Wallace to match wits with friend, rival
Stew Morrill brings Utah State to town to face the 'Bows
Close friend. Competitive rival.
Over their lengthy coaching careers, Riley Wallace and Stew Morrill have proven that the divergent roles can be found in the same person.
"He and I have been close friends for a long time," Wallace said.
"I've always enjoyed competing against him because he goes in as one of the legends of the old WAC and the new WAC and you have to prepare for everything when you play him."
With Wallace counting down the final 10 regular-season games as the Rainbows coach, he'll have at least two more meetings with Morrill starting with tonight's game between the Rainbow Warriors and Utah State at the Stan Sheriff Center.
They've matched wits on the sidelines 17 times since 1992 -- 14 times in the 1990s when Morrill coached for then-Western Athletic Conference member Colorado State and three more times with second-year member Utah State -- with Wallace holding an 11-6 advantage.
Though they've remained friends over the years -- Morrill even helped look after Wallace's children when they attended Colorado State -- both are fiery competitors once the ball goes up.
"That's the fun part of it," Wallace said. "It's intense because you know one or two mistakes and he's going to beat you."
For Morrill's part, having a friend on the other side of the court isn't one of his favorite aspects of the job.
"I've never liked coaching against friends, I think that's hard," Morrill said before the Aggies' practice yesterday at the Sheriff Center.
"Him and I will always be friends; he's good people, so I don't like coaching against him, especially when he beats me. You wish all coaches were made of the stuff Riley Wallace is made of. He's a special guy in my book."
While Wallace plays out his 20th and final season as UH head coach and his 22nd overall, Morrill has been a head coach for 21 years with three programs. And both are proven program builders.
Wallace will leave UH as its most successful men's coach and needs eight more victories to pass former women's coach Vince Goo and become the school's winningest basketball coach overall.
"It's hard for me to believe he's about done because it's been so many years," Morrill said. "I think I've won here one time, that tells you how hard it is to come in here and win."
Morrill ranks second in wins at Colorado State and has led Utah State to seven straight 20-win seasons. The Aggies have finished no lower than third in the Big West and WAC since 2000.
"He did a great job at Colorado State and didn't get the respect for the job he did there," Wallace said.
"He's a very smart basketball coach. ... He's got his student body (at Utah State) better than anybody in the league, and one of the reasons is because he wins. He's built a program there."
The competition has extended beyond the court at times into the recruiting battles. Hawaii seniors Matt Lojeski and Ahmet Gueye were also courted by Utah State coming out of junior colleges. The Rainbows also lured former forward Jeff Blackett out of Salt Lake Community College and away from Utah State.
"Part of the reason is his locale that he recruits out of is where we ended up recruiting, too, because of the WAC," Wallace said. "Also our systems are similar, so you're looking for the same type of players."
But their duels on the court on the recruiting trails haven't affected matters away from the game.
"The longer you do this, you hope you get mature enough for the friendship to hold up," Morrill said. "When you're a young coach you let little piddly things get in the way of things."
Wallace has built a network of acquaintances over his coaching career and faced another of his pals in the business when Hawaii played Dick Davey's Santa Clara early this season.
Along with the games, connections are made when coaches converge at the Final Four and in the offseason at golf tournaments and conventions.
"All that stuff helps you in scheduling, it helps you in knowing what's out there," Wallace said. "There's a lot of basketball talk, a lot of recruiting talk, so you kind of grow with it and see how the other guys are doing things."
Taking flight: As a WAC veteran, the challenges of coming to Hawaii are nothing new to Morrill. But the schedule maker didn't do the Aggies any favors this time as they played at Nevada on Saturday and arrived in Honolulu yesterday afternoon.
"We were up at an ungodly hour this morning, quarter to four, to catch a flight to San Francisco and then a flight here. So energy's definitely a concern.," he said. "But I've always said, people that come here and bitch about the travel don't understand, these guys do it every other week. So how can you possibly do that, complain about the travel? We all still do, but we really shouldn't."