Central Washington Coached by Father-Son for 57 Years
ELLENSBURG, Wash. (AP) _ The last time a Nicholson wasn’t coaching the Central Washington University basketball team Herbert Hoover was president, the Philadelphia Athletics won the World Series and talking movies were a new rage.
Current coach Dean Nicholson has been at the helm since 1965, when he succeeded his father Leo, who had coached the team since 1930.
Home games are played in Nicholson Pavilion, where the display cases are littered with Nicholson-related trophies and pictures.
″Most of the kids now think the building is named after me,″ joked Dean, 61, who went into the season with a 523-193 won-lost record and a record 20 appearances at the NAIA tournament in Kansas City.
Leo, who died in 1967, guided the Wildcats to a 505-281 record, and coached his son from 1947-50.
Both men are in the NAIA Hall of Fame and are the winningest father-son combination in college basketball history, even surapssing Ray and Joey Meyer at DePaul who had a combined 789-380 record when the season began.
Dean Nicholson ranks 28th in all-time victories while his father is 43rd.
″He was a great man and motivator,″ Dean said of his father. ″He gave me my foundation for the game of basketball.″
But the past isn’t so much on Nicholson’s mind as the present, where his Wildcats are struggling with a 5-6 record.
″Right now we’re a long way off,″ Nicholson said. ″But I still think we have potential and I’ll be disappointed if we are not a district contender.″
What makes Central’s success especially impressive is that Nicholson does not have college scholarships, has a $300 recruiting budget and a $9,400 budget for travel and equipment.
Nicholson must constantly search for diamonds-in-the-rough.
This year’s team is a typical collection of cast-offs, junior college players and late bloomers.
Carl Aaron, a 24-year-old forward from Detroit who hadn’t played college basketball since 1983, was not eligible to play until late December. But he has quickly blossomed into the team’s top scorer.
Center Bill Durham, from Tacoma, is 28 and a junior. Other players include Art Haskins, 24, who last played in 1983, and David Jones, from Suitland, Md., who came to Central from Yakima Valley (junior) College this year after his overtures to Pac-10 schools were rejected.
″I was disappointed but I felt most comfortable with Coach Nicholson and the reputation he had as a motivator,″ said Jones.
The players are lured to Central Washington by the smell of success, incuding the nearly annual trips to Kansas City.
″I think our team expects it,″ Nicholson said. ″Our backers expect it.
″Any kid who walks in here feels like he’s going to be part of a trip to nationals,″ Nicholson said. ″I don’t push it real hard, but it’s there.″
The Wildcats’ final four tournament loss last year was carried on ESPN, an exposure which won’t hurt recruiting efforts.
Nicholson takes a special satisfaction in defeating larger NCAA programs, which he has done often enough that Central now has problems scheduling such games.
″Most Division I schools in the Northwest refuse to schedule us because they fear getting beat,″ said sports information director Bob Guptill.
In recent years the Wildcats have defeated Gonzaga and lost in overtime to Portland, two teams that no longer play them. The only major college teams on this year’s schedule are Eastern Washington, where they lost 81-60, and Montana, where they played well in a 68-62 loss.
Earlier in his career, Nicholson was interested in moving to a higher college division, but it didn’t happen.
″I’m not slashing my wrists over that,″ he said.
If anything is bothering him about coaching, it is the long van trips to places like Cheney, Wash., Klamath Falls, Ore., Missoula, Mont., Lewiston, Idaho and Burnaby, British Columbia.
This year there are also plane trips to Juneau and Sitka, Alaska.
Nicholson, the 1970 selection as NAIA coach-of-the-year, isn’t thinking of retirement.
The Wildcats posted a team record 32 wins last season, finishing third in the nation.
″In coaching, every year is a completely new challenge,″ the balding coach said recently. ″I still love the game and the contact with the young people.″
END ADV Weekend Editions Jan. 9-10