program, you've got this when people are struggling and there have been way too many life lessons and you've got this since last March. But together we've navigated it. Julie Potts brings great, great I. I love what she brings to our program as a new coach. She coached at the college level at Bluffton for a couple of years, and then she became a head coach at the high school level for a bunch of years and really learned how to work and communicate and anticipate questions and concerns by families and players. She's been a great piece that we've added since last March and has been super helpful in navigating this thing and really simplifying some of it because we had to go back and do stuff we've never done in our program before. We've never had individual workouts or small group workouts like we were allowed to do starting on October 1st. I'm sitting there looking at Kyle Lurvey was a high school coach, Julie Potts, who was a high school coach, and Colly Carlson and said, 'How do you do this?' They were, 'Oh, this is like June (in high school) right now, coach. Here's how we do it. I was like, why would we do that? And they're like, 'Oh, don't worry. This is all part of the process, just like it was in high school.' They were all very helpful, not just with the emotional piece with our players, but also with the teaching piece that I hadn't had a whole lot of experience with. I would never have been able to do it without them.

Alan Babbitt [00:13:29] What do you do? What did you see, observe from those individual workouts that you had to do that you think have been beneficial?

Brian Morehouse [00:13:39] I think the ability to break things down really, really carefully and take time to teach the why more than we've ever done for our players was helpful. I'm not a slow-it-down kind of a coach because I've never had the opportunity, it's always been, tryouts starting October 15th and we play November 8. We got three weeks to figure this out. And oh, by the way, if we lose a game, it could cost us an NCAA tournament, so that's always been my mindset. Just having their ability to say, Coach, we got time where we can teach the real technicalities of what we're doing right now and then to watch our players just improve as I've never seen our kids improve over a course of time. It was awesome. Just footwork, types of things, things that we really had wanted to stress. You know, we wrote down a list of to-do items coming off last March. We thought that we would to do them in practice, normal practice. But being able to break those down further was really, really an awesome opportunity.

Alan Babbitt [00:14:52] People are familiar and used to seeing you on the sidelines at Devos Fieldhouse, but that's not the only hat you wear and you are especially busy working on some other different areas. Part of that has been being the Devos Fieldhouse director and coordinating everything that goes on in the building and keeping it organized and even more challenging with some of the things that needed to be done and talk about that work and what you've done to try to, you know, help Devos Fieldhouse be maximized in terms of its use for our student-athletes.

Brian Morehouse [00:15:27] I think the college has done a great job in providing fitness opportunities for our students on campus in a safe manner. And it's been a complete team effort. It's been an effort between, you know, our physical plant, our janitorial staff, planning with myself, Tim Koberna, Dan Margritz, just how can we safely provide those opportunities on our campus? The steering committee has been absolutely critical to help guide the process. Very fortunate. (assistant athletic director) Lindsey Engelsman is on the steering committee and also across the hall from me so that we can really anticipate some of the needs of the facility. I think we've rolled it out great. We've had to do it in smaller numbers. Typically, we can have 50 people in our weight room was limited to 25 right now. So a lot of pressure on Coach Margritz as far as the strength of conditioning piece, a lot of pressure on us to just making sure that we maintain a clean facility. How I train my workers changed tremendously this year. We're wiping down equipment, five, six times a day, every hour on the hour. Our students have been great. The students that use the facility have been amazing this year. To walk through there and just watch a young person who could just walk away from a bench, intentionally walk over, grab the cleaning solution, spray it down, wipe it down and keep going just shows the level of investment in our student body and keeping us in person and keeping everybody safe. It's been awesome. But I couldn't have done it without all the help. It's been a great part of my job. I've enjoyed it because I like problem solving. This was the ultimate jigsaw puzzle on how to put it together.

Alan Babbitt [00:17:31] I know another hat you proudly wear as being a dad and you have two daughters who are Hope students, and so that puts another lens for you to kind of see this whole semester through. What have you seen from your daughters and their experience with Hope that you take great pride in or appreciation for as a dad, not just someone who works here?

Brian Morehouse [00:18:04] People see the hat that I wear as a basketball coach, but it's been amazing to watch Hope college work, and when I say work, I mean, we're just not putting out documents and I mean the work that the college has done to really support students on our campus in less than ideal situations. As a dad, my daughters looked at tons of different schools and landed on Hope in their final decision. But it wasn't easy decisions for my children. First of all, not everybody wants to go where their Dad is sitting on the campus and they're going to run into him all the time. But I think that it has turned out to be a true blessing for me and I think to my daughters as well, because a number of times they see him walking across campus and they come up and I give him a hug and I say, 'How's it going?' And they're like, well, you know better than so-and-so. And I was like, 'What do you mean by that? They're like, well, their campus just got shut down for two weeks, stay in place or, a couple of Emma's, my freshman daughter, you know, some of her friends are all set to go off to some of the state schools and then they shut down on-campus housing before they even got there. Emma started to complain about the food one day or it was hot in her dorm or whatever. And I said, well. You could be so-and-so and she goes, 'Yeah, I know. I thought about that the other day. You know, I'd be sitting in the basement looking at you and mom, she goes, this is way better than doing that.' And I was like, See, there is always a bright side to everything. I just give great credit to student development on our campus, to the steering committee. As a dad, not as a college basketball coach, it has been amazing to see the experience that my daughters have had this year. I'll say this, we're getting to the end of exams right now, right? We're in it. My daughters love their mother and they kind of love me, but they love their mother. Like they don't want to come home. They love being on campus with their friends. You know, they are going to miss being on campus. And as a dad, there is nothing that you could want more than for your daughters to love the place that they're at so much that their default is not to run home, but it is to be on campus and experience college.

Alan Babbitt [00:20:57] I would imagine is it, you know, as a coach, putting back your coach hat on, recruiting continues and to be able to kind of show and talk and parents to see that maybe more than even words, I would imagine, how big is that on recruiting? Just to see how we've tried to approach this and support everyone.

Brian Morehouse [00:21:27] The response of recruits coming on campus and their parents, they are blown away by Hope College, blown away, you know, there we're walking across campus and they're like, so everybody just wears their mask, like even when they walk to and from classes, I go, yeah, that's you know, that's the understanding. That's what people do. They're like, and they actually do it. I'm like, yeah, like I mean, do you think these students want to go home and sit in their parents' living room and look at them? They want to be at college. That's why they chose Hope. They want in-person learning. They want to see their faculty members. They are doing everything they can. And for the sophomores through seniors, why? Because they saw what happened last spring when we had to go home and they didn't enjoy that. They didn't enjoy the Zoom learning. They didn't enjoy being in their parents' house. They love Hope College. That's why they chose to come to Hope. It has been a real key, in my opinion, in our recruiting this year is how well the colleges navigated COVID. It has been a real plus for us to say this is what makes Hope unique is our ability to stay in person because our students value in-person learning classes of 25 students, they truly value the Hope experience.

Alan Babbitt [00:23:08] Another hat you have is as a Women's Basketball Coaches Association board member and your work with that organization. Talk about that and what kind of that lens and what you've learned and what you know, how the WBCA has been trying to help coaches like yourself work through everything that the challenges we have.

Brian Morehouse [00:23:33] The WBCA is the most incredible membership I've ever been a part of. The leadership of Danielle Donohue and the people that I share time with on that board. It's been an incredible experience professionally for me just to see how much they care about not just Division I, but every single level. It has made me incredibly grateful at the Division III level just to see that. Yeah, absolutely. Division I that's going to get a lot of the publicity and things like that, the women's Final Four and everything. But to see the amount of time and effort that they put into Division III and then being able to be part of the group that gets that message out to our constituents has been a real growth opportunity for me. It's just the amount of work that's being put in to hopefully have a Division III season this year amidst a pandemic, amidst budget concerns across the nation. I mean, schools are fighting to stay open. When I say open, I mean to not dissolve permanently. So trying to balance that peace out with also providing an athletic opportunity has been fascinating to watch behind the scenes. I just got off a call today. We have people in the NCAA and the WBCA that are absolutely fighting for the opportunity to provide a championship this year. We understand that the most important championship, though, is the Men's Division I National championship. As an organization, I think we have to understand that that pays the bills. It pays the bills for the NCAA. It pays the bills for so many sports. It pays for our championships at Division III. And so the priority is to get that off the ground with the national championship in Indianapolis in March. But whatever we can do from the weekend to also have our championships we're doing right now.

Alan Babbitt [00:25:47]  I would imagine that's been the hardest part with this pandemic, everything seemingly at times can change on a dime. So having the education and knowledge and trust that the maximum effort is being made to be able to do this faster in uncertain times, at least buoy spirits. It sounds like from your voice as well.

Brian Morehouse [00:26:15] We were on a call like nine days ago, and I walked down onto the court and, you know, my players are there in there all the time. Why are we good? I mean, our players are there and there when we don't even have practice getting better. But, Sidney Muller and Lauran Newman said, 'Hey, how's your day going?  I'm like, I just got off one of the best calls ever. I said, 'You know what? I think we can find a way to do this. I said I've had my doubts from time to time, but I just got off a call. I'm truly hopeful and truly hopeful. As a Division III college basketball coach, it's been a roller coaster for us to trying to keep your kids hopes up amidst conference cancelations, whether that's the North Coast or some of the East Coast schools, we're up to nine conferences are canceled now. Just trying to keep your kids hopeful throughout this whole thing and working hard. You know how hard it is to work and run sprints when you're not even sure if there's going to be a season. The WBCA and some of these calls just provided some real hope for me, but also some reality checks. The reality is we're up against it. It's not going to be easy. This virus has spread up, not slowed down. Just being able to hear the reality of that and kind of being on the front end of maybe delivering some of those tough messages to our constituents or delivering those messages of hope throughout Division III has been a really great professional opportunity for me.

Alan Babbitt [00:28:06] You mentioned Lauran Newman, it reminds me, we'll close on this, I saw a post from her dad expressing pride in her because she was inducted into the Nursing Honor Society at Hope. That was another, at least for me and I'm sure for you saw that or you knew that was going to happen, a reminder of what we're about here and what this team is about and this college is about is preparing people like Lauren Newman to go out and have a really big impact in the world. Talk about that and what you're seeing as your players are preparing themselves, especially the senior class, for going out in the world and making an impact.

Brian Morehouse [00:28:46]  I said I said a few of them the other day. We're sitting around talking. And I said, well, you certainly have some talking points when you interview. Tell me about a time that you've navigated a difficult situation. You're going to be able to talk really well into that topic. Lauren and Ashleigh are two senior nurses. Both have done incredible work in the nursing program. Ashleigh was just announced as the top nurse in the senior class at Hope College, which is an amazing thing. Lauren has just navigated the nursing program so well and has excelled and they're all doing their clinicals right now amidst a pandemic walking into those situations, walking into emergency rooms and hospital hospitals with beds that are full. It's been an incredible experience for them, but they've done it really well. It's a high-stress academic area on our campus. Nursing is hard, but so is engineering. I've got a couple of engineers and so is social work and doing some of your placements out there. We have we're premed students. You know, I walked through the gym today and I've got two of my sophomores in their shoot and I go, how's it going? They're like, you can only study organic chemistry so much. We came in to burn off a little bit of stress. These are real people who happen to play basketball in front of a sold-out arena at the Devos Fieldhouse. But when you think about the things that these young women balance out on a daily basis, academics, their social life, their families, the athletic piece, the faith piece, they're incredible I am around incredible women every single day. And it is the best part of my job is that they make me better. It; a lot of fun and we're going to make it through whatever this getting through is. If given the opportunity to play a basketball game, I think that we're going to be really good.

Alan Babbitt [00:31:07] We will keep the hope that that is going to happen and thank you for Brian for joining us on the Orange and Blue Podcast.

Brian Morehouse [00:31:32] Thanks a lot, Alan. Thanks for all your work. And thanks for keeping Hope College athletics in front of everybody in the form of this podcast. We might not be able to play, but they can still get great insight and appreciate all the work you do.

Alan Babbitt [00:31:45] Thanks, Brian. | PO Box 9000, Holland, Michigan 49422