End of an era: McConathy’s retirement stirs great NSU basketball memories 

Lakeside’s Jermaine Wallace hits a 3-point shot to help NSU win the first-round NCAA Tournament game 16 years ago today. (Photo by Doug Daniels)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

NATCHITOCHES – When “Coach Dad” hung up his whistle Tuesday, retiring after 23 impactful seasons as head basketball coach at Northwestern State, his son Logan was there, smiling, and hurting.

Logan, a State Farm Insurance agent in Minden, was in elementary school when the family moved from Bossier City to Natchitoches in 1999 when his father, Mike McConathy, took over the NSU program.

He and his older brother, Michael, were close companions of their dad’s at countless practices, team gatherings and games. The players were older brothers, then, ultimately, teammates (for Logan, from 2007-11). Since then, Logan has remained deeply connected to the program through steady conversations with his father and attending as many games as possible while he and wife Lyndzee, girls basketball coach at Airline High School, are raising their adorable three children. 

McConathy roots run deep in Demon basketball, dating back to just after World War II, when three McConathy boys from Bienville Parish played for H. Lee Prather in an enchanted era. 

When Logan’s father took the job in 1999, he pledged to bring Demon basketball back to the success it enjoyed when those McConathys played, when winning seasons were routine, and championships were frequent. 

Mission accomplished, and then some. 

Mike McConathy became the state’s all-time winningest college basketball coach, a man whose impact has extended far past 682 wins in 39 seasons at NSU and before that, Bossier Parish Community College, beyond the NSU hallmarks of three NCAA Tournament berths, two wins in March Madness, seven Southland Conference Tournament title game appearances and an impeccable record of academic accomplishment and community service by his players.

Such has been his impact that at his sendoff Tuesday, university officials announced that the playing floor in NSU’s Prather Coliseum will forever more be called “Mike McConathy Court.”

That honor sent Logan’s heart soaring, but not enough to overcome his bittersweet emotions. 

“I’ve been on this team for 23 years. To see it come to an end is difficult. This place means something powerful to all the McConathy family, because it goes back not just the last 23 years, but all the way to the time my Pappy (grandfather John McConathy) and uncles (George and Leslie) played here,” said Logan.

“It’s an exciting time, but it’s also a somber time. Standing here looking at the banners and remembering all that went into the last 23 years, it’s been one heck of a ride,” he said.

The very best of times came 16 years ago today, on St. Patrick’s Day 2006, in Auburn Hills, Michigan, on court at The Palace, the home of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. In a first-round NCAA Tournament game, the 14th-seeded Demons rallied from 17 points down with 8:32 remaining and stunned No. 3-seeded Iowa, the Big Ten Conference Tournament champions, 64-63.

The Hawkeyes, ranked 15th nationally, were hot and were popular picks to make a long tournament run.  Instead, after the amazing ending, it was the Demons who were the toast of March Madness. 

It was decided by a Webster Parish native, Lakeside High product Jermaine Wallace, raised in Heflin. Wallace hustled to rebound a teammate’s miss in the closing seconds, collected it, dribbled out past the 3-point arc to the left corner and launched the game-winning shot. It dropped through with half a second left.

“Cinderella Wears Purple!” read a sign waved by one prescient NSU fan in the stands. 

Logan was a high school senior, already set to join Michael on the Demon roster, playing for their dad. Michael was redshirted as a freshman and had to sit in the stands with Logan, and family and friends, across the court from the NSU bench – perfectly located to see the historic play unfold.

“I still remember where I was sitting, directly behind the corner where Jermaine took the shot. I have the picture (displayed above) hanging in my office, like every Demon does,” said Logan. “All the work, all the heartache, and all the high points, they crested right then and there, in that game, in that moment, and it will live in time, maybe forever, in the history of the NCAA Tournament.”

It’s been celebrated as one of the greatest moments, and in fact, greatest games, in March Madness. It’s been part of a script in a CBS soap opera, it was the focal point of a Buffalo Wild Wings commercial, and it’s a defining event in the lives of those who were on, and around, the 2005-06 Demons – a team that  became known as “the Demons of Destiny.”

It was a team four years in the making. A year after NSU’s first NCAA Tournament trip, which featured a 71-67 victory over Winthrop in the first-ever Opening Round Game in Dayton, Ohio, the Demons signed a 12-member 2002 recruiting class. The freshmen of 2002-03 won just six games, and only 11 as sophomores. But their final two years brought 47 wins and a pair of Southland Conference championships to Northwestern, and ultimately, lasting fame.

“I was in high school, but around those guys a ton. Seeing that progression, when Jermaine and the rest were freshmen and sophomores, you had a sense they were going to be good, but it took time. It did come together the next two seasons, and you couldn’t end it any better,” said Logan. 

Two of the Demons of Destiny, Marcellas Ross and Keenan Jones, have died. The others are parents and hard-working members of their communities. Now, their coach has retired, and will be a doting grandfather who will redirect a tireless work ethic into other endeavors.

“I know he’ll find plenty of things to do. That doesn’t concern me,” said Logan.

Wednesday, Mike McConathy was mowing grass at the family homestead, a Bienville Parish farm six miles from where Bonnie and Clyde were halted May 23, 1934. Logan’s “Pappy” remembered hearing the roar of the gunfire in his childhood.

Fortunately, the roars Mike McConathy has experienced have never been louder than those in Auburn Hills on a chilly, late winter day, March 17, 2006.

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