Alaskan Picked to Lead NBA Team
Photo courtesy goldpanners.com
FAIRBANKS — Gary Wilken was like many people in the Fairbanks area on Tuesday who either know or are familiar with Mike Dunlap. The former state senator was happy to learn that the 1976 Lathrop High School graduate is set to be the head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats of the National Basketball Association, making him the first Alaskan to hold that position in any major professional sports league.
“That’s great. I’m proud of the kid and Fairbanks ought to be, too,’’ Wilken, a 1964 Lathrop alumnus, said by telephone Tuesday evening.
According to an article on the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer website, Dunlap is scheduled to be announced today as the fifth head coach in the Bobcats history. NBA legend Michael Jordan, who won six championships with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, is the Bobcats' majority team owner.
Dunlap takes over a Bobcats team which last season under Paul Silas finished 7-59 for the worst record percentage wise (0.106) in NBA history.
The 54-year-old married father of three children has coached in the collegiate and professional ranks for 32 years, and the Charlotte position isn’t his first time on an NBA staff.
He was an assistant coach for the Denver Nuggets from 2006-08, and that stint followed a 14-season career at Denver’s Metropolitan State University, which he guided to NCAA Division II national titles in 2000 and 2002.
Before he went to Metro State, he was the head coach of the Adelaide 36ers in Australia’s National Basketball League from 1994-97.
Dunlap spent the past two seasons at St. John’s University, and last season, he served as the acting head coach of the NCAA Division I program in New York while head coach Steve Lavin was recovering from prostate cancer surgery.
Among Dunlap’s coaching stops was as the head coach at California Lutheran University from 1989-94. Wilken’s son, Matt, was a freshman shooting forward during Dunlap’s first season with the Division III program in 1989-90.
Matt Wilken, now 41, describes Dunlap as an intense and intelligent coach.
“He was always looking at ways for us to an outsmart an opponent or to be a little more clever on the court,’’ said the younger Wilken, who is entering his fourth season as an assistant coach for the Lathrop boys basketball team.
“He taught me some things that I carry over now to coaching,’’ Wilken said. “He was stickler for being timely, he was a stickler for having good character and being an upstart young man around school and your teachers.”
Milo Griffin became friends with Dunlap’s father, Lawrence, a doctor who founded the Tanana Valley Clinic, after Griffin moved to Alaska with the military.
Griffin, who’s entering his 34th season as the Lathrop boys basketball head coach, saw Mike Dunlap’s intensity with a basketball, and when Dunlap spoke to Malemutes players two years after guiding Metro State to its second D-II title.
“He scared them half to death,” Griffin recalled. “They were in awe that a person could be that intense. He trained like he coaches.”
Griffin said he thinks that Dunlap’s intensity will benefit the Bobcats.
“No matter what level of player you are, you need someone in that situation to give you the drive to do what’s expected of you,” Griffin said. “Sometimes talent is not enough, especially for NBA players. Mike is the kind of guy who will get them to work hard with their God-given talents.”
Nick Stepovich played on Monroe Catholic High School teams against Lathrop teams with Dunlap as the Malemutes starting point guard.
“He had a good basketball IQ, and you could see it then,” said Stepovich, who graduated from Monroe in 1976 and now owns Soapy Smith’s restaurant in downtown Fairbanks.
“He was a leader on the court, and as a rival, we despised him,’’ Stepovich recalled. “A guy like that you want on your team.”
On Tuesday, Stepovich expressed pride in Dunlap becoming an NBA head coach and he reflected on the impact it could have on the sport of basketball in Alaska.
“That means you can do it,” Stepovich said. “It means if you strive, you can reach any level no matter where you came from.”
After graduating from Lathrop, Dunlap played collegiately in California at Pierce College in Woodland Hills (1976-78) and at Division I Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles (1978-80).
Dunlap was an Loyola Marymount assistant coach from 1980-85, and he had assistant coach stints at fellow D-I programs Iowa (1985-86), Southern California (1986-89), Arizona (2008-09) and Oregon (2009-10).
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