ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP) - Thousands gathered on the campus of Northern State University in South Dakota on Saturday for a memorial service to honor longtime college basketball coach Don Meyer, whose friends said his legacy of compassion for others would surpass even his accomplishments on the court.
Meyer, one of the winningest coaches in college basketball history, died Sunday of cancer at his home in Aberdeen, South Dakota. He was 69.
He led his teams into the playoffs 19 times and compiled a 923-324 record during his 38-year career, most of which he spent at Lipscomb in Tennessee and at Northern State. The native of Wayne, Nebraska, overcame a near-fatal car accident in 2008 before closing out his career after the 2010 season at Northern State with a 13-14 record - only his fourth losing season.
Mark Ovenden, a local sportscaster and friend of Meyer’s, opened the service. He, and everyone else who spoke, focused on Meyer’s role as a mentor to those around him.
“Don was a great coach - we know that. His accomplishments have been well documented. But he was even better at the things that most of us didn’t notice in life: living the right way; doing things the right way,” Ovenden said.
Meyer’s former players talked about how their coach had helped shape their lives when they were young and how he continued to do so, even as they got older and had children of their own.
“What do we do now?” asked Brett Newton, who played for Meyer at Northern State for four years. “We live our lives as an example of what he was.”
Craig Nelson, who played for Meyer from 2003-2008 at Northern State, said the thousands who came to honor Meyer were there because of more than just his coaching record.
“I would argue a Division II basketball coach would not garner this type of celebration just for being a basketball coach,” he said.
The public memorial service was held on the gym floor of the Barnett Center, where Northern State hosts its basketball games.
A second service will be held June 1 at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, where Meyer also coached.
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