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A Look Back At The Life And Career Of Don Meyer

May 18, 2014, 10:16 AM by Ben Dunsmoor

A Look Back At The Life And Career Of Don Meyer
ABERDEEN, SD -

His nearly six year fight with cancer is over.

Former Northern State Men's basketball coach Don Meyer died today at the age of 69.

Don Meyer didn't just coach basketball at Northern State University in Aberdeen, he inspired student athletes and fell in love with a community that rallied around the legendary mentor and leader.

Meyer arrived in the Hub City in August of 1999 after coaching for 24 seasons at NAIA Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee.  Meyer brought more than 700 career wins with him to NSU along with his disciplined style and winning ways.

"It's not hard to keep track of the losses; that's what I remember. You never forget the losses; that's what pushes you. But, the biggest thing isn't the winning or losing. It's how you play the game and go about doing things, and the process is bigger than the product. It's an amazing thing when you're involved in something. You don't think back to what you've done because when you do you stop building," Meyer said.

Meyer didn't stop winning at Northern State. In January of 2008 Meyer moved into second place on the all-time wins list for a NCAA coach - surpassing legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith.

Meyer was respected by those legends and he even brought some of the best college basketball coaches in history to Aberdeen like John Wooden and Tubby Smith.

"We're all here for a purpose and I think coach Meyer's found his purpose and he's influencing so many lives,"  Tubby Smith said.

But in September of 2008 Meyer was involved in a serious crash when the car he was driving drifted across the center line on a rural highway in Faulk County and collided with a semi. Meyer's leg had to be amputated and days after the crash doctors discovered he had inoperable cancer. Meyer's coaching career was in question but only a month later Meyer was back at practice.

"I know those guys care about me and I know they want me to be back with them, and that's where I want to be, because that's what I do. That's the reason you keep fighting is so you can be back with your guys," Meyer said.

Meyer returned to the sidelines that season and in January he broke the all-time NCAA wins record.

"You think about all the kids you coached," Meyer said. "You think about the tough losses, you think about all the trips. You think about the terrible mistakes you made, and the kids you ruined. And you think about some of the good things too. You think about a lot of those road wins, which mean a whole lot more. You think about those regional and national tournament wins, where it's like getting five wins when you get one win. It's just the greatest feeling in the world."

That summer Meyer was recognized nationally for his comeback and his battle with cancer, winning the Jimmy V. Award for Perseverance presented by sports network ESPN.

"We don't have any teleprompters in South Dakota so I'm just going to read this, if that's ok, I'm just a small college coach from Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota," Meyer said when he accepted the award.

He would coach one more season before retiring in 2010 to focus on his health, basketball clinics, book tours and delivering leadership and motivational speeches.

Meyer also continued his battle with cancer and earlier this year it was announced that the new cancer center at Avera Saint Luke's in Aberdeen would be named after him - even then Meyer continued to preach his philosophy of life and basketball.

"Unselfishness and willing to give up your bodies for your teammates and willing to do the tough, the dirty jobs I guess we'd call them. Those are the things I notice, much more so than the people who can dunk, stuff like that," Meyer said.

It's a legacy that will live on even now that the legendary coach is gone.

Funeral arrangements are pending. A service will be held in Aberdeen at the Northern State University Barnett Center. The family will send out an announcement once details are set.

People can also go to www.coachmeyertribute.com for updates, to give gifts, and post memories.

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