Alaska loses true basketball giant with passing of Morgan

July 2, 2015

Geno Morgan basketball coach

Geno Morgan

Geno Morgan, who grew up in Chicago but became a man in Anchorage as a college basketball star and then championship high school coach, died in his sleep today while visiting family in his hometown. He was 49.

The sad news was announced through the Wasatch Academy in Utah, where Morgan had coached the boys basketball team since 2009.

He is survived by three children and wife Lisa. The couple had recently celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary by renewing their vows in front of hundreds of family and friends.

“Geno was an outstanding basketball coach, but a better friend and mentor to his players,” friend and fellow coach Rusty Osborne told me. “He had the great ability to assimilate and relate to people of all classes and cultures, and affect them all in a positive way.”

Morgan was an NAIA All-American guard at Alaska Pacific University in the late 1980s before turning to coaching. He coached high school basketball in Alaska, Hawaii and Utah and college at the University of Alaska Anchorage and Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

At East Anchorage, he led the T-birds to the Class 4A state championship in 2000– the school’s 15th title but first without Chuck White. At Wasatch Academy in Utah he won three state championships, with the first in 2011 being the school’s first hoops title in the school’s 136-year history.

Just last year he brought Wasatch to the Alaska Airlines Classic in Anchorage and said it felt like a homecoming.

“A huge part of who I am came from me being in Alaska. I’m quite sure of that,” Morgan told me in 2014. “Alaska is still home. I still have family there. I have a mound of friends who are still there. I think about Alaska often.”

At APU, Morgan averaged 15 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists per game as a senior.

“He was the glue guy,” Osborne said. “He was the guy who did the things that made his teammates better. He understood what helped teams win, and that translated to his coaching style.

In 1995, Morgan led the Palmer Moose to a 23-win season and appearance in the state title game. He won his first state championship with East five years later. After that he joined the coaching staff at UAA and helped the Seawolves reach back-to-back NCAA Tournaments in his only two years on the bench.

Osborne, now the UAA head coach, was an assistant then and worked closely with Morgan.

“Despite totally different backgrounds, we became close working together at UAA, where we won two conference championships together and found out we had much more in common than we thought possible, both on and off the floor,” Osborne said.

The two friends never lost contact over the years.

“We always managed to stay in touch and I had offered to hire him on a number of occasions. I knew he would have had a positive impact on our program and Alaska basketball if I could get him to return,” Osborne said.

“Basketball brought us together in a place far from our homes, I will miss his wisdom and friendship but am thankful for the contributions he made to not only Alaska but to all those young athletes he mentored. My thoughts and prayers go out to Lisa and the kids, as well his family in Chicago.

“Miss you my friend.”