Southeast will honor its 1999-2000 men's basketball team this weekend
Gary Garner regrets that he won't be able to make it back to Cape Girardeau this weekend.
Some of the best times of Garner's long and distinguished coaching career were spent here, where he led the Southeast Missouri State men's basketball program to by far its most Division I success.
The height of that success will be feted when the 1999-2000 Southeast team that Garner coached is inducted into the university's Athletic Hall of Fame.
"We had some great times at Southeast Missouri State, made some great friends, and I'm really happy that the team is going into the hall of fame," Garner said during a telephone interview.
The induction ceremony and dinner for the 2012 hall class will be at 6 p.m. Friday at the Show Me Center (doors open at 5 p.m.). The event is open to the public, with tickets $30 per adult and $10 for ages 10 and under.
The squad that won the program's only Ohio Valley Conference titles and earned the program's only NCAA Division I tournament berth -- along with five individual inductees -- will be introduced at halftime of Southeast's basketball game Saturday against Eastern Illinois.
"I'd love to be there and see those former players," Garner said.
Garner can't attend the festivities because the Dakota State University team he coaches has a game Saturday. The school is located in Madison, S.D.
"It would be almost impossible to make it," Garner said about the travel arrangements that would have been required.
At least half of the squad's members, along with assistant coach Tom Schuberth -- currently an assistant at Jacksonville State in Alabama -- are expected to be on hand.
The 1999-2000 team, in the ninth season after Southeast joined the NCAA Division I ranks and in its third year under Garner, followed up its OVC regular-season co-championship by capturing the OVC tournament title to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
Southeast went 24-7 for the most wins in a season during the program's Division I era. The then-Indians nearly pulled off a monumental first-round NCAA tournament upset, but LSU rallied late to record a 64-61 victory in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Southeast, which trailed 24-19 at halftime, took a 61-58 lead over the nation's 10th-ranked team with less than three minutes left. LSU hit two straight 3-pointers, the second with 18 seconds left, to prevail.
"Sure I do," said Garner when asked if he still thinks about that game. "I think about it every once in a while, about several things that happened during the stretch. We were so close to winning."
Southeast had a balanced, defensive-minded team led by junior point guard Michael Stokes and senior forward Roderick Johnson, the MVP of the OVC tournament who led the squad with averages of 14.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.
Rounding out the starting lineup were senior center Brian Bunche, senior forward Mike Branson and junior guard Antonio Short.
Top reserves included junior guard Amory Sanders, junior wing Emmanual McCuthison and junior center Nyah Jones.
No Southeast player made the all-OVC first team despite the sensational season. Johnson was a second-team pick, with Stokes and Branson being selected to the third squad. Stokes, Branson and Short joined Johnson on the OVC all-tournament team.
Other assistants were Keno Davis -- currently in his first year as coach at Central Michigan -- and Anthony Beane, an assistant at SIU Carbondale.
"I just remember the guys, how together they were, how they just really played together," said Garner, whose squad led the OVC in scoring defense and field-goal percentage defense while ranking seventh nationally in the latter category at 38 percent. "We had great chemistry. It was just a fun group to coach."
Garner had quite a run at Southeast, leading the program to unprecedented heights on the Division I level soon after he took over.
Garner's first four Southeast teams went 76-41, including 62-28 during his second through fourth seasons.
His second squad won 20 games and narrowly missed an NCAA tournament berth after losing to Murray State on a shot at the buzzer in the OVC tournament final. That was followed by the historic season in which Southeast beat hated rival Murray State for the conference tournament crown.
Garner's two 20-win campaigns are the only ones for Southeast on the Division I level.
Garner's teams largely struggled during his final five seasons with four losing records, including a 7-20 mark in 2005-06 that led to his contract not being renewed. Garner's nine-year record at Southeast was 126-132.
It had been documented that following Garner's successful early run at Southeast, the program's operational budget was cut considerably -- enough to place it at the bottom of the OVC until an increase late in his tenure put it around the middle of the pack.
Garner said privately that he believed the budget restraints hindered the program greatly, primarily in the area of recruiting -- but he never publicly complained.
Garner considers all that ancient history. He landed on his feet well and at age 69 still is making his mark in the collegiate coaching ranks.
"It's all water under the bridge. I'm just trying to win games here now," he said.
Garner, in his fourth season at Dakota State after serving two years as an assistant coach for the Iowa Energy of the NBA Development League, has revived a struggling NAIA program.
Last year Garner led the Trojans to their first NAIA Division II national tournament berth since 1992. The Trojans, at 17-7, are headed to their third consecutive winning record after they previously had not finished above .500 since 1993.
"We've done a lot of things here that hadn't been done in a long time," Garner said.
Adding to Garner's satisfaction is that his son Matt -- a student assistant under his father at Southeast -- is Dakota State's assistant.
"It really is a thrill to go to work every day with your son and to share what we're doing here," Garner said. "I couldn't be happier."
Individual inductees in Southeast's 11th Hall of Fame class will be Ron Hines (sports information, 1980 to 2009) -- his late wife Mary will become an honorary member -- the late Jim Hamby (assistant football coach, 1958 to 1968), Galen McSpadden (baseball, 1971 to 1974), Christine (Ridenour) Vanatta (cross country/track & field, 1982 to 1984) and Beverly Slaughter (track & field, 1981).
The hall now will include 76 individuals and 15 teams since its inception in 2002.