LEBANON, Ill. (AP) -Harry Statham recalls his first victory as coach at McKendree University. That's no small feat - it was back in 1966, when the Bearcats beat Westminster 90-78 in the season opener.
``Shoot, yeah, I remember very vividly,'' Statham said. ``First game I ever coached, and I was excited. I thought, 'This is pretty good stuff.'''
There'll be no forgetting the next one. It'll be No. 1,000, all at the same little NAIA powerhouse in Illinois, a short drive east of St. Louis.
The 72-year-old Statham is poised to become the first men's coach at a four-year college to reach the milestone, and it could happen Friday night in the second game of the McKendree Classic.
The wins are a testament to consistent excellence from a stay-at-home guy who's in his 44th season at his alma mater.
world, it doesn't happen.''
Statham has a 999-381 record, including 4-0 this season. The only present member of the 1,000-win club is Tennessee women's coach Pat Summitt.
Statham has averaged 23 victories per season, leading the Bearcats to postseason play 38 times and producing all 13 of the school's NAIA national tournament berths. He's been atop the leader board since passing North Carolina legend Dean Smith with victory No. 880 in 2004, and his team enters Friday's game against East-West University ranked No. 5 in the NAIA preseason poll.
``It's a big number. Sure it's special,'' Statham said, one foot propped up on his desk in an office filled with accolades. ``But it's not like the end of the world for me. I'm going to press on, keep going.''
He's not the only coach known for longevity, after all, with five coaches in the top 10 still active. The school has been tracking the leaders for years and Don Meyer of Northern State (N.D.) is second at 910, Danny Miles of Oregon Tech and Herb Magee of Philadelphia University are tied for fourth at 880, and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski eighth at 833.
The only other coach to make it to 900 victories, Bob Knight, has retired.
Statham recalls passing Dean Smith being a bigger deal than his quest for 1,000. A bigger deal for the coach, too, given his surprise when Smith made a congratulatory telephone call the next morning.
half-hour,'' Statham said. ``I didn't think he knew where McKendree was, but he was so nice. So, this is a little different.''
Statham works out every day, five days of cardiovascular exercise and two days of weight-lifting. Players see that vitality daily and have had no trouble relating or ignoring the head full of gray hair.
``He didn't have to do a lot of recruiting with me,'' said junior point guard Andy Wolff of Centralia, Ill., the team captain. ``As soon as I met him, I said 'This is where I want to go.'
``If there's anybody you can learn from, it's coach Statham. He's got it down.''
When Statham took the McKendree job, he plotted to jump to a large high school in a few years and win a state championship, but quickly discovered he enjoyed working with older athletes. After a decade or so on the job, he gave up dreams of coaching at the Division I level because it would have meant too many compromises.
``You've got to take players that you really don't want around, or you're not going to win,'' Statham said. ``You sell your soul to win games.''
At McKendree, he's running a national power, falling short of 20 wins only once in the last 20 seasons - the Bearcats were 19-14 in 2005-06 - without taking shortcuts to success. Statham finally made it to the national tournament in his 21st season, and he was the 2001-02 NAIA coach of the year.
Twenty years ago, Statham's success prompted the school to build the 1,600-seat Melvin Price Convocation Center. Just like the coach, whose spacious office is steps from the entrance, the arena isn't showing any signs of age, and routinely plays to sellout crowds with a lot to cheer about. The team has posted an .879 winning percentage (116-16) in the last 132 games.
In recent seasons, Statham has populated his rosters almost entirely by players very close to home.
``I can pick and choose and find guys that are team players, high-character people that want to win and are coachable, and fun to be around,'' Statham said. ``We've built our teams around good citizens who are going to graduate and be somebody.
``I know I did the right thing. No regrets.''
Now it's one more game for a nice, big, round number.
``I've been here for three years and it's been the talk of the town, if he's going to make it and when,'' Wolff said. ``I came here hoping I might see it, and now I'm about to see it.''

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