116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / Sports / Iowa Prep Sports
Coaching Legends: It was love at first sight for Don King and basketball
Editor's note: Fourth in a series of articles about former coaching legends in Eastern Iowa and what made them successful. Previous stories featured Larry Niemeyer, Ross Telecky and Bob Jennings.
CEDAR RAPIDS — Don King never even picked up a basketball until he was 14 years old. Once he did, he never put it down.
The hall of fame coach, best known for a nearly three-decade stint at Cedar Rapids Washington, grew up on farms around the Vinton area and attended one-room country schoolhouses through eighth grade. He went to Geneseo High School in 1944, where he was introduced to the sport in which he ended up dedicating his life.
'I went through my freshman year learning, having never touched a ball and not accomplishing a whole lot,' King said. 'Then I received as a Christmas gift my wish: a basketball and a hoop. We put the hoop on the barn and went to work. The next year, I was seventh man on the state tournament team. I remember it so much.'
Geneseo, located in Tama County, was the only Class B school in the eight-team event that year and by far the smallest. It was the final state tourney played at the old Drake Fieldhouse in Des Moines.
King, who turns 88 in August, remembered walking into the gym with his team and being wowed. Not necessarily by the environment, as much as the coaches of the other teams.
'Everybody got one hour of practice,' he said. 'There were some Hall of Fame coaches there in that tournament: Lefty Schnack from Muscatine, O.E. Tiller from Ames and Mart Brandes from Waverly. I remember walking in there as Mart Brandes was wrapping up the last 10 minutes of his practice. I watched him, and I was almost awestruck.
'I was intrigued watching how those coaches handled their one hour of practice. I decided that week, at age 15, that I was going to be a high school basketball coach. And I never changed my mind.'
King graduated from Iowa State Teachers College in 1951, then began his coaching odyssey at Hayfield High School in North Central Iowa. Then it was three years at Lisbon, one in a development system at a junior high in the Twin Cities, five years at Nevada and four as head coach at Coe College from 1962 to 1966.
He began at Washington a year later and retired in 1993. He was inducted into the Iowa High School Athletic Association's Hall of Fame a year later, the winner of over 500 games.
'I just think there was a realization that I had more impact on the kids at the high school level than I did at the college level,' King said.
Washington won the school's only hoops championship in 1969, defeating Carroll Kuemper in the Class 2A final, 73-62. King tutored many good players in his 27 years with the Warriors, including three who are in the IHSAA Hall of Fame: Jim Heck, Carl Gonder and Russ Millard.
Heck was 'certainly the most efficient player we had,' and still holds several school records. He graduated in 1970.
King said Rick Williams, who played at Iowa in the early 1970s, was probably his most 'natural' player.
'Certainly fundamental,' he said, when asked his coaching style. 'I started out with not a real adequate knowledge of the intricacies of the game, so I really concentrated on the fundamentals. Most of my players and many other coaches would say that Don King's teams were fundamentally sound. I think that was probably the most key element.
'Other than that, adaptable and flexible. There were years we would change to correspond with the type of talent that we had. There were years we were very quick, we played a very quick game, were very aggressive. Aggressive on defense, ran with the ball. Then there were a few years when we didn't have that kind of speed, and we walked the ball up the floor, were more patient and tried to get the ball inside and get offensive rebounds.'
King and his wife, June, recently sold their house on the southeast side of Cedar Rapids and are living full time in Longboat Key, Fla., located in the southwest side of the state, east of Sarasota. They had been splitting the year between Iowa and Florida.
'I was dedicated to basketball, it was so much of my life,' he said. 'There are so many individual things, but the greatest satisfaction in high school coaching is seeing young men develop. Not only as basketball players, but as students and individuals in the four years or more that you have them in your program. That's the greatest satisfaction.'
l Comments: (319) 398-8259; email@example.com