Men’s basketball head coach Mick Durham is about to reach a milestone in the coaching industry. This Thursday, Durham will coach in his 500th career game as a collegiate head coach when the Nanooks face Saint Martin’s at the Patty Center.
With three decades of coaching as either an assistant or a head coach at the NCAA level, Durham says he’s been fortunate to not have to move from job to job every few years having coached at just three universities.
“I was fortunate to start this game at an early age and always thought when I got done playing that the next best thing would be to coach,” Durham said. “I’ve been fortunate to do it a lot of years and only in three places. I haven’t had to jump around too much.”
Last year he had the tough task of taking over a program that had struggled in recent years. After a 5-23 inaugural season, Durham retained just three players and added 13 newcomers, many of which were junior college transfers. He also hired a new assistant coach with playing and coaching experience in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
Thus far in 2012-13, Nanook fans have seen quite the improvement as Alaska is off to an 8-4 start with a 3-1 record in GNAC play. That’s already three more wins than last season and one more conference win than a season ago. Last weekend, the Nanooks produced a road sweep with wins at Central Washington and Northwest Nazarene, which was the first time in six years that the team swept a conference road trip.
The players feed off his experience and hard work and it is helping them succeed both on and off the court.
“He has a lot of experience in the NCAA and is a great coach, which helps us a lot as players,” junior forward Andrew Kelly said. “With his experience, it helps us grow as a team, as basketball players and as individuals.”
“Coach Durham is a great role model for the young men on his team; they are indeed in good hands under his direction,” director of athletics Gary Gray said. “Mick works hard day in and day out to show his student-athletes how to achieve at a high level in athletics, in the classroom and in the community.”
His new assistant, Jon Clift, formerly of Central Washington, touched on the opportunity for him to come coach the Nanooks alongside Durham.
“It was a great opportunity for me to get up here and work with a coach like Mick every day,” Clift said. “Being a young assistant, I’m kind of just soaking it all up. He knows what he’s doing, having been around for a while and I have a lot to learn from him. I’m thankful for the opportunity to work with him on a daily basis.”
Durham’s collegiate career began as a student-athlete when he was the starting point guard for Montana State in the late ’70’s. At the time of his graduation, he ranked second in program history in both assists (362) and free throw percentage (.816).
It didn’t take long for the Bobcat to return to his alma mater as he accepted an assistant coach position at MSU in 1982. For the next eight years he helped the Bobcats to a 120-112 record and two post-season berths.
In 1990, Durham was named head coach at Montana State and would spend the next 16 seasons at the helm of the men’s basketball program. During that time, he amassed a record of 246-213, which is the second-most wins in Bobcat history while also ranking first in Big Sky Conference history. He was thrice named the league’s Coach of the Year (1996, 2002 and 2005) and led the Bobcats to the 1996 NCAA tournament and 2002 National Invitational Tournament.
Prior to his coming to Fairbanks, Durham spent three seasons at New Mexico State where he helped the Aggies go 55-44 with one NCAA tournament appearance.
Durham loves to dig deep in game tape and there is no shortage of preparation, which is something that has not changed in 30 years.
“I’ve always prided myself on preparation, being ready to play or ready to coach,” Durham said. “So I’ve definitely put a lot of work into those 500 games.”
He is settling in nicely in Fairbanks and being a Montana native, the cold doesn’t bother him. He talked about the pressures of Division I and that towards the latter part of his career, he wanted to be someplace where he could get in the gym and just coach.
“I always thought that towards the end of my career if I could find a school where I could just coach and be in the gym and coach my team,” Durham said. “There’s a lot of pressure, a lot of things that go with Division I. It’s not everything it’s cracked up to be. There is life outside of basketball and I found that as I progressed in my career and in Division II.”
Prior to Thursday’s home game against Saint Martin’s, Durham will be honored at center court for his coaching milestone.
“We are excited to honor Coach Durham on the occasion of his 500th career basketball game at the collegiate level,” Gray said. “Mick has had and is continuing to have a great career on the court and we are very excited he is leading our men’s basketball program at this time.”
Congratulations Mick on reaching this coaching milestone and we hope to see you lead the Nanooks to many, many more victories down the road!