Back in 2009, there was stories on all the sports websites. The title of all-time winningest men's college basketball coach was passed from Bobby Knight to Don Meyer. Although I have been at clinics and heard Coach Knight lecture, I have never met the man. On the other hand, the day before my father died, Don Meyer tracked me down on the phone in St. Luke's Hospital in St. Louis and offered his comfort as someone who had been down that same road. There are people whose paths we cross and who cross our path and there is no discernible ripple. Then there are the men and women who alter our presents and our futures. I am where I am in large part because of the connections I have with Don. Because of his influences, I moved from Georgia to Tennessee, and then to Houston. There are not enough websites or blogs to accurately tell the story of Don Meyer and the impact he has made on basketball and the lives of both youngsters and coaches. Below is a devotional I penned on Don from June 5, 2006. Below that is a news account of the victory- and the life- from last night. Please keep Don in your prayers as he recovers from his car accident and fights cancer.
Today was the first day of summer. Even though school has been out for a week and the summer solstice, officially the first scientific day of summer, is June 21, it all began for me this morning. At 8:30 AM, we kicked off Westbury Christian All-Star Basketball Camps, 2006. There are six sessions, two per week, from now through June 23. I work five of the six, always omitting the one evening camp. This week's sessions run in the morning and the afternoon. The camps are coed and divided by age. Each child is placed on a team for instructional purposes. My morning squad, self-named the HOOPSTARS, is composed of young ladies entering third, fourth, and fifth grades. My afternoon team, the HOYAS, will advance to sixth and seventh grades in the fall. Overall, we have approximately 140 boys and girls combined for this first week. The gym is hot but the kids don't seem to mind. We give them plenty of water breaks and have ten big fans blowing constantly. The coaches this summer are primarily from the WCS staff and our high school players, as well as former WCS players who are competing collegiately. Our camps teach fundamental skills while concurrently stressing personal qualities which endure long after athletic careers are terminated. We must be doing it right. Our camps are always at capacity, even though we do almost no advertising.
This is the third teaching/coaching stop of my career. At Georgia Christian School and Friendship Christian School, we also put on basketball camps. Including our WCS camps, the camps at the three respective schools have been eerily similar. It goes back to one man...Don Meyer. Unless you are a hard-core fan or coach for a living, that name might not ring a bell but it's well-known in basketball circles. For years, Don Meyer was the men's basketball coach at David Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee. His Bison teams won regularly, helping propel him to the # 5 ranking in total wins in men's collegiate basketball. Three of the four names ahead of Meyer in wins are Dean Smith, Adolph Rupp, and Bob Knight, all college basketball immortals. Now at Northern State University in South Dakota, Meyer has continued to rack up impressive records on the NCAA Division II level. But that isn't what this story is about. Don Meyer's summer camps drew thousands of kids and hundreds of coaches. His method of conducting a camp became the basketball Bible for many of us. At Georgia Christian, Mike Roller coached with Don while Ralph Turner played for Don. At Friendship Christian, Keith Edwards played for Meyer while Don Walker and I worked his Lipscomb camps. Here at Westbury Christian in Houston, Greg Glenn, our boy's coach-AD-camp director, also played at Lipscomb under Meyer. Camp organization, drills, terminology, points of emphasis, and daily handouts were part of the Don Meyer system. Stretching lines, form running, shooting progression, and triple threat clinics were staples of the Meyer formula. When we put on our own camps, we adapted and incorporated what we saw from Don. I mentioned I am coaching two teams this week. My morning and afternoon teams share two sets of sisters. I can see Ruby and Lizeth or I can look at Erika and Melissa and simply by their overwhelming resemblance, be positive they have the same mothers and fathers. In the same way, I could walk into our gym and be certain the presence of Don Meyer was in the air. It would not be an exaggeration to say this one man has impacted countless lives by his passion for basketball, coupled with his passion for living a Christ-centered life. Sometimes we doubt we make a difference but we can't conceive the influence we have in the world. Don Meyer is living proof. His impact on me? I would not be living in Houston today if not for Don Meyer. That's a sizable imprint (and another story for another day!)
Applicable quote of the day:
"Don Meyer has been the consummate coach and teacher. He has been a huge contributor to our great game. As a result, he has been a winner in every aspect." Mike Krzyzewski (Duke University)
Steve/ Coach Hawley
E-mail me at email@example.com
To read the ESPN.com story from last night, continue below.
Meyer Celebrates Milestone VictoryABERDEEN, S.D. -- Don Meyer tried to treat this game like any other game because he always has believed that coaching basketball is about process and not product. Meyer, the coach for Northern State University, sat quiet and stone-faced 25 minutes before tip-off, then implored his players the same way he has for 37 seasons, telling them to play as they had practiced.
But this could not have been like any other game. Meyer began the day with 902 career victories, tied with Bob Knight for the most in NCAA men's basketball history. This could not have been like any other milestone game because Meyer coaches from a wheelchair. He does so because much of his left leg was amputated in the aftermath of a devastating automobile collision Sept. 5. This could not have been like any other milestone game because Meyer knows he has cancer, which was discovered as he was being treated in the hours after his accident.
This could not have been like any other game because after Northern State beat the University of Mary 82-62 on Saturday for the 903rd victory of Meyer's career, the face of John Wooden appeared on the video screen inside the Barnett Center with a taped message. "Congratulations, Don," Wooden said. "I don't know how you did it, but you did it."
Meyer smiled and chuckled. This was not like any other game. "You think back to all the coaches you worked with and all the players you've coached, the teams," Meyer said later. "And we've had some great teams."
Meyer's coaching career began in 1972. He has won at Northern State and, before that, at Lipscomb University and Hamline University. "I'm a small-college coach," he said. "That means that when you're on the road in hotels, you take the soap. … You take it one day at a time, and if you lose sight of that, then you're in trouble."
Most Northern State students won't return from winter break until Wednesday, and snow fell steadily outside the Barnett Center on Saturday. Rows and sections of seats might otherwise have been empty for a game played under such conditions.
But two hours before the game, as Northern State's women tipped off, almost all of the 6,664 who would arrive already were here as the smell of popcorn began to waft throughout the gym. Meyer sat in a wheelchair near the court waiting to do a live interview with a local station, and fans kept walking over to congratulate him and shake his right hand.
On the ring finger of his left hand, Meyer wore his newly repaired wedding ring. The ring had been cut off on Sept. 5, the day he fell asleep at the wheel and drifted across Highway 20 into the path of a semi hauling 90,000 pounds of grain. Meyer survived the head-on collision, but his left leg was amputated below the left knee. And as a trauma doctor removed Meyer's spleen the night of the accident, he discovered cancer in the coach's liver and small intestine.
After being hospitalized for 55 days, Meyer was back at work at 4:45 the next morning, pushed by his desire to return to his players and coaching. When Northern State began its season on Nov. 18, Meyer was 11 victories shy of Knight's NCAA men's basketball mark of 902.
But players can recall only one time this season when Meyer even referred to the impending milestone -- on Jan. 3, after the Wolves won sloppily. "Screw records," Meyer had said to the players. "We need to get better."
Victory No. 903 was a conversation piece in Aberdeen this week, however. T-shirts commemorating the event were printed, and plans were made quietly. But Meyer didn't talk about it -- not with the players, his assistant coaches or his wife, Carmen. "I'm almost afraid to bring it up," she said a few hours before the game.
The Northern State players had talked about the record when they lunched together, their words echoing words they had heard from Meyer throughout this season. They had talked about process over product, about the need to focus on playing the game rather than winning. "Everyone has felt the buildup," said Kyle Schwan, one of the team's seniors. "There's no getting around it."
Meyer is still mulling over options for treatment of the cancer that also has been found in his abdomen. At one point, he was told his cancer is inoperable, but a specialist is reviewing Meyer's MRI. Meyer's life clock always has run on basketball time; his days have been structured around practices, planning and program work. But friends say he is speaking more of his cancer than he did initially.
Even so, Meyer's voice is stronger and his stamina greater than they were when he first resumed coaching on Oct. 31. His left leg, which he calls Little Buddy, has not healed enough for him to be fitted with a prosthetic leg, so Meyer moves with a walker. On his way to lunch Friday afternoon, he came face-to-face with a heap of snow in a restaurant parking lot. Rather than go around the pile, he moved over it steadily, pushing the legs of the walker into the snow until he had a solid base. You could use a snowshoe, a companion mentioned to him. "All I'd need was one," he said, chuckling.
Later, about 20 minutes before Saturday's game, the players gathered around Meyer in the hallway outside their locker room. "We have to make sure we do the things we want to do," Meyer told them. "Encourage each other."
The University of Mary didn't score in the first five minutes and 47 seconds, falling behind quickly. But the Marauders tied the game at 16, then took a 21-20 lead. Meyer rolled in his wheelchair in front of the Wolves' bench and shouted at the Northern State big men to post up and use their size advantage.
Northern State rebuilt a lead with a series of backdoor cuts, then controlled the game throughout the second half. As the last minute of the game wound down, the crowd rose and clapped. Meyer lifted his Dictaphone, as he does throughout the course of every game, and recorded another flaw that needed to be corrected. The game ended, and confetti streamed onto the court. Meyer called the Wolves into a huddle in front of the bench and talked about how they need to improve. "We're not here to celebrate this record," he said. "We're here to get better as a team."
But after Wooden's taped message, Meyer rolled toward the scorer's table and stood, leaning on his right leg, and spoke into a microphone. He thanked those in attendance for their support and asked them to continue praying for his leg to heal and his cancer to improve. Then, nodding toward his players, he said, "I especially want to thank this group of guys for helping me through a really tough time."
There will be a celebration for Meyer here in Aberdeen on Saturday, and his daughters plan to fly in, as do some of his former players. He will be relieved when that is over, when the talk of a statistical standard will dissipate and the Wolves' season will again be about process over product.
But away from the court, he takes stock of his life day by day and wakes up thankful he's alive. "I don't know how many days I have left, to be honest with you," he said. "None of us know."
So no, this day was not like any other for Don Meyer.