E.A. Sports Today

Coaching calls

Veteran basketball official Cory Hughes ‘super excited’ to be new Faith Christian coach; Jacksonville promotes Morrow for its boys job

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

When Cory Hughes was younger, so much younger than today, basketball was the center of his world. He played it, ate it, slept it, dreamed it. You couldn’t keep him off the floor.


He was planning to play for a long time, but life has a way of changing your course. A series of happy accidents — well, maybe not all happy — put him on another path, but kept him connected to the game albeit with a different perspective.

The Cliff’s Notes version of his journey is he went from being a player at Alexandria and Gadsden State with four-year college aspirations to Jacksonville State coliseum manager to prospective NBA official and local referee to a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church. (Oh, there was that painful brush with reality, but we’ll get into that later.)

That road brought him back to the basketball bench Wednesday when he was hired to succeed Hall of Fame coach Schuessler Ware as the new boys basketball coach at Faith Christian.

“There were a lot of things swirling in the last eight years,” Hughes said Thursday. “Looking back, and hindsight is 20/20, my time playing the game was a tad bit idolatrous. I would just eat, dream, sleep basketball, but it is a game and the Lord took me through some things to show me it is a game.

“This is an awesome game, a fun game, but at the end of the day it is a game. I’m able to see the game clearer and understand it is a game versus life. I feel like at 32 my approach to the game is going to be so much more level headed and in a much better place.”

Hughes, 32, is the second former referee to take a varsity head coaching position in Calhoun County this month. Last week, Dawson Taylor was named head baseball coach at White Plains.


Hughes also was one of two new head boys basketball coaches named in the county Wednesday. Jacksonville promoted junior high boys coach Shane Morrow to succeed Cordell Hunt.

Last week, Faith named Jacque Prater to succeed Ware as its girls basketball coach. Ware stepped away from both positions for health-related reasons.

This will be Hughes’ first formal coaching position; he will meet his players for the first time later today. He had been approached by “several people” to help with programs in the past but the timing just was never right. 

He is “super excited” to be following the foundation laid by Ware, a Hall of Fame coach with more than 400 wins and two state titles who came out of retirement to lead the Lions’ program last season.

“(To take) the things he laid down for a year is going to be fantastic,” Hughes said. “I’m going to reap like the farmer who tills his land for a year; I’m coming in after a legendary farmer has tilled his land for a year.

“It’s nice when you’re able to come in and start with a good team already rather than build up from the ground.”

That’s the situation Morrow comes into. He inherits a roster that includes the bulk of last year’s team that had eventual 4A state champion Anniston on the ropes in the County Tournament and recently added 6-foot-8 forward Cade Phillips from Westbrook Christian. There already is talk in the community of back-to-back state championship and at the very least the Golden Eagles have high expectations.

“This is an awesome opportunity for me and my family,” Morrow said. “We’ve been a part of the Jacksonville schools/community the last four years and look forward to continuing that relationship. 

“Obviously, I’ve inherited a roster full of great kids and I’m extremely excited to get to work with them.”

Hughes came through the Larry Ginn school of basketball and played for both the legendary coach and, later, his son, Todd, at Gadsden State. He had planned to play beyond that until that fateful day in a pickup game when he picked the pocket of a 6-6, 220-pound Jacksonville State player who crossed in front of him and in the ensuing scramble took the brunt of the player’s weight on his head. Teeth and blood were everywhere.

Playing beyond junior college “was not in the cards. The Lord made that clear,” he said.

He went on to finish his degree at Faulkner, started teaching Sunday school, went to work at JSU and got into officiating. He got seen at a national officials camp and was approached by senior scout for NBA officials about the same time he committed to the ministry, but continued to officiate basketball in the county. And started a family.

Of course, he’ll have to retire the whistle as he moves to the bench, but he believes his experience as a referee will help as he goes through life as a coach.

“Honestly, I think it’s a tremendous help,” he said. “No. 1 from an empathy standpoint, knowing these guys are human, and No. 2 helping me understand what’s motivating for officials and what will help them by me telling them this or that is happening versus what gets them in a more angry place.

“I would hope me and everybody in the county are on good terms. I’ve got some buddies who like to T-up and have drama. I’m not one of those guys. I don’t live for drama. I know the balance there. I can help those guys and know how they help. They’re there to help me and help our teams play the game. I think it’s tremendous.”

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