Before it rings for a third time, the coach with more men’s college basketball wins than any other answers his office phone.
It’s a Monday morning, a day before Harry Statham’s McKendree University basketball team faces Salem International and wins 75-62. For Statham, it’s victory No. 1,085.
Sitting in his office, the 77-year old Statham is surrounded by pictures, basketballs and other relics from his 49-year tenure at the small NCAA Division II school in Lebanon, Illinois.
A few steps away is his team’s home court in the Harry Statham Sports Center.
Outside, traffic zips down Harry Statham Way.
Does he have a minute to talk about what it means to win 1,000 games?
“Sure,” he said.
Several states away, on the same night that the McKendree Bearcats beat Salem International, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski wasn’t talking about his push toward the 1,000-win plateau. A 90-74 loss to Miami (Fla.), Duke’s second in two games, kept the Hall of Famer stuck on 997 victories, prolonging the hype and adding a bit more pressure.
When he gets there — which could be as early as Sunday against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden — he’ll be the first coach in major men’s college basketball to have his win column hit four digits. But by the time he does, there could be as many as three coaches on college basketball’s lower levels who have beaten him to the punch.
Statham got there five seasons ago. Danny Miles, who coaches NAIA power Oregon Tech, did it in February 2014. Herb Magee, who is in his 48th season with NCAA Division II Philadelphia University, could hit 1,000 by the end of this month.
Their road trips came on buses. You probably can’t name any of their players. Their most memorable wins happened far from the game’s biggest stages. But for the three other men who will soon make up the 1,000-win club along with Krzyzewski, their journeys were no less rewarding.
Like Krzyzewski, who coached at Army prior to getting the job at Duke, Statham began his career at his alma mater, taking over the then-NAIA program as a 28-year old in 1966. But unlike Krzyzewski, he never left. He said he had opportunities to move on, but none were tempting enough to lure him away.
“I liked where I was, where I am,” said Statham, who has guided the Bearcats to 35 20-win seasons. “I liked the players we were bringing in and the way things were going. I didn’t want to make that gamble and roll the dice to go D1.”
As the years passed, Statham’s win total grew. He got No. 600 in 1994. Then No. 700 came in 1998. He moved past 800 in 2002, passed North Carolina’s Dean Smith as the game’s winningest coach with No. 880 in 2004 and hit 900 the following year.
When the 2009-10 season began, Statham had won 995 games and the countdown to 1,000 began. A steady stream of reporters dropped by campus. TV stations from nearby St. Louis had camera crews at each game.
“It’s great for the program and everybody enjoys that, but it is very much a distraction,” Statham said. “Maybe with [Krzyzewski’s] situation, he’s around it all the time so it’s not that much of a difference.”
Statham got his first shot at win No. 1,000 against East-West University. With dozens of former players watching in a packed gym, his Bearcats won easily. Afterward, Statham soaked in the moment alongside Rose, his wife of 52 years. There were some remarks from the school president, a press conference and a seemingly endless procession of familiar smiling faces waiting to get a moment with him. He’s not sure when he finally left the gym that night, but nobody was in a rush to leave.
The next night, against Union University, the Bearcats lost 66-64. The afterglow of his 1,000th was over in a hurry.
“I think those marker wins are obviously very important, but if you’re a genuine coach, you’re coaching to win the game, win the conference and advance in postseason play,” Statham said. “Those things take a back seat.”
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“Marker wins are obviously very important, but if you’re a genuine coach, you’re coaching to win the game.”
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When Miles hit 1,000 last February, it was greeted with a mix of elation and relief.
His Hustlin’ Owls had beaten Eastern Oregon on Jan. 24 to give him win No. 999. The next night, former players, media and university dignitaries packed Oregon Tech’s home gym, which is named Danny Miles Court, in anticipation of witnessing the milestone. But the Owls lost.
They lost their next game, too.
Finally, on Feb. 1, a 71-51 win on the road at Corban got it done.
“There’s a lot of pressure just to get it over with,” Miles said. “People are wanting to see it. As soon as it happened, it was kind of a relief.”
Miles’ path to that moment began when he was hired to take over a 1-21 Oregon Tech team as a 24-year old in 1971. A three-sport standout in high school, he also took over the school’s baseball program and served as an assistant on the football team.
Before long, it became clear that basketball was his passion. He enjoyed the fresh set of challenges each season brought. His curiosities about the game led him to develop the Value Point System, an algorithm that he still uses to evaluate players in games and at practice.
“I like putting the puzzle together every year,” Miles said. “Every year you’ve got a different set of circumstances, different kids. You think sometimes you lose two or three kids and you’ll never have anything like it. And all of a sudden, here comes two or three more people coming in who are tremendous people, too. That makes it fun.”
As he fell in love with the small town of Klamath Falls, where the community gives Oregon Tech unwavering support, the appeal of leaving for a bigger job lessened. He built the Oregon Tech program into an NAIA powerhouse, winning three national championships. In 2011, he served as a bench coach for USA Basketball’s Under-19 team, working alongside North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Florida’s Billy Donovan.
So by the time he reached win No. 1,000, it was less about the feat itself and more about the moments that got him there.
“When I started coaching, I thought winning three or four hundred games would be really something special,” Miles said. “You can’t imagine that you’d win 1,000 games. That’s just something you never even think about.”
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“You can’t imagine that you’d win 1,000 games. That’s just something you never even think about.”
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At Philadelphia University, there’s a banner in the gym that’s keeping count of Magee’s wins. Right now it shows that he’s at 996.
That’s not the only sign something big is about to happen. On a recent afternoon, Magee was in his office bouncing from one phone interview to another. TV stations are working on arrangements to be there when he wins No. 1,000. Sports Illustrated and USA Today have called. Author John Feinstein is planning a visit.
“It happens every four and a half years, or whatever it takes for me to go from 900 to 1,000,” Magee said. “So I’m used to it by now.”
Magee, 73, said he understands the fuss about his impending 1,000th win, but he has no need to dwell on it.
|*Game Jan. 21 vs. Georgian Court|
In 1967, when he became the head coach at his alma mater, what was then known as Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science — it changed its name in 1999 — he already knew what he wanted his program to be about. He believed in a commitment to defense, sharing the ball and, most importantly, putting team accomplishments ahead of individual ones.
That approach has led to 27 appearances in the NCAA Division II tournament and a national title.
It also colors his view of the approaching milestone.
“If I let myself dwell on this personal goal, then I’m going against what I’m trying to tell my kids,” Magee said.
The one time he veered away from this line of reasoning came in 2011, when he allowed himself to savor being elected to the Naismith Hall of Fame.
Other than that, Magee seems unimpressed with his own success. He laughs at the “Shot Doctor” nickname he’s been given due to his popular clinic speeches and role as a jump shot guru for NBA players.
By now, he’s endured enough milestone wins to know that if people want to celebrate them, there’s no sense in stopping them.
“I don’t want to say it’s not a big deal, but to me, it isn’t,” Magee said. “It’s another game.”
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“I don’t want to say it’s not a big deal, but to me, it isn’t. It’s another game.”
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A few days after Miles won his 1,000th game, he found out he had prostate cancer.
After the season, he had surgery for it and was told it had spread to his bladder. He got treatment for that, too. While doctors tell him he’s now cancer free, the episode was enough for him to set a finish line for his coaching career.
|Game on Jan. 25 vs. St. John’s|
With a new house near the Rogue River, more than an hour away from Oregon Tech’s campus, and a daughter that he and his wife adopted from Rwanda enrolled at Oregon Tech, the 69-year old Miles decided that the 2015-16 season will be his last.
“I’ve just been living a dream in a lot of ways, getting paid for something I’d do for free,” Miles said. “It’s been a great ride.”
Magee has no plans to retire, but said he’ll know he’s finished when he no longer finds the idea of a practice or a game fun.
“We have practice today in a couple of hours and I’m looking forward to it,” Magee said one afternoon last week.
Back at McKendree, Statham hasn’t put any thought to what the end of his run will look like.
“I don’t really get into long range predictions,” Statham said. “I’ve always been a day-by-day person. I like to live in the present and maximize where you are.”
In 2012, McKendree completed its transition to NCAA Division II. After two lean seasons, Statham feels he has the Bearcats in a position to succeed.
He’s keeping an eye on Krzyzewski’s climb. But like Magee and Miles, he knows that the drive that powers a coach to 1,000 wins doesn’t shut off once they get there.
“The games come and go,” Statham said. “You win 1,000 and what’s next? 1,001 and you go on. It’s up there, but it’s just a big number.”
This article was written by Stephen Schramm from The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.