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Mike Dunlap has traveled the world in pursuit of his love of basketball and his passion for teaching it to others.
Inducted into MSU Denver’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2011, Dunlap’s career path has taken him to the NBA, the collegiate Division I level and overseas. Now in his second season as head coach of the men’s basketball team at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Dunlap has returned to the campus where he played as a student.
Back in Denver, however, he will always be remembered as the architect of a scintillating nine-season run at MSU Denver that included Division II national championships in 2000 and 2002. Few, if any, have made a bigger impact on Roadrunners Athletics.
“We were the little engine that could,” Dunlap said. “I remember taking the team to a Nuggets game where we were recognized at halftime, and we got an ovation that was at least five minutes. It was overwhelming.
“You could not believe the power of that moment for the kids, the school, and the faculty and staff. There was this local school that could compete at a national level, and it served as a portal that really drew in Denver sports fans from all over.”
Dunlap arrived at MSU Denver for the 1997-98 season on the heels of a stint as the head coach for the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian professional team. That connection proved to be a signature of Dunlap’s tenure, as international students played key roles in his success coaching the Roadrunners.
Inheriting a team that had gone 13-13 the previous season, Dunlap posted a 25-5 record in his first season, led the Roadrunners to the national title game in his second, and the next year claimed the first of his two titles in three seasons.
Often Dunlap would stroll across the Auraria Campus to bend the ear of then-Nuggets coach George Karl at the Pepsi Center. That relationship continued when Dunlap left MSU Denver to become a Nuggets assistant in 2006, adding the well-respected Karl to a list of basketball luminaries who served as Dunlap’s mentors – a list that already included John Wooden and Pete Newell.
“One of my keys has always been to understand the power of luck,” Dunlap said. “But you also have to pay homage to your teachers. I had some of the best in the game, and I always tried to emulate what I learned.”
Two seasons with the Nuggets was followed by stints as an assistant at Arizona, Oregon and St. John’s before the NBA beckoned again. This time it was none other than Michael Jordan, owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, who came calling. Despite a 21-61 record in just one season, Dunlap harbors no regrets.
“I’ve always been about high-risk, high-reward, and that’s what it was,” Dunlap said. “I’d do it again a thousand times over.”
Back in the comforts of the college game, Dunlap’s rebuilding project at his alma mater began with an 8-23 record. But given his track record of steady success – a ledger that shined brightest at MSU Denver – don’t bet against Dunlap restoring Loyola’s winning ways.
“(MSU Denver) was a great platform, and everything that has come since is because of those nine years,” Dunlap said. “It’s a card you can always use and it’s something that can never be taken away.”