The Coach

For Derrick Clark, the academic success of his players means more than a national title.

By Dan Patterson

Publish Date: April 22, 2013

Derrick Clark
MSU Denver men's basketball coach Derrick Clark guided the Roadrunners to the
NCAA Division II National Championship game in Atlanta in April.
Photo: MSU Denver Athletics

For MSU Denver men's basketball coach Derrick Clark, the only math that matters is 4-for-4. Not 32-3, the Roadrunners’ record this past season, or 22 — his team’s longest winning streak.

Four-for-four represents an academic “quadrafecta”: four out of four seniors who will graduate on time this spring.

A third-year head coach who was lauded as Division II Coach of the Year in March, Clark says the academic tone set by seniors Jonathan Morse, Demetrius Miller, Tyler Cooper and Derrick January provided the groundwork for the Roadrunners’ deepest NCAA Division II tournament run since their 2004 Final Four team.

That MSU Denver’s 2013 season ended in anguish — a one-point loss to Drury in the finals on April 7— doesn’t obscure the accomplishment of Clark, his seniors, and a mix of underclassmen who are local products and imports from Australia and Serbia. They took a team that hadn’t advanced as far as the Elite Eight since 2005 to an Elite Eight showdown last season and a national runner-up finish in April that announced the Roadrunners’ return to the top of NCAA Division II basketball.

“We’re back on top of the mountain,” says Clark, whose ties to MSU Denver basketball date back 16 years. “I’m so proud of the leadership provided by our seniors. Their buy- in, not only with what we’re doing basketball-wise but in the classroom, has been an example for the rest of the team.”

Clark’s players describe him as “demanding and passionate.” Known for his intensity, Clark is never “up off the bench” because he is “never on the bench,” preferring to pace the sideline communicating with players and working officials.

The program’s reemergence feels familiar for Clark, who was a full-time assistant coach when the Roadrunners cut down the nets two times in three years in the early 2000s. Although losing in the finals in gut-wrenching fashion was unexpected, in his post-game speech Clark was sanguine about the mark his current crop of players has left on the program.

“We believed in our heart and soul we would win that last game,” he said. “The first thing I told them was, ‘When you walk out of that locker room, stick your chest out. Don’t slump, you’re a champion. Look at what you’ve done.’

“You’re hanging a banner, a runner-up banner, and there’s no shame in it. We don’t believe in moral victories, but once the smoke clears they will understand the significance of the season and see that we did some unbelievable stuff and made the community proud of our accomplishments.”

Despite their success, don’t expect the Roadrunners to follow the lead of the University of Denver and the University of Northern Colorado in making the jump to Division I. The program’s current success — not to mention the negative effect the five-year Division I probationary period, during which a school is barred from post-season competition, has on recruiting — ensures that MSU Denver will stay at the Division II level.

“Kids want to play in the tourney. Period.” Clark says. “We’re happy where we are. We value what we have here.

“We like being the big fish.”

The MSU Denver men’s basketball team has been graduating winners for generations. As the Roadrunners marched their way toward Atlanta, several hoops alumni provided their insight on the program and their University.

Read more about Chris Roper.

Read more about Mick Alcock.

Read more about Doug Stepelton.