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Statham surpasses Smith's win total
LEBANON, Ill. -- In the NCAA's record books, retired North Carolina coach Dean Smith still tops the list for career wins.
Fans at tiny McKendree College are laying claim to the record after longtime coach Harry Statham posted his 880th win Wednesday night, all at the NAIA level but still one ahead of the Tar Heels legendary coach.
"I compared tonight like Mark McGwire passing Roger Maris," said Dave McFarland, who played for Statham's 1987-88 NAIA national tournament team and brought his two sons to the record-breaking game. "I told them there's no coach on this earth that will have more wins than coach Statham."
The 67-year-old coach's milestone 83-72 win over Maryville University drew a frenzied crowd about 1,500, matching the enrollment of the small liberal arts college about 25 minutes east of St. Louis.
Nearly 70 former players turned out, including Triad High School coach Todd Grigg, who skipped Illinois' nationally televised romp over top-ranked Wake Forest to watch Statham make history.
"Obviously, the Illinois game is big to every fan in our state, but this trumps it," Grigg said.
The record-setting game attracted fans who have followed Statham since he started at his alma mater in 1966, along with some who were catching their first game at McKendree.
"It's a tribute to him that this many people are here. They have come out to honor him and be a part of history," McKendree College president James Dennis said.
Smith said earlier this week that he doesn't mind sharing the record with Statham, who has a career record of 880-336 (.724) at McKendree. Whether NCAA or NAIA, Smith said, "it's still coaching basketball and everybody else is good at each level."
With the record behind him, Statham now has his sights on taking his 9-2 team past 20 wins, a milestone he has reached in 29 of his 38 seasons.
"It's been great, but I'm glad it's over," said Statham, who set the NAIA career win record in 2002-03 and is already a member of the NAIA Hall of Fame.
Maryville coach Matt Rogers said he doesn't mind becoming the answer to a trivia question after finishing on the losing end of Statham's record win.
"I'll take that footnote," Rogers said. "I can't think of a better role model for a young coach like myself. If I'm going to lose a game to anybody, I'm OK if it's against Harry."