GREENVILLE, N.C. – East Carolina men’s basketball head coach Michael Schwartz has begun to build his first staff, hiring Jake Morton and Riley Davis as assistant coaches and Jesse Higdon as director of basketball operations.

Morton and Davis have most recently served as assistant coaches at Jacksonville State and UT Arlington, respectively, while Higdon has worked in various capacities at the University of Tennessee.
 
Morton arrives in Greenville after helping the 2021-22 Jacksonville State squad to a 21-11 record, Atlantic Sun Conference regular-season title and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Gamecock coaching staff has averaged 20 wins per year since arriving in Jacksonville and has twice broken the record for the program’s Division I single-season wins mark. Over the past five seasons, Jacksonville State has tallied 98 wins and appeared in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament each year. JSU is one of only three programs to qualify for the league’s postseason in each of the last five seasons

“We are very fortunate to have Jake Morton with us at ECU,” Schwartz said. “I have known Jake for over 15 years. He is one of the very best basketball minds and relationship builders I have ever been around. As dynamic as Jake is in those areas, he is an even better person. Jake has been an instrumental piece of building successful programs everywhere he has been. His experience, ability to connect with players and his unwavering positive approach to everything he does will make a huge impact on our program.”

Morton helped guide the Gamecocks to a program-best 24 victories in 2018-19, breaking Jacksonville State’s single-season wins total for a second year in a row. It marked the first time the program logged three-straight seasons with 20 or more wins since joining the Division I ranks. In addition, the 2018-19 season set a record-low for losses. Prior to the campaign, a JSU team had never finished a year with single digits in the loss column. 

In 2017-18, Jacksonville State scored a then-record 23 wins with Morton’s guidance. The Gamecocks qualified for their second national postseason tournament with a berth in the College Basketball Invitational. JSU claimed wins over Canisius and Central Arkansas in the first and quarterfinal rounds, respectively, on the way to its first ever wins in a major postseason tournament.

Morton’s first season at Jacksonville State saw the program earn its first Division I title, first appearance in the NCAA Tournament and first 20-win season since 2003. After getting picked last in the OVC Preseason Poll, the Gamecocks rattled off consecutive wins over Southeast Missouri, Belmont and UT Martin as the No. 4 seed to win the tournament title. JSU proceeded to play Louisville in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Morton spent the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons on the sidelines at Coppin State under head coach Michael Grant. The Eagles ranked among the national leaders in three-point field goal percentage, turnovers forced and offensive rebounding.

From Baltimore, Morton went to Western Kentucky for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, helping take both of those Hilltopper teams to the NCAA Tournament.

Morton was at his alma mater in Coral Gables from 2008-11 when he helped the Hurricanes to three 20-win seasons and three postseason berths – including a win in the 2008 NCAA Tournament.

Before returning to Miami, Morton worked three seasons as an assistant coach at James Madison under head coach Dean Keener from 2005-07. Prior to joining the JMU staff, Morton was an assistant coach at St. Francis (Pa.) from 2001-04 and spent the 1999-2000 campaign at Division II Bowie State.
 
Morton’s coaching career began in New York, where he served as a counselor and coach at the Five-Star Basketball Camp, which included future collegiate and NBA stars such as Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul.

Morton graduated from Miami in 1993 with a degree in general studies.

Davis has spent the last four seasons at UT Arlington where he was promoted to assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator in April of 2021.

“Riley Davis possesses a special combination of impactful experience, strong relationships and an ability to develop players at the highest level,” Schwartz stated. “Riley is as genuine of a person there is, and everything he does both on and off the court is built on a foundation of passion and integrity. This is what makes Riley one of the brightest young coaches in the country. We are excited to have Riley and his beautiful family join us here at ECU.”

In his first season with the Mavericks in 2018-19, Davis played an integral role in guiding a UTA team predicted to finish second to last in the Sun Belt Conference Preseason Poll to a second-place finish in the regular-season standings and a berth in the Sun Belt Tournament Final for the second-straight year.

In 2019-20, he helped the Mavericks finish in the top 40 nationally in four key statistical categories: assist-to-turnover ratio (16th, 1.3), three-point percentage defense (20th, 29.6), fewest turnovers per game (29th, 11.2) and assists per game (35th, 14.9). The 29.6 percent rate for opponents from the three-point line set a single-season program record for defensive performance by the Mavs – bettering the mark set in 2018-19 of 29.8.

In 2020-21 behind Davis, UT Arlington once again wrapped up a year in the top 40 in the country in the following categories: blocks per game (21st, 4.8), steals per game (24th, 8.3), turnover margin (33rd, +2.8) and three-point field goals made per contest (37th, 9.0).

Davis served as the video coordinator and director of player development at Tennessee for two seasons before coming to UTA in April of 2018. Prior to his stint at Tennessee, Davis served in numerous collegiate coaching roles – primarily at Texas – while gaining experience in the NBA scouting ranks.

Davis’ seven total years at Texas were split into two separate stints: the first consisting of two years as a volunteer student assistant (2009-11) and the other one year as a graduate assistant (2011-12). In those roles, he assisted in film exchange as well as all aspects of video coordination and internal operations.

After leaving Austin in 2012, Davis spent the 2012-13 season as an assistant coach at Sam Houston State. He then served for one year as a regional advance scout for the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats (now the Charlotte Hornets) in 2013-14. Davis returned to the Texas staff in 2014-15 in the full-time role of special assistant/video coordinator before embarking to Tennessee along with head coach Rick Barnes.

Davis earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Texas in 2011.

Higdon has served as an arena management assistant for Thompson-Boling Arena at Tennessee since 2016 as both a student then full-time employee, helping with operations for both concerts and sporting events in 21,600-person venue including ticketing, customer service, event preparation, VIP area coordination and event liaison for concert tours.

In addition to her duties with Thompson-Boling Arena, Higdon worked with Tennessee Athletics in ticketing, event management, hospitality and administration. Higdon is slated to complete requirements for a Master of Business Analytics from the Haslam College of Business in May.

“There are some people out there who just have the ‘it’ factor,” Schwartz said. “Jesse Higdon is one of them. Her education, experience and infectious personality make us very lucky to have her here at ECU. Her background in athletics administration and analytics will create a very professional atmosphere within our program.”