Troy State’s own dynamic coaching duo

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Sports Columnist

It is a rare thing indeed these days for a college football or basketball coach to stay at the same school for a very extended period of time. It seems that the minute a season comes to an end, the reports begin about who’s been fired and who their replacement will be. Any coach who has proven himself a winner at any college not considered to be one of the handful of elite is immediately speculated to be coaching somewhere else next season. In fact, as in the case of Dennis Franchione, even coaching at a school which is considered one of the elite doesn’t insulate you from being put on the wish list for other job openings as they become available.

Consider yourselves very fortunate, Trojan fans, because you have been blessed with not just one, but a pair of talented coaches at the helm of your basketball team, both of whom are proven winners in every sense of the word.

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The Dynamic Duo I refer to are Don Maestri and David Felix.

Serving through the years in a region and a state that is primarily considered to be football country, these two men have year in and year out provided all of us with quality and exciting basketball that would be the envy of the majority of basketball programs throughout the country.

It is difficult to picture the Troy State bench without both coaches sitting there, and rightfully so.

Maestri is entering his 19th season as head basketball coach at Troy State, and Felix has been an assistant coach all 19 seasons, plus one season prior to Maestri’s arrival. It would be difficult to wish for much more success than the Trojans have enjoyed since these two came on board.

My first memories of the TSU basketball squad were in the mid-80’s, not long after Maestri and Felix took the reins. In those days, as the posters around town proclaimed, "Gametime is Showtime". I recall pregame Globetrotter-like drills in which 6-10 center Juan Washington would stand at the freethrow line and dish off passes from side to side to teammates for layup drills, with one of the smaller players finally dribbling under him as he leaped into the air. Juan would then add the exclamation point by following behind and dunking two basketballs at once. It was quite a show, and it served to build excitement for a program that was trying to gain its own following at a school which was busy winning national titles in both football and baseball. Although the crowds were small, it didn’t take long to realize we were witnessing the early stages of a successful program.

In 1988, Maestri and Felix’s Trojans made their first appearance in the NCAA Division II National tournament, finishing with a record of 24-10 and making it all the way to the Final Four. Soon after, with a noticeable lack of size on the front line, the coaches showed the full extent of their coaching prowess by completely reworking their style of play. Whereas their previous teams were often marked by defense and the inside play of stars such as Washington and Anthony Reed, the Trojans soon gained national attention for their fast-breaking, run-and-gun, high-scoring assaults on the scoreboard.

From 1991 to 1993, the Trojans averaged a mind-boggling 114.5 points per game, in the process going 73-14. The highlight came in 1992, as the Trojans were featured on ESPN for setting the national scoring record and becoming the first team ever to break the 200-point barrier in a single game, by defeating DeVry 258-141 (and yes, I really was there). The Trojans finished out their run in Division II with four NCAA tournament appearances, two Final Four’s, and in 1993 advanced to the National Championship game.

The move to Division I didn’t seem to slow them at all, as in 1994 the Trojans averaged 97.6 points a game and led the nation in three-pointers, then followed up by leading the nation in scoring average with 94.5 per game in 1996.

David Felix, after a highly successful career as a point guard for Troy State. (still owning the records for career assists and steals), quickly established himself as an excellent recruiter. During his time at Troy, he was instrumental in recruiting All-American’s Daryl Thomas, Anthony Reed, and Terry McCord, as well as 18 all-conference players. Definitely a "player’s coach", he has often been seen challenging one or more of his players to a shooting contest after practice, and Head coach Don Maestri has received numerous honors during his career at TSU. He has been named Coach of the Year in three different conferences, a feat not many can claim, winning the award in the Gulf South Conference in ’91, East Coast Conference in ’93, Mid-Continent in ’97, and two years ago in the TAAC. That year’s squad was picked to finish 6th in the conference, but ended up co-champs.

With all of his accomplishments, however, my favorite memory concerning Maestri was for something he did away from the court. I have been acquainted with

Maestri for a little more than 10 years now, mainly through Bobby Templin who was my roommate in college and is a trainer for the basketball team, and through annual chili suppers that the Christian Student Center hosts for the team.

My father died of a heart attack when I was still in college, and my first day back at school I was feeling pretty low. As I crossed the street to go to class, I heard someone behind me say, "Hey, Jim." As I looked back, I saw Maestri, who had stopped his car in the road, leaning out the window. "I was really sorry to hear about your dad. I’ll be praying for you." You know, I couldn’t help but think that he didn’t have to take the time to do that. I knew he must be a busy man, and I barely knew him, but he stopped long enough to let me know he cared, and I’ve never forgotten that.

We’ve got two special guys leading our Trojans into battle, and we are fortunate to have had them as long as we have. They deserve a lot better than to have to labor in front of a half-full Trojan Arena every game, and so do the players. Lets do a better job of supporting them, starting this Saturday. I guarantee you will be glad you did. Gametime in Troy is still "Showtime" in my book.