31 years at the reins

Published 11:00 pm Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Former Troy University men’s basketball coach Don Maestri is interviewed post game on press row in Sartain Hall.

Former Troy University men’s basketball coach Don Maestri is interviewed post game on press row in Sartain Hall.

The year was 1982. E.T. was breaking box office records at movie theatres around the world, Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” was dominating the radio waves, Ronald Regan was in the White House and Don Maestri took over the Troy State University basketball program.

On March 9, Maestri announced his retirement from the game and program that he devoted most of his adult life too, following a loss to Arkansas State in the Sun Belt Conference tournament.

Over the course of his 30-plus year career on the Trojan bench, Maestri guided teams to post-season play on numerous occasions, including Troy’s only trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2003. He was named Coach of the Year by five different conferences, being one of two men with that accolade. Maestri’s final career victory, 81-79 over Florida Atlantic, was his 500th win of his career.

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“We have been lucky enough to be around here for a while,” said Maestri with a chuckle. “The wins are something that happened when you are at a place for a time. A guy could win 10 games a year for 50 years and get 500. The kids we have been able to work with over the years and the relationships you make are the things I will cherish most.”

The first line of Maestri’s bio on the Troy athletics website says all anybody needs to know, “Don Maestri is Troy basketball.” Prior to coming to Troy, Maestri spent time as a head coach at Holy Cross High School in New Orleans, and at Alabama as an assistant.

Maestri came to Troy in 1982, and inherited a program that had not had a winning season in the five previous years. In Maestri’s first year, Troy finished 15-13. The program went on to have winning seasons in 16 of his 31 years.

The teams improved over the seasons and Maestri’s Trojans became known for their shooting prowess. Troy has led the nation in scoring three times, 1991, 1992 and 1996 as well as leading the nation in three-pointers seven times: 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2004, 2005, and 2006. On Jan. 12, 1992, Troy became the first and only team to score 200 points in a basketball game, defeating DeVry, 258-141. Troy hit 51 three-pointers during the game, still a NCAA record.

Late in the 2012-13 season, officials at Troy named the playing surface of Trojan Arena in Maestri’s honor. Maestri was also selected as a part of Troy University Sports Hall of Fame inaugural class in 2012.

“For three decades, Troy basketball has been synonymous with Coach Don Maestri. His legacy is embodied in integrity, character and in his concern for his student athletes,” said Troy University Chancellor, Dr. Jack Hawkins.

Ben Fletcher played for Maestri in the early 2000’s and joined the Troy coaching staff upon graduation in 2005. Fletcher holds the record for most three pointers in a season, 92.

Fletcher, played under and coached alongside Maestri for a decade, and speaks highly of his mentor.

“It will take a while to sink it that he is gone,” said Fletcher. “I’m used to him sitting in that chair and now he won’t. I have said it time and time again, but Coach Maestri is just an awesome guy. Yea he is a great coach, but he is even a better person.”

Hawkins agreed.

“Troy University shall forever be indebted to Don for elevating Trojan basketball while always doing the right thing in the right way,” Hawkins shared. “He is a players’ coach. That is the highest compliment a coach can receive.”

Maestri’s influence reached past the players on his team, and in to the Troy community. Troy mayor Jason Reeves has said that he grew up being a fan of the Troy teams and spent many afternoons in his backyard pretending to be Juan Washington, Darryl Thomas and other former Troy stars

Marcus Paramore, Troy city councilman for district three, also remembers the magic of Troy baskteball during the Showtime days.

“Coach Maestri would go around to all the fraternities and sororities to get people out to the games,” Paramore recalled. “There was always some kind of show or promotion. The arena would be slam packed with students.

In his time in the basketball world, Maestri garnered respect from peers and opponents, including new Troy head coach Phil Cunningham. Cunningham coached against Maestri-led teams at three different schools, Georgia State, Mississippi State and Western Kentucky.

“Coach (Don) Maestri has always been a mentor for me,” said Cunningham. “He treated me the same as an assistant as he treated a head coach. He always treats people with humility and respect.”

Maestri said that he will still be around the city of Troy, and might drop in to a game from time to time, but that he will enjoy time off and some charity work.

“I think the next step for me is to do something in the spiritual nature of charity,” said Maestri. “I will have more time to do it, and I am hopeful that I can devote time for it.”