College Sports

Coach Harry Statham honored with gym dedication, hasn’t ruled out return to sidelines

Harry Statham is the winningest coach in college basketball history, but he was also as down-to-earth as you could get.
Harry Statham is the winningest coach in college basketball history, but he was also as down-to-earth as you could get. News-Democrat file photo

After a legendary 52-year coaching career at McKendree University, Harry Statham’s hometown high school is honoring him by renaming its gym after the 1955 graduate.

The Harry Statham Gymnasium was dedicated during a ceremony on Sept. 22. While Statham graduated from Brookport High School in 1955, it closed a few years ago and is now in the Massac County School District.

“Brookport is a small town near the Illinois/Kentucky border and the gym was in pretty bad shape and they were talking about demolishing it at one time.’’ Statham said. “Anyway, I got a call from some people who wanted to save it and they asked me if I would be interested in helping.“

Statham agreed to help, he said.

“It’s been an ongoing process and it’s still going on,” Statham said. “But with the people who have volunteered and stepped up to help, it’s really nice. It’s like a community center and a place where they can have meetings. But it is a place for the kids, as well. It’s a place for the kids to play.’’

Statham, whose 1,122 career wins is the most ever for a college basketball coach, men’s or women’s at a four year school, earned Coach of the Year honors in the American Midwest Conference eight times and turned the Bearcats into a perennial NAIA power. He led them to the NAIA National Tournament 15 times and his team made 41 postseason appearances.

Statham era ends at McKendree

The 81-year-old Statham ended his coaching career last March after more than five decades.

One of the most successful coaches in college basketball history who led the Bearcats to 20 or more wins 35 times, Stahtam was told by McKendree University administration that he would not be brought back for the 2018-19 season. The Bearcats were 12-16 overall and 3-15 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference last season.

The news surprised and saddened the Bearcats coaching legend.

“I did not resign as the head coach at McKendree University. I was told that they were going to go in a different direction with the men’s basketball program,” Statham said at the time. “Of course, I’m disappointed.”

Since he stopped coach, he said, he and his wife Rose have spent some time traveling.

But now, six months later, Statham is still upset with the way the situation was handled. Statham said on Tuesday that he will not attend McKendree basketball games in the future.

“It’s disappointing because I had no idea it was going to happen,’’ Statham said. “It’s still disappointing. “But, I’m not going back.’’

With the start of the college basketball season now only a few weeks away, Statham plans to watch some high school and college games and stay in contact with fellow coaches and friends in college basketball throughout the nation.

Could he coach again?

The coach said he still hasn’t ruled out a return to the sidelines.

“I still feel like I want to coach and that I have a lot to offer,’’ Statham said. “It would have to be the right situation and it would have to be a four-year school. It won’t be a high school or a two year school.”

Statham is also working on a project with Small College Basketball founder John McCarthy, a former Director of the NAIA’s Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship.

“I did a basketball clinic in Tennessee in May with McCarthy and after I spoke they had a dinner that night and they called myself and Rose up and gave us a really nice award. (McCarthy) also said that he was creating the Harry Statham Coach of Impact Award,’’ Statham said. “We’ve been working on that. They’ve been doing some video on it and talking to some of the guys I coached and played with. I believe it comes out in November.’’

As for having the gymnasium in his hometown named in his honor, Statham was truly humbled.

“I still get down there two or three times a year,’’ Statham said. “To have the gym where I played so long ago named for me — that’s a tremendous honor. The banquet that night was nice and its still great to see old friends and classmates. We won two regional titles in my four years that I was there. We had some good teams.’’

Dean Criddle: 618-239-2661, @CriddleDean