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Remembering coach Don Meyer

Former Northern State University men’s basketball coach Don Meyer on the sidelines of a game at Wachs Arena in Aberdeen. (Photo courtesy of Northern State University)1 / 2
Meyer gives direction to Matt Sevareid during the first half of the Wolves’ game against Jamestown College Nov. 22, 1999 in Aberdeen. (Steven R. Wolf/Aberdeen American News)2 / 2

Legendary college basketball coach Don Meyer saw something special in Matt Sevareid and gave the Mitchell native a foot in the door, a blessing that the former Kernel has not forgotten.

“He meant everything,” Sevareid said of Meyer’s influence on his career.

Sevareid, who played for the Mitchell High School boys basketball team from 1993 to 1995 and won a state title in 1994, joined Meyer’s coaching staff for the 2000-01 season as a graduate assistant with the Northern State University men’s basketball team after he played his senior year with the Wolves.

Sevareid left NSU the next season for a volunteer assistant job with Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., before coming back to the Wolves program. He has been an assistant coach with the men’s program for the last five years, where Meyer was still a large part of the NSU family.

Meyer died Sunday at the age of 69 in Aberdeen of cancer, shortly after going into hospice care. A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. today at the Barnett Center on the NSU campus.

Sevareid gives a great deal of credit to the guidance bestowed upon him by Meyer in his early days as a coach.

“I was a senior in college and knew I didn’t want to give up basketball yet,” Sevareid said. “He (Meyer) sat me down and encouraged me to go into coaching. He hired me on and not a lot of coaches get that opportunity right out of college.”

Sevareid said the two had frequent conversations about coaching, politics and life in general. Meyer had an abundance of knowledge to pass on, according to Sevareid.

Meyer recorded 923 wins in his 38-year coaching career at Lipscomb in Nashville, Tenn. and NSU. At the end of his career, Meyer held the record for most NCAA wins by a men’s coach. He was passed by Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in 2012.

Meyer retired in 2010, two years after a recovering from a near-fatal car crash, but remained a presence at NSU. Meyer was a special assistant to the NSU president and maintained an office on campus, where he taught graduate classes and frequently gave speeches.

When Sevareid was a finalist for the vacant men’s basketball coaching job at Dakota Wesleyan University in the summer of 2013, Meyer was open with advice and made sure to put in some calls for his former player and pupil. Though Sevareid was not named the Tiger coach, he said Meyer was 100 percent supportive during the process.

“He made some calls and helped me get as far as I could go in that situation,” Sevareid said.

Sevareid said his last conversation with Meyer came just weeks before he passed and the two talked more about life than basketball in recent years.

“It was more talk of how things were in our lives and less business,” Sevareid said.

When Sevareid coached with Meyer, he said it was all basketball all the time, but on some rare occasions the conversations switched to politics. Sevareid said he just sat back and listened to Meyer when he talked, and just took it all in, no matter the topic.

“A couple of times we were on a recruiting trip and listening to talk radio and then (Meyer) would get on a tangent about politics,” Sevareid said. “The only time the switch was off is when Coach Meyer was around kids. He loved working with kids.”

Once Meyer recovered from the car accident in 2008, which caused his left leg to be mangled and later amputated below the knee, he was still the same guy right up until the end, according to Sevareid, even through his battle with cancer. He was still working to spread the word about basketball, life and faith.

“Now that he is gone, I wish I could have spent more time listening to him,” Sevareid said. “Over time you just take it for granted that he is there.”

Meyer was always teaching lessons to his players and other coaches, even if he did not have the setting of a basketball court or a classroom. One day in Aberdeen, in Sevareid’s early years working with Meyer, he said the long-time coach drove around with his players and coaches for three hours picking up aluminum cans, never explaining why.

“I never asked him why,” Sevareid said laughing. “He was just so big on picking up trash. His entire car was filled with cans at one point. It was just funny stories like that which made him special to me.”