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Legendary MNU basketball coach Rocky Lamar to retire after season

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Rocky Lamar
Posted at 12:01 PM, Sep 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-01 13:04:54-04

OLATHE, Kan. — Rocky Lamar, the legendary men’s basketball coach at MidAmerica Nazarene University, will retire after the 2021-22 season.

Lamar is the winningest active NAIA coach and has the eighth most victories among active men’s college basketball coaches at any level — a list headlined by Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun.

"I will have more to say in the coming days," Lamar said in a statement from the school announcing his impending retirement. "But for now, I just want to say that it has been one of the great joys of my life to serve at MidAmerica Nazarene. To me, it is the greatest institution in the world. There's no better place to work. It's never felt like a job. And I have loved my time here."

The Pioneers have won 788 games since Lamar took over the program in 1986, including an NAIA Division II national championship in 2007.

"I would not be the man I am today without the influence of Coach Lamar on my life," former Pioneers point guard Adam Hepker, who starred on the national championship team, said in a statement KSHB 41. "Coach uses the game of basketball to prepare young men for a life of relationship and service to others.

"In all my years of basketball, both playing and now coaching, I have never seen a coach with the ability to connect with, empower, and create belief among his players like Coach. I love Coach and am forever indebted to him for the investment he made into my life and I know hundreds of alums would say the same."

Lamar also led MNU to a runner-up finish in 2001 and five other NAIA Final Four appearances — in 2006, 2008, 2009, 2014 and 2016.

His résumé also includes 13 Heart of America Athletic Conference titles and a total of 19 NAIA National Tournament appearances along with runner-up finishes at the National Christian College Athletic Association National Tournament in 1997 and 1998.

Matt Keeley — who played for Lamar from 2000-04, spent one season as a graduate assistant then returned as a full-time assistant from 2009-2017 — described Lamar as “one of the most generous, passionate and competitive people I have ever been around.”

Now the men’s basketball coach at OUAZ — Ottawa University in Surprise, Arizona — Keeley said he learned the finer points of building a successful program from Lamar.

“Even today, some 15-plus years after I have graduated, I know two things for sure about Coach — he prays for me and my family and, if I really needed something from him, he would drive through the night to help,” Keeley said. “Coach has been the tie that binds relationships of MNU basketball players for the past 35 years. His name is on the floor and there are several banners in the rafters, but his true impact is in the relationships he has built with us and helped us build with each other.”

Lamar, who was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame in 2014, has coached 36 players who received NAIA All-America honors and has been chosen as the Heart of America Athletic Conference of the Year seven times.

He also was the NAIA Coach of the Year in 2006-07 and twice won Kansas Basketball Coaches Association Coach of the Year (2006-07, 2008-09).

Lamar was born in Indiana and grew up in Iowa, but he graduated in 1976 from MNU, where he met and married his wife, Jo.

Rocky and Jo have two children, Chaz and Sarah, and three grandchildren.

Rocky Lamar
MidAmerica Nazarene coach Rocky Lamar, left, reacts after one of his players was called for a foul during the second half of a semifinal game against Columbia in the NAIA Div. I basketball championship tournament Monday, March 23, 2009 in Kansas City, Mo. Columbia won the game 60-56.