Imagine being recruited to a university, rich in wheelchair basketball history, tasked with starting together a brand new team — Morgan Wood knows the feeling.
Wood, a graduate student in her fifth year with the Lady Movin’ Mavs, grew up in a sports-driven family that led her to pursue basketball.
She began playing wheelchair basketball during her freshman year of high school. She had learned about the sport during a summer camp in Nashville, when a group of kids approached her about joining their team.
Wood went on to play for the Music City Thunder wheelchair basketball team in Nashville for four years before attending the University of Memphis.
Doug Garner, Movin’ Mavs head coach, said he had his eyes on Wood during her summer visits for the Movin’ Mavs’ summer camps.
“I was really good friends with a lot of the guys,” Wood said. “They always joked around about me coming and playing for them. I was like, ‘Well, you don’t have a women’s team, so it’s not like I can do that.’”
Wood applied to transfer to UTA after growing tired of not playing the sport she loved in Memphis.
Garner said he encouraged Wood to attend UTA and help put together a team. At first, Wood said she was skeptical of coming to UTA and not having a ready-made team. She denied him the first year but eventually gave in.
“I felt she would represent the program well,” Garner said. “She was ready when we were ready, and we were able to make it happen. I had my eyes open for a while trying to find somebody who we felt like would be a solid person, not just a basketball player.”
Wood got her wish of moving from Tennessee to Texas in fall 2013. From there, she started the work of forming a women’s wheelchair basketball team from the ground up.
Garner, along with Jason Nelms, Lady Movin’ Mavs head coach, helped Wood get the team up and running.
“She was the very first person,” Nelms said. “When we first started the program the first year, we had Morgan in school, and we were trying to compete with a few community players. Just to try to fill out a roster and show that UTA could have a team and could be very successful.”
At first, Wood had to practice with only one player in the gym - rarely five, Nelms said. Despite the obstacles she faced, Wood kept grinding, he said.
“She didn’t give up on the team,” Nelms said. “That would have been a tough selling point for me at that point to be like, ‘I’m the only one here and I’m working really hard.’”
Of the five players from the team’s inaugural season, Wood remained committed to the team after the rest of the group departed.
With UTA having a long wheelchair basketball history, Wood said she hoped it would be an even greater sell for recruiting players.
“I wanted to be part of the dynasty around here,” Wood said.
Wood spent her first year at UTA helping Nelms and Darlene Hunter, former U.S. Women’s national team member, recruit players, she said.
Within the next year, UTA was able to recruit some of the best wheelchair basketball players in the nation.
“I feel like I talked to them every single day and devoted my whole life to make sure that I had the team the next year because we got all of them,” Wood said. “We got all the recruits we wanted the next year. I think the biggest part was showing them how I felt about the program.”
After signing recruits, the next step was getting the university’s support, both emotionally and financially.
The university’s support was crucial in allowing the team to offer scholarships to players.
“She dove in, she gave everything she had,” Nelms said. “She was instrumental in helping us recruit Rose [Hollermann] and Abby [Dunkin]. Without her the program doesn’t exist - it doesn’t even start.”
Being a full-time student while trying to hone her craft is the biggest obstacle Wood has had to face as a student-athlete, she said. Having been told ‘no’ so many times during her first year with the team was hard to digest, she said.
The team struggled with funding for money for uniforms and travel, Wood said. They had to make do by traveling in Hunter’s van to compete in tournaments rather than traveling in charter buses.
Tables would turn for the Lady Movin’ Mavs during the next few years. The team finished last, lost in the 2015 final and then prevailed to win its first national title in 2016.
This past March, after being crowned a national champion for the second time, Wood said she and her teammates felt the love and support from other community teams as well as President Vistasp Karbhari.
“She’s taught me a lot about basketball. I didn’t have a lot of experience when I came in,” junior Emilee Hilbish said. “She’s definitely helped a lot.”
Wood’s ability to be an exceptional basketball player and all around student-athlete made her the perfect foundation to start the Lady Movin’ Mavs, Garner said.
In her five years with the Lady Movin’ Mavs, Wood has won two national championships and has been part of the U.S. Women’s National team since 2017.
“I was already a part of the family once I came here,” Wood said. “Once you’re part of it, there’s no leaving it. Everybody has your back. No matter what happens, that’s how it is around here.”