Earlier this month, men’s head basketball coach Gary Garner was honored for earning his 500th win as a collegiate head coach. The win came against NAIA’s 15th ranked York College on December 30th, 2016 at the Mike Miller Classic in Mitchell. He was then honored on January the 2nd at the DSU Fieldhouse before their game with Dakota Wesleyan for reaching the milestone. When asked about getting win number 500 Coach Garner simply said “I honestly had no idea until they announced it before the game. One of my assistants told me to look up, and they were announcing that I had my 500th win.” Garner said that it was just another game for him.
Winning has come as no surprise for the Trojans head coach. Before arriving at Dakota State, he was the head coach for several different collegiate teams, most notably his runs with Southeast Missouri State and Fort Hayes State. In the 1995-1996 season, he led Fort Hays State to a perfect 34-0 record, and an NCAA division 2 national championship. He was inducted into the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011, after becoming the winningest college coach from 1995-1997, amassing a 63-2 record between those seasons at Fort Hays State in addition to winning a national title. His Southeast Missouri State team advanced to the NCAA division 1 men’s basketball tournament in the 1999-2000 season. While at Southeast Missouri State, he was named Co-Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year in the 1998-1999 season, and finished runner up for the same award in the 1999-2000 season. Speaking on the transition from larger programs he’s coached to Dakota State he said “it’s really no different because I have a great passion for basketball, and I’m still doing what I love.” He also said that he wants to learn more about the game, and is constantly learning every day.
Coach Garner has done a tremendous job creating a winning culture here at Dakota State. Since arriving at DSU, Garner has led his teams to 4 out of the last 7 NAIA national tournaments, set a record for most consecutive wins at 9, and most wins in a season, earning 25 wins in the 2013 season which was the same season they reached the “Elite Eight” of the national tournament. In addition to those impressive stats, his teams have also won the conference in the regular season 4 of the last 5 seasons and have won the conference tournament in 4 of the last 5 seasons. When asked how he has been able to turn the program around he said that it starts with recruiting. “We do our best to recruit players that will be successful on and off the court.” Coach Garner has consistently brought in talent to win each and every year.
As far as this season is concerned, the Trojans got off to a bit of a rocky start, but have been able to pull out victories in 6 of their last 7 games. Coach Garner added that “Teams get better or worse in January. Part of it is recognizing our talent and putting our talent in a position to win, and part of it is the players that keep getting better throughout the year.” Senior forward Kyle Kilgore is a player who is having an outstanding season for the Trojans. Garner said that “Kilgore is the best scorer and rebounder, game in and game out, and teams have to really set their gameplan around him.” Another player having an outstanding year is senior guard Tanner Heiser, who Garner considers the “best competitor and leader of the team.” Most recently, Heiser hit a couple of big baskets down the stretch of their game against Presentation College, including a game-tying 3 pointer in regulation, and the game-winner with 00.8 seconds left in overtime.
This year’s team is full of up and comers, with a lot of young talent seeing valuable minutes on the floor. Justin Folkers, a 6-9 sophomore forward has been a player who has been able to step up this season. With a lot of focus being put on Kyle Kilgore by opposing defenses, Folkers has been able to put up some great numbers, including shooting 65.5 percent from the field. Garner believes that the improvement of Folkers has been a big part of the Trojans’ recent turnaround. Kevin Daniels is another player that has seen some valuable minutes while putting up good numbers this season and according to Coach Garner is one of the most talented players on the team. When asked how far this team was from reaching its full potential Garner said “the team has quite a way to go, but I don’t believe a team ever truly reaches its full potential”. He also mentioned that getting a team to play to its potential is one of the biggest challenges as a head coach.
This team has the potential to keep winning and is playing some of its best basketball as of late. There’s no denying the great work that Coach Garner has been able to do here in his tenure at Dakota State. With a very talented team, an experienced head coach, and excellent coaching staff, it will be exciting to see what this team can do when it comes to conference and possibly national tournament time.