When the Oregon Tech men's basketball team visits Ashland next week for a game against sixth-ranked Southern Oregon, OIT head coach Danny Miles may be looking to hit his next major milestone: win No. 1,000.
Miles, 68, in his 43rd year of coaching (all at Oregon Tech), has 998 wins heading into the Owls' weekend road trip to Washington for games against Northwest and Evergreen. A sweep for the unranked Owls would put Miles, who's No. 2 on the all-time men's college basketball head coach wins list, into quadruple digits Saturday night. A split, however, would leave Miles stranded at 999 heading into Oregon Tech's Jan. 18 clash with Southern Oregon.
Not that Miles cares much when or where he pockets win No. 1,000, so long as it's in the rear view mirror as soon as possible. Though he has fond memories of his playing days at SOU, where he was a star three-sport athlete, Miles would love to finish fielding questions about his rising win total before the Owls visit Ashland for what could be a critical CCC clash.
"I'm hoping to get it over with (this weekend) and get our focus back on where it needs to be," he said in a phone interview Wednesday. "We've never talked about it with the team but I'm sure they know. In our local newspaper there's been a countdown and all that kind of stuff, but we've never mentioned it. Our focus is to continue to improve, and we've got ourselves in decent shape in the league."
A 2-0 road trip is not out of the question for the Owls, but that would require an upset Friday night. Northwest (12-4, 3-2 Cascade Conference) is 6-0 at home, including an impressive 83-77 victory over No. 23 College of Idaho. Oregon Tech, meanwhile, is 0-3 on the road.
But the Owls (11-7, 4-2) have won four straight, and have improved steadily since their 5-5 start, winning six of their last eight games.
If the Owls manage to beat Northwest, there's a good chance Miles will reach the mark the following night. Evergreen (1-11, 0-5) is dead last in the conference standings and has dropped 11 straight since its season-opening win over UBC-Okanogan.
Miles already has recorded two milestone victories against his alma mater — win No. 700 and win No. 900.
If Miles is in position to hit his next big mark in Ashland next week, he'll only do so if the Owls manage to pull off what would be considered a shocker. The Raiders (15-3, 4-2), who dropped four spots from No. 2 in the latest NAIA Division II national rankings, were selected the top dog in the league's preseason coaches' poll and already have recorded one lopsided win over OIT, a 75-59 drubbing Nov. 26 in Klamath Falls.
SOU head coach Brian McDermott, who has led the Raiders to a program-best 273 victories since taking over the program in 1996, says he's happy for Miles but would like to avoid being another notch on his belt.
"I'm not really excited about being a part of 1,000," McDermott said, chuckling. "I'd love to see him get it somewhere else. I don't need to be that close to it."
McDermott says he's impressed with what's Miles has been able to accomplish — "Twenty-three, 24 wins a year, that's crazy talk there" — and believes his long term success is a tribute to his dedication and ability to motivate.
"First of all," McDermott said. "he has a system that he believes in pretty strongly and he's been able to recruit to his system and then get his people to believe in it."
When asked for the secret to his success, Miles, who has guided the Owls to three national titles since taking over the program in 1971, casually deflects the praise toward his coaching staff and players. He also credits a crucial piece of advice he received from his father, who highlighted the importance of surrounding yourself with good people. Miles also believes his practice of sitting most freshmen while they're still adjusting to college life and learning his system has also been key.
Finally, Miles said, despite all the hard work and dedication that's required to maintain a perennial national title contender, you have to find ways to keep the fun in the game.
"The kids have a good time playing for us," he said, "and that's what it's all about."
Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-776-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org.