Sept. 28, 2011
This is the eighth of eight feature stories on the 2011 Louisiana Tech Athletics Hall of Fame Class which will be enshrined in a ceremony on Sturday, October 1 at 1 p.m., in the Waggonner Room of Thomas Assembly Center. All are invited.
By Keith Prince
By looking at the record book, it would be easy to label new Louisiana Tech Athletics Hall of Fame inductee Mike McConathy as a super basketball talent.
And, he definitely was.
But his story of success as a basketball player goes much deeper than talent. McConathy, in fact, drove himself relentlessly from an early age to become good, then great.
Almost from his first step as a toddler, a basketball was there. That early attachment to the game came through his father, John McConathy, who was a great player at Northwestern State and became the fifth player picked in the 1951 NBA Draft.
Mike grew up practicing and playing the game endlessly, virtually possessed with the idea that he could become better every single day.
Former Tech teammate Jim Wooldridge, who started alongside McConathy at guard during their careers from 1974-77 and is now the head coach at California-Riverside, said recently, "I've seen and coached a lot of athletes down through the years but even today I can say that Mike McConathy is the most dedicated athlete I have ever been around.
"He was unrelenting in his drive to improve. He would often wear ankle weights, and he was constantly jumping rope. Even after practice, many nights he would return to the gym, calling a manager to come shag balls for him as he shot and shot and shot to improve. It was obvious to me early on that Mike was going to be a special player, but it was definitely his work ethic that set him apart over the course of his career."
Current UTEP coach Tim Floyd, another Tech teammate who has coached the Chicago Bulls and several top college programs, also feels McConathy is in a league of his own.
"I have never seen the drive Mike had in any other player on any level. Looking back, I realize that the things we coaches try to emphasize each day to our players are the things that Mike did back then. He was completely self-made and his numbers each year reflected how hard he was working. He could have started for North Carolina, UCLA or anybody else."
Playing the last three years for coach Emmett Hendricks, Mike finished as the school's second all-time leading scorer with 2,033 points (behind only Mike Green`s 2,340), he tied Green for most points in a single game with 47 and is the only Bulldog to score 41 or more points in a game six times.
He also tied Jackie Moreland for the most free throws made in a game (19 against Lamar in 1976) and has the best single game free throw percentage (hitting all 16 attempts against Southern Mississippi in 1977).
Tommy Vardeman, who was on the Tech coaching staff during three of McConathy's college seasons, said, "Mike just never quit working. He was a gym rat. It was never surprising to see him out there on the court shooting, day or night.
"And he worked to get stronger. As his career developed, he got to where he could take other guards inside and post up. He got a lot of points inside the lane with guys hanging on him, and he could score with either hand when he drove to the bucket. He was a very good long range jump shooter, but that was just one phase of his game."
Now 55, McConathy is married to former Tech sweetheart Connie Herrmann and is in his 13th season as a successful college coach at Northwestern State after earlier starting Bossier Parish Community College's cage program and leading it to great heights for 17 years. His career path looks like it was molded from some precise pattern over the past 40 years.
"Not really," said the guy they once called "Opie" for his resemblance to Ron Howard's character on the Andy Griffith television show.
"It all started because I fell in love with the game when I was a kid. I just thought it was normal to turn the lights on outside at our house and keep shooting at night, then get in a gym any time I could," said the Airline High graduate, who has never considered himself an elite player, although he also played in the high school all-star game and was among 100 U.S. prep players named Sunkist All-America in 1973.
"What I accomplished was through having a passion for the game. Even when I was playing at Tech and things were going well, I always had this desire to work harder than the day before."
When asked about McConathy's success the past 30 years as a coach, Vardeman said, "You know, most times great players don't make great coaches. I just believe Mike was able to make that transition successfully because of his own work ethic. He always believed hard work was the key to success, and he has been able to identify with young players and help them to understand how important it is to work hard and play together."
While having tremendous love and admiration for the late Scotty Robertson, who recruited him to Tech and coached him one year before departing for the NBA, McConathy says he and his former mentor were often at friendly odds about one specific coaching philosophy.
"Scotty always believed in identifying the best scorer and making sure he did most of the shooting," said McConathy. "Conversely, I have always wanted my teams to totally share the scoring load."
Vardeman agrees with Robertson's theory about having a key scorer and said he once kidded Mike, "You could never have played for yourself."
He then added, "But I also know that Mike has never had any Mike McConathys on his teams, either. Not many of us have."