Hall of Famer Jim Iverson returns to SDSU

Robert Myers Sports Editor


 Saturday’s game versus NDSU saw the return of former men’s basketball coach Jim Iverson to the school he coached from 1956 to 1965 and led to a College Division National Championship.

Despite battling the effects of age and Parkinson’s disease, Iverson made arrangements to come to the game nearly a year ago.

“I’m like everyone else,” Iverson said. “Everyone knows that it’s a good rivalry. It’s always fun to watch the rivalry games. Players play a little harder, a little more at stake. That’s the main reason. Nobody really likes to see a blowout.”

As can be clearly seen by anyone who knows him or talks to him, Iverson absolutely loves the game of basketball, so it comes as no surprise that he has kept a close eye on his former team, watching them on his TV at home and closely following the results.

“I would say they’ve got good size and the big guys can shoot,” Iverson said. “The big center Dykstra can shoot the outside shot. And that’s a real asset when you have big players that can turn around, face the basket and do a decent job.”

A member of the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame, Iverson began his athletic accomplishments at Platte High School where he played in the state tournament all four years and scored a record 29 points in the championship game and 42 points in a consolation-round game. After high school, he continued his success at Kansas State thanks to the recommendations of a few area coaches.

“The recruiting wasn’t nearly as active as it is now,” Iverson said. “They looked at my records and wrote me down and decided to give me a scholarship.”

In 1951, he again found himself as the spotlight as Kansas State made it to the National Championship game before finally falling to the Kentucky Wildcats. Then the next year Kansas State finished third in the national polls. A three year letterman and named all-Big Seven as a senior, Iverson found himself drafted by the Boston Celtics in the second round of the 1952 NBA draft. 

Unfortunately for Iverson, he was not able to join the Celtics right away for he faced a duty that many people and professional athletes of the era faced – service to their nation. Soldiers were needed in Korea and Iverson had a two-year commitment to the ROTC to honor.

Iverson found himself stationed in Yokohama, Japan where he received permission from the camp commander to put together a basketball team. Serving as a player and a coach, Iverson achieved a 77-7 record and had the opportunity to play with a few other professional players who were stationed there. After finishing his service, Iverson finally was free to return to the Celtics, but the circumstances were not ideal.

“I came back and played with Boston about two months,” Iverson said. “Played in some exhibition games. They had a loaded backcourt – [Bob] Cousy, [Bill] Sharman, [Frank] Ramsey.”

Despite not having an NBA career because of the Celtics’ depth at his position, Iverson wasn’t out of options.

“I came back and got my Master’s degree and was graduate assistant with Tex Winter at Kansas State,” Iverson said. “He was the assistant coach when I was there and then he took the head job. Great guy and great coach.”

Just as bigger things lay ahead in Winter’s future, also did they in Iverson’s future as he would soon receive his big chance.

“I was going to go to dental 


 school,” Iverson said. “My wife and I were looking at the catalogue on Saturday morning and the phone rang. … [Then SDSU coach] Russell Walseth took the job at Colorado. It opened suddenly. I wasn’t expecting that. He [Jack Frost] and the president flew to Manhattan. We had lunch on Sunday and then they hired me right there – $6,000.”

Highlights of Iverson’s nine-year career at SDSU included winning the 1963 College Division National Title, claiming five North Central Conference titles, and achieving a record of 142-65. Nevertheless, none of these make up his fondest memory. What he remembers most fondly was the roar of the crowd.

“When you look at the whole thing and the tremendous support of the fans and students, we always had that,” Iverson said. “When you’ve got that kind of support, it’s fun to coach.”

It was a different world and a different campus when Iverson coached than SDSU students, faculty and fans know today. Instead of coaching in Frost Arena, or a like arena, he coached in the Intramural Building.

“It wasn’t much,” Iverson said. “None of the gymnasiums around the country were much. They all upgraded their facilities – not as much as this one though.”

Besides the places they played, he noted a few other differences in the game between then and now. 

“The players are bigger and better,” Iverson said. “There are more good players. There is so much money involved nationally. There are more good players and everyone’s got some. It used to be there weren’t as many good players. We had players I think as good as now, but not as many.”

Even so, some things haven’t changed too much. Iverson remembers USD as SDSU’s biggest rival. He also remembers a rivalry with Northern Iowa, a team that the Jacks now compete with the Missouri Valley Football Conference. 

Despite the fact that he hasn’t coached a team in years, Iverson still coaches in his mind, something that was obvious to current head coach Scott Nagy who was all too happy to receive the pair of shoes that Iverson donated to Samaritan’s Feet and talk a little basketball in his office before Saturday’s game.

“That was great to talk to him,” Nagy said. “They were telling me that he’ll get up at three in the morning and start drawing up plays for ball screens, plays, and ball screen defenses. And I think that’s great. … He flat out loves the game of basketball. … I would love to sit and talk with him more because I’m sure there’s a lot I could learn from him.”