Tim Morgan overcame injuries to help his team win a national championship

By David Elwell

For the Enquirer

The Tim Morgan story is like something out of a Hollywood movie.

It’s a tale of a talented shooting guard for the Danville Hawks in the 1970s. Morgan soared to stardom early in his high school career only to have his senior season cut short due to a knee injury.

Most of the 50 colleges that had courted Morgan before his injury backed away following knee surgery. One school that didn’t was the University of North Alabama with its legendary coach Bill Jones. The decision paid off in a huge way.

Despite nagging knee injuries through college, Morgan’s last game ever in 1979 ended with him and his teammates celebrating March Madness success with a NCAA Division II national championship.

“There were a lot of great people in Danville when I was growing up,” Morgan said. “One of them was Wayne Bowling (Danville’s basketball coach). He made me strive to be my best in everything I did. The discipline he taught me got me through the injury.

“I had some really good teammates at Danville. You win with good people. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where I would be today.”

Morgan will be inducted into the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame on May 4. The banquet will be held at the Priceville Event Center.

Bowling coached basketball at Danville for 37 years and won 683 games. His teams were known for having great shooters. The list of great ones that wore the Danville purple included Morgan.

“Timmy was one of the purest shooters I ever had,” Bowling said. “It seemed like every time I drove past his house, Timmy was outside at his goal working on his shot.

“I had some players with more talent than Timmy, but he worked at learning the game all the time. He knew how to play the game. You take those kinds of players over the ones with more talent. He was just a country boy who loved to play basketball.”

After seeing some playing time on the varsity as a freshman, Morgan burst onto the scene as a sophomore averaging 25 points a game. He made The Daily’s 1974 All-County team as the lone sophomore on a 10-player team dominated by nine seniors.

The numbers got even better for Morgan in his junior season with 27 points a game. In one game that season vs. Athens, Morgan scored a career high 46 points.

Morgan went into his senior season in 1975 as one of the top prospects in the area with at least 50 schools in the hunt for his services.

After scoring 20 points in a season-opening 79-75 victory at Mars Hill, UNA joined the list of schools offering Morgan the opportunity to fulfill his dream of playing in college. He followed that game with 36 points against defending 1A state champion Athens Bible.

The third game of the season was at home against rival Brewer. Early in the contest while trying to make a move near the sidelines, Morgan went down with a right knee injury.

“I had never really been injured before and didn’t know how bad it was,” Morgan said. “I definitely knew it was not good.”

The medical resources high school sports teams have today were not available in 1975.

“We didn’t have trainers. All we had was basically a coach with some tape,” Bowling said. “We didn’t know if it was just a sprain or something that needed surgery. We certainly didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize his chances to play in college.”

Morgan hobbled his way back to play in eight more games. Eventually, he gave in to having season-ending surgery. He played in just 11 games and averaged 18.6 points to finish his career with around 1,700 points. He shot over 50% from the field and over 80% from the free throw line.

Despite missing so many games, Morgan was named to the Birmingham Post-Herald’s Class 1A All-State team.

Meanwhile the recruiting trail had pretty much dried up for Morgan. UNA kept in touch and held to its scholarship offer. A couple of junior colleges invited him to play for them. On the day Morgan signed with UNA, he could barely walk to his signing ceremony.

“Johnny Long was the UNA trainer and he came to Danville that summer to show me what I needed to do for rehab before school started,” Morgan said. “It was a lot of hard work to be ready.”

Just a couple of weeks before the start of UNA’s basketball practice on Oct. 15, Morgan injured the knee again in a preseason workout.

“That’s when I started wondering if I would ever get to play again,” Morgan said.

The knee did respond to rehab and Morgan got back to the court. He even saw playing time that season after a couple of teammates went down with injuries.

Morgan’s role at UNA was vastly different from what he experienced at Danville. He was coming off the bench for limited minutes. His job was to get the ball down low to the Lions’ big guys inside. His free throw shooting skills earned him minutes in crunch time late in games.

“I always worked on shooting free throws and had a routine down,” Morgan said. “I always tried to hit 100 in a row. I don’t remember if I ever did it, but I know I came close.”

The right knee continued to be Morgan’s biggest obstacle in college. He had a second surgery in 1978.

“That was tough mentally. It really took the wind out of my sails,” Morgan said.

Morgan pushed through the grind of rehab and returned to the team for one more season. He started out the 1978-1979 season as the 13th player on a 13-player team. He didn’t even make the travel squad for the team’s first road trip.

The season got off to a rough start. UNA’s record stood at 8-7 on Jan. 22 after an 80-66 loss to Troy. That would be rock bottom for a season that turned in a positive direction. The Lions won 9 of their next 11 to finish second in the Gulf South Conference and earn a bid to the NCAA II national tournament.

The hot streak continued in Florida with two wins in the regional in Lakeland. That earned a trip to the eight-team championship finals in Springfield, Missouri. The underdog Lions advanced to the finals to play Wisconsin-Green Bay, which had lost in the finals the year before.

“There’s no doubt we were considered the underdog,” Morgan said, “but when a team gets on a roll you start believing you can’t get beat.”

Green Bay opponents that season averaged just 50 points a game and shot just 36.9% from the floor. Those numbers would not stop UNA from a 64-50 victory and the school’s first ever national championship.

UNA’s Perry Oden received the Most Outstanding Player Award. Teammates Ron Darby and Otis Boddie also had standout performances, but it was Morgan who came up big by hitting seven of eight free throws in the last five minutes.

“I’m so glad Bill Jones took a chance on me after my injury,” Morgan said. “Not a lot of people can say they played on a national championship team.”

After college, Morgan started a career as a coach and teacher that eventually moved into administration. Dr. Morgan recently retired as the Superintendent of Sheffield City Schools. Now he gives back to alma mater as a member of the North Alabama Lions Athletic Club.

“When we have our meetings at Flowers Hall, I make sure to go in through the front entrance because it takes me past the championship banners for all the sports,” Morgan said. “I always look for our banner from 1979. It’s really special to know I was a part of that team.”

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