By Jon Tatting—
The 1973-74 North Branch High School basketball Vikings had some big shoes to fill, according to the Nov. 22, 1973 Post-Review.
New head coach Pete Toews didn’t have the high socks super star players of 6’7” Scott Larson, “fiery” guard Gary Olson and All-State athlete and leading conference scorer Ron Zillmer — gone due to graduation — who helped dominate the East Central Conference and District 25 the year before.
But the Vikings did have playmaker Dave Boots back for his senior year, and it turned out to be a memorable one for the 5’9” guard, his fine teammates and the folks in town who always filled the seats on game night.
Almost 40 years later, Boots continues to hit his mark in the basketball world as coach of the University of South Dakota men’s basketball team. In his 24th season there, he earned his 600th career coaching victory on Nov. 28, 2011 when his Coyotes defeated the Tabor Bluejays, 69-63, in Vermillion, S.D.
With the victory, Boots became the 64th coach in men’s college basketball history to reach the milestone, while his overall coaching record improved to 600-263 over 31 years.
In a phone interview with the Post Review last week, Boots talked about the achievement and the influences that brought basketball into his life upon moving to North Branch from St. Francis in the seventh grade. He graduated from North Branch High in 1974.
Boots remembers playing under Vikings coach Toews and his predecessor Jim Norine, along with a “good group of guys.” He could identify several teammates by first and last name as if it were yesterday.
Some of those players, from his senior year, included Dan Pederson, Dan Johnson, Greg Wheeler and Greg Lindblom, who with Boots were named to the 12-man District 25 all-tournament team in 1974.
However, it was next door neighbors James Johnson and his athletic sons — especially Steven and Jeff — who perhaps had the greatest influence on Boots and his decision to pursue basketball during and after high school.
“They welcomed me into their family, took me under their wing,” he said.
Boots remembers the countless games of one-on-one and random shooting with the Johnson brothers, who were a bit older, on their backyard court. That’s where it all started, he explained. They would even leave their back door unlocked, so Boots could turn on the outside light to shoot hoops after dark.
“They had an incredible influence on me,” noted Boots, who remains in touch with the family to this day.
Coach is born
After graduating from high school, Boots left the North Branch community to attend and play basketball for Rochester Community College.
He went on to Augsburg College where he continued to play hoops, leading the Auggies to two Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) titles. As a senior, he was named the team’s most valuable player, All-MIAC and All-District 13.
In fact, Boots still holds the MIAC single-season free throw percentage record and Augsburg’s career free-throw percentage mark.
Boots received his bachelor’s degree from Augsburg in 1979 and a master’s in education from the University of Minnesota in 1982. His goal was to become a high school teacher and athletic coach.
Following his playing days, he served as an assistant coach at Augsburg for two seasons and was named head coach at Anoka-Ramsey Community College in 1981-82.
He then became head coach at Augsburg in 1982 and led the team to the MIAC title the next year when he was also named MIAC Coach of the Year.
Boots repeated as MIAC Co-Coach of the Year as Augsburg repeated as conference champions in 1984-85 and advanced to the NCAA Division III South Regional.
Boots, who also serves as assistant athletic director at South Dakota, instills in his
players to be good students with the goal of graduating
and leading productive careers.
His message further calls for them to be good husbands, fathers and role models to their own children when the day comes.
Boots enjoys his job in Vermillion, S.D., where the basketball team generates a big following from the city of 10,000 people and across the state due in part because South Dakota doesn’t offer a professional sports franchise. The job can be difficult, too, because the expectations are so high, he added.
He enjoys recruiting and practice time with his players, who typically were the best in their conference or even state at the high school level. “Their roles change drastically when they enter the college level,” he said. “You have to develop a chemistry. Most kids adjust.”
Boots has coached against some of the nation’s best, as his Coyotes have faced the likes of Kansas State, Marquette, Texas Tech and Wisconsin. He coaches a brand of basketball that is up tempo, organized, yet with enough freedom for players to showcase their individual talents.
He runs a motion offense, which requires good shooting skills, and a match-up zone defense involving a man-to-man principle with zone concepts thrown in, he noted.
While winning and losing is indeed important, especially for job security in a competitive basketball environment, some of the great rewards for Boots is being invited to former players’ weddings and watching them raise their children.
A modest man, he views his 600th career coaching victory or any achievement along the way as an accomplishment that is bound to happen if you coach long enough. “The credit goes to a lot of people,” he said, referring to his assistant coaches and especially the players who helped him achieve the milestone.
The credit also goes to those who helped raise him, teach him, coach him and play with him back where his passion for basketball and athletics began.
As a North Branch Viking, that memorable senior year, Boots was “amazing” and the team’s “personal destroyer,” scoring 27 points in a big win against rival Rush City in January 1974, wrote Dick Sherman of the Post-Review.
A few weeks later, the 5’9” guard notched 30 points in a 73-63 win over Sandstone.
And though Rush City, led by team leaders Jack Siljendahl, Gary Erickson and Larry Schlagel, ended up defeating the Vikings in the district title game, Boots will always remember…
“The North Branch community was great to me. It was a place I’ll never forget,” he said.
Boots and his wife, Peggy, have two sons: Nathan, who works as an actuary analyst, and Jordan, a junior majoring in special education, elementary education at the University of South Dakota — where he also plays on the basketball team.