Around the World
By Grant Martin
At 5-11, professional basketball player Morris “Mo” Finley has never been the largest guy on the court. But after going from small-town hero to one of the most popular players in UAB basketball history, Finley is standing tall on the world stage in a career that has seen him lighting up scoreboards across Europe.
Despite traveling across the United States while playing for UAB, Finley, a native of Lafayette, Alabama, had never been out of the country when he was first approached about the possibility of playing basketball overseas. “For a guy from a small town, it was a difficult transition,” Finley says. “I spoke with former UAB players who had played overseas like Steve Mitchell (who played in Italy, France, Germany, and Puerto Rico) and (former UAB assistant) coach Chris Giles. They talked to me about what to expect, but there really is no way to prepare yourself for it if you’ve never been away from home for that long.”
Despite the cultural challenges, Finley adjusted quickly to the professional game, averaging a league-best 23 points per game during his first season in Serbia-Montenegro. He followed that up with stints in Belgium, Greece, and Italy, but at each stop, he says there was a learning curve. “The style of play differs a lot from team to team,” he says. “American players have to adjust to different styles, but they also have to adjust to referees. You have to learn how the refs are going to call a game and what they’re going to emphasize, because that has a big effect on how you play.”
In spite of the many differences, there is some familiarity on the court for Finley, who says he regularly crosses paths with former opponents from other Conference USA schools. He also stays in touch with former UAB teammates Gabe Kennedy and Donnell Taylor, both of whom are playing in Europe. The only time he has had to face a former teammate across the court came in a game in Belgium, when he lined up against Squeaky Johnson.
Finley says the European basketball season “starts earlier and lasts longer” than the NBA season, so during professional stints in Belgium, Greece, and Italy, Finley is out of the country for up to eight months per year. His wife, the former Tamera Van Buren, whom he met outside Bartow Arena when they were both UAB students, joins him for short stretches during the season. “I couldn’t make it without her support,” Finley says. “She typically comes over for two or three months at a time, and that helps me get through the season.”
While at UAB, Finley was one of the most prolific scorers in school history. But for all the big numbers he accumulated over the course of his career, it was a solitary basket that elevated Finley to the ranks of the all-time greats. At the end of his UAB career, Finley stepped out of his role as giant and became a giant-killer.
In 2004, Finley helped lead UAB to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where it faced top-seeded Kentucky. With the Blazers trailing by one and time running out, Finley faked a shot from the 3-point line, then calmly stepped around his defender and buried a jump shot to give UAB one of the biggest wins in school history.
Often referred to as “The Shot” on fan message boards, the moment stands as a crowning achievement at the end of a stellar career. But for Finley, it was just one of many memorable moments. “I’m always working to get better,” Finley says. “So my goal is to hit those shots every game. I like to think there are a lot more like that one in my future. But to get the chance to take that shot in the NCAA Tournament—because of who we were playing and what that game means to the fans—is pretty special. To hear that UAB fans remember me and still talk about that shot means a lot.”