Sacramento State men’s coach Brian Katz was told several days in advance that he would be named the mid-major basketball coach of the year.
Still, he didn’t believe it.
“I was shocked when I heard, and I must have checked that email 100 times,” Katz said. “Even at the last moment, I kept thinking, ‘This is not going to happen.’ There are just too many good coaches who had good years and too many good teams.’”
But when Katz was announced as the recipient of the Hugh Durham Award on Friday during a ceremony in Indianapolis, it finally sunk in.
“It’s very humbling, very surprising and certainly a tribute to our players,” Katz said. “You don’t get coaching honors without good players.”
Katz was selected from among 16 finalists – including UC Davis’ Jim Les and Buffalo’s Bobby Hurley, a former Kings player – for the award given annually by CollegeInsider.com.
Katz, in his seventh season, is the first Big Sky Conference coach to receive the honor. It comes on the heels of Katz receiving National Association of Basketball Coaches District 6 Coach of the Year and Big Sky co-Coach of the Year accolades.
This season Katz turned a perennial losing program into arguably the best in school history. He led the Hornets to a 13-5 Big Sky record, the team’s first postseason appearance in the Division I era (1991 to present), and the team’s first postseason win in 53 years.
The 21-12 overall record marked the first winning season in the D-I era for Sac State and first since the 1988-89 season, when the Hornets played in Division II. The 13 conference wins are the most in school history and the 21 overall victories are tied for second most. Prior to this season, Sac State had just three winning seasons in 38 years.
Katz hasn’t attended a Final Four weekend in 25 years. So being in Indianapolis and sitting among venerated coaches such as Durham, Lute Olson, Lou Henson and Bob Huggins during the award ceremony was an eye-opener.
“Looking around the room were all these coaches who I’ve taken notes from while at clinics,” Katz said. “I was like a kid in a candy store being right in the middle of things. It was overwhelming, and I kept saying to myself, ‘What am I doing here?’... It was a heck of a ceremony.”
Katz got a nice bonus. After the banquet he hustled across the street to Lucas Oil Stadium to watch Mikh McKinney, his star player, play in the Reese’s College All-Star Game. McKinney scored seven points and had a game-high five assists to help the West beat the East.
Katz, who is signed through the 2017-2018 season, said players such as McKinney, the Big Sky Conference Player of the Year and honorable mention All-American, and four-year starter Dylan Garrity set the tone for the Hornets’ breakthrough season on the court.
Sac State appeared in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Poll for the first time (ranking as high as 14th), and the team finished one game out of first place in the Big Sky standings, falling short of the program’s first conference championship since 1977 and the chance to host the conference tournament. The team finished with a 13-2 home court record, tied for the most home wins in program history.
They have excelled in the classroom, too. The Hornets posted a 3.15 GPA during the fall semester, the highest cumulative GPA in school history for the men’s basketball program. Of the 21 Hornets who have used their eligibility during Katz’s tenure, 19 have graduated. McKinney, Garrity and seniors Alex Tiffin and Zach Mills are on pace to graduate either this spring or next fall.
Among the 10 previous coaches to receive the honor is former Pacific coach Bob Thomason, the first recipient in 2004-2005.
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.