Nov. 25, 2011
By Mike Benischek, Poughkeepsie Journal
A little over a week ago, an important figure in the United States Military Academy's basketball history reached a coaching milestone.
No, this has nothing to do with Mike Krzyzewski's 903 wins and "Kounting."
On Nov. 16, longtime Marist College men's basketball coach and current Army women's coach Dave Magarity earned his 400th career victory, when his Black Knights defeated St. Francis (N.Y.) 59-43.
As far as numbers go, 400 isn't quite as impressive or as marketable as 903. Nike isn't going to come up with a catchphrase for the moment, and nobody is going to make Bobby Knight analyze the importance on every ESPN broadcast.
But, as far as deeper, personal meaning is concerned, no plateau exceeds Magarity's.
There was a time after his unceremonious release from Marist in 2004 - excuse me, the parties "mutually agreed" on the change - when he thought he would never coach again.
And yet, here he is now, seven years later, still in the profession thanks to strange twists of fate, and as content as he's ever been.
Of course, speaking with him on Tuesday night, Magarity wasn't concerned with his own path to No. 400, only the people that helped him get there.
"It was a really special night. Very special," he said of the win. "I think it's just the end result of great players. Going back to the Rik Smits, Alan Tomidys, Sean Kennedys, all those players I coached at Marist and at St. Francis (Pa.) before that.
"I've coached three of the top four scorers at Army women's basketball history here."
For those of you who have forgotten, or never knew, that attitude is all you need to know about Magarity's personality, on and off the court.
Well, that and the fact that he's the sort of guy who wrote movie reviews on his own webpage for years. Once, he scripted an entire dialogue detailing the answers coaches wish they could give when reporters ask the same old dubious questions:
"REPORTER: What was the key to the win?
"COACH: We scored more points.
"REPORTER: Did you do anything different to prepare for them?
"COACH: Well, I opted for the buffet rather than the continental breakfast."
For me, I will always remember Magarity's last game at the James J. McCann Center - this was back before a few seatbacks and video screens qualified the gym as an "arena" - an 84-59 loss to Niagara on Senior Night, 2004.
Myself a member of Marist's television club back then, he walked past our group cleaning up our equipment and poked his head into the room to thank us.
"You guys really had a great year," he said. "Our year has been (insert colorful adjective here)."
And, with a laugh, he walked off, soon to be fired at the end of an injury-riddled 6-22 season, with a truckload of young talent that he recruited still on the roster, including a young future NBA draftee named Jared Jordan.
"It was hard to accept at the time," said Magarity, who won 253 games at Marist. "It's happened to me before in my life, people say, `Hey, it's the best thing that could have happened.'
"I don't think it was the best thing. I still have strong feelings about what happened, but I'm beyond that. I don't hold any grudges."
Regardless of what could have been at Marist, he's found happiness at West Point.
Unsatisfied with his brief time working in Cleveland as an administrator for the Mid-American Conference, Magarity joined Maggie Dixon's staff at Army in the fall of 2005 in order to return home to his family in the Hudson Valley.
Though he had planned to move on at the end of that season - he could have became a scout in the New Orleans Hornets organization under his former assistant Jeff Bower - Magarity reluctantly decided to stay at Army to guide the program after Dixon's untimely death in April 2006.
At first, he said, he didn't know what he was doing coaching the women's game. Now, he has no plans to leave.
Magarity, whose daughter Maureen spent four seasons on his staff, calls his time at West Point "one of the great experiences of my life."
"These kids are so special," he said. "I just think they have such a higher calling. There's so much more to this place."
Recently, one of his graduates, Alex McGuire, returned for a visit. He said the team flocked to ask her questions - as much about her time in Afghanistan as her time as a Black Knight.
"I coached her as a freshman when I was an assistant," he said. "She's a first lieutenant now, on leave for holiday."
With all that's been going wrong with athletics lately, with problems ranging from the mildly obnoxious NBA lockout to the downright horrifying alleged events at Penn State and Syracuse, the world of sports hasn't exactly been providing reasons to give thanks this holiday season.
Magarity's milestone is one victory for the good guys.
After enduring an ungrateful dismissal and traveling a rocky road, Magarity found a new place to call home - one that values strength of character above everything else.
Better yet, he's showing he can still coach a little, too. Magarity's Black Knights took down Manhattan, 58-43, on Wednesday.
Win No. 402 and "Kounting."