In September 2008, Northern State University men's basketball coach Don Meyer stood on the brink of immortality. He was about to surpass the legendary Bobby Knight to become the all-time NCAA wins leader in men's basketball. Then, on a two-lane road in South Dakota, everything changed in an instant.
In How Lucky You Can Be, acclaimed sports journalist Buster Olney tells the remarkable story of the successive tragedies that befell Coach Meyer but could not defeat him. Laid low by a horrific car accident that led to the amputation of his left leg below the knee, Coach Meyer had barely emerged from surgery when his doctors informed him that he also had terminal cancer. In the blink of an eye, this prototypical 24/7 workaholic coach--who arrived at the gym most mornings before 6 a.m.--found himself forced to reexamine his priorities at the age of sixty-three. A model of reserve, Coach Meyer had sacrificed much of his emotional life to his program. His wife, Carmen, felt disconnected because of his habitual reticence, while his three children--all now well into adulthood--had long had to compete with basketball for his attention.
With sensitivity and skill, Olney shows how Coach Meyer mined his physical ordeal for the spiritual strength to transform his life. In the months that followed his accident and diagnosis, he reached out to family, friends, and former players in a way he had never been able to do before, making the most of this one last opportunity to tell those close to him how he felt about them--and in turn he received an outpouring of affirmation that confirmed how deeply he had affected others. Sustained throughout an often painful recovery by his love of basketball, he would return to the court once more--with a newfound appreciation for the game's place in his life.
The inspirational story of a life renewed by unimaginable hardship, How Lucky You Can Be proves that it's never too late to start making changes--and reminds us that fortune can smile upon us even in our most trying hours.
From the Hardcover edition.
"Those of us who savor fine sports journalism have long known that Buster Olney knows the baseball beat. Now, with this beautifully conceived and elegantly written executed book Olney shows that he knows the beating heart of life and the pulse of humanity that makes sports matter." --George F. Will, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist
"Don Meyer is a dear friend to me and the entire Basketball Community. His passion to teach, to share, and to live is unmatched. Buster Olney does a magical job of capturing this truly unique man and presents him in a way that is surprising and unforgettable." --Mike Krzyzewski, Coach of the Duke Blue Devils
"There are very few coaches who have positively impacted the game of basketball and the people who coach it as Don Meyer has done. His passion for the game, for teaching and for building character as well as his commitment to team are legendary. Coach Meyer has taught and given so much to us, and our game is better for it. This book chronicles not only his life as a coach, but his journey as a man through triumph and adversity. His story is a true inspiration and one which everyone should know." --Pat Summitt, Coach of the Tennesee Lady Vols
The body was on the floor and except for the rise and fall of the chest, there was no movement. The legs were tilted upward onto the seat of a chair. This is what Brenda Dreyer saw in the middle of her office on the afternoon of September 5, 2008.
She stepped from the room, pulled out her cell phone, and punched in numbers. It was three o'clock in Aberdeen, South Dakota.
"Coach is here," she said into the phone in a low voice. "He's sleeping. Do you want me to wake him?"
"No," said Randy Baruth, the assistant men's basketball coach at Northern State University. "Let him sleep. As long as he's ready to go by four, that's fine."
Outside of Dreyer's office, the Northern State campus was bustling on this first Friday of the school year. A class of freshmen found their way around, asking the same questions that the older students had asked before them. Students registered for classes and flocked to the bookstore to buy texts. Old friendships were renewed.
By tradition, on the first Friday of each school year, members of the men's basketball team would drive forty miles to a nearby hunting lodge off campus, a retreat designed to give the incoming freshmen a chance to assimilate. Through stories, a cookout, and games, the Wolves' players and coaches would learn more about one another, and about themselves. This was a day of rebirth.
The caravan of coaches and players was scheduled to leave at four. But Don Meyer, the sixty-three-year-old head basketball coach at Northern State-a man eleven wins shy of Bob Knight's NCAA men's record for most wins in history-was dead asleep, in one of the handful of spots on campus where he took naps in the middle of the day, lying on his back, baseball cap tilted over his eyes, feet propped on a chair.
He had been an early riser his entire life. Having grown up on a Nebraska farm with a taskmaster father, Meyer tended to wake at four or five a.m., work through the morning, and then tire easily in the middle of the afternoon.
Coaching made his schedule that much more exhausting. Recruiting in the Dakotas and other western states was done by car, in drives measured in hours rather than miles. And because Northern State's athletic programs shared one gymnasium in the middle of the South Dakota winter, the practices for the men's basketball team were often held at six a.m. Some days Meyer and an assistant would drive most of the night and then go straight to practice. Sleeping in until seven a.m. or later was not an option, and Meyer didn't drink coffee or caffeinated soda. The weariness was so constant that he often slipped catnaps into his schedule.
But he couldn't do that in his office, because even in September, before the team was practicing every morning, his day could be overrun by phone calls and emails and videotapes. The door to Meyer's office was kept open all day. A windowless square ten
feet by ten feet, built with facing cement blocks and drywall, Meyer's office could've been confused for a place of solitary confinement-save for the way the place was decorated and the nonstop human traffic. Other coaches walked through Meyer's office to get from the main lobby to their offices. Basketball players came to check in by signing the blue notebook that rested on a bookshelf opposite his desk. Friends stopped by just to chat. Meyer liked having his office in the middle of everything.
His walls were covered with pictures and posters and placards containing mantras or memories. Coaching legend John Wooden, a longtime friend of Meyer's,...