Less than five years ago, Doug Karleskint and Doug Nichols were fellow assistant coaches learning their craft together at Stephen F. Austin University.
Just one year ago, they sat side-by-side on the Arkansas Tech University bench and led the Wonder Boys to a Gulf South Conference West Division title.
On Saturday, they will meet as opposing head coaches in the game of the year in Great American Conference men’s basketball.
Nationally 20th-ranked Arkansas Tech (18-4 overall, 10-2 GAC) will host the Henderson State Reddies (15-7, 10-2) for a 6 p.m. contest on Saturday, Feb. 18, at Tucker Coliseum in Russellville. The winner will assume sole possession of first place in the GAC standings with just three regular season games remaining.
Tickets, which will be available at promotional prices of $5 for adults and $3 for students and senior citizens, will be available at the door. Those with a valid Arkansas Tech identification card will be admitted free of charge.
It might have been within reason for Karleskint (photographed) and Nichols to think that a meeting such as this might happen one day back when they were developing their similar coaching theories --- which center on pressuring the basketball and creating extra possessions through turnover margin --- under head coach Danny Kaspar at Stephen F. Austin University.
The unlikely part is that it happened so quickly.
“It’s crazy that it’s such a short period of time that we both find ourselves with a chance to coach in a game like this,” said Karleskint. “It’s special. You don’t get these opportunities very often. It’s going to be fun. I think our guys are ready.”
Karleskint arrived at Arkansas Tech as an assistant coach in 2009. He helped the Wonder Boys go 30-2 and attain a No. 1 national ranking during the 2009-10 season.
When Tech head coach Mark Downey resigned to return home to West Virginia as head coach at the University of Charleston in April 2010, Karleskint was promoted to head coach.
That chain of events created an opening for assistant men’s basketball coach at Arkansas Tech, and before long Nichols was moving into Karleskint’s old assistant coach’s office at Tucker Coliseum.
With Karleskint and Nichols on the bench, the Wonder Boys were 25-6 overall and 13-1 in the GSC in 2010-11. They reached the second round of the NCAA Division II Tournament for a third consecutive year and they earned a second consecutive GSC West Division championship.
Just as success gave Karleskint a chance to become a head coach in 2010, opportunity came knocking for Nichols in 2011. He was hired to lead a sleeping giant in Arkansas NCAA Division II college basketball --- Henderson State University.
The Reddies have a proud history of competing at a national level in men’s basketball under head coaches such as Don Dyer, Bobby Reese and Rand Chappell, but Nichols inherited a program that had posted four consecutive losing seasons.
Henderson State was picked to finish eighth in the inaugural season of the GAC, but Nichols’ team has far exceeded those expectations. The Reddies defeated Arkansas Tech 97-94 in Arkadelphia on Jan. 21, and HSU is 8-1 in its last nine games.
“That loss left a bitter taste in our guys’ mouths,” said Karleskint. “Henderson State is playing at a high level. Doug has done an incredible job there. It’s going to be a great environment at our place on Saturday. This is what we recruit these kids to do, to play for championships. Our guys need a big home crowd. We play so much better at home when there is energy in the building.”
Arkansas Tech has won seven consecutive games, including a 68-57 victory at Southeastern Oklahoma State on Thursday night. The Wonder Boys made 6-of-12 attempts from 3-point range in the second half as they broke open what was just a 22-21 Arkansas Tech lead at halftime.
Jeremy Hoard scored 14 of his game-high 17 points for the Wonder Boys after halftime. He was 6-of-9 from the field, including 5-of-8 from 3-point range.
Johnie Davis scored 15 points, while Will Paul had 12 points and nine rebounds for Arkansas Tech. Mykel Cleveland added 10 points, five rebounds, four assists and five steals.
Saturday’s game will be broadcast by KWKK 100.9 FM. Live audio and video feeds will be available at http://www.athletics.atu.edu/.