It's a hot summer day in July 1977. There's no air conditioning in the Concordia College gymnasium in Moorhead, but doors are open on the north and south ends of the Quonset hut building and those lucky enough to be on the main court catch an occasional cool breeze in the humid air.
John Oxton, a skinny point guard who as a sophomore helped Fargo North (N.D.) to the school's first Class A state championship just a few months earlier, is working hard to bring the ball up the court, but it's not the humidity he's battling. It's Dave Cresap, a guard from Hawley, Minn., who is moving step-for-step with Oxton.
Forty-three years later, Oxton still is running neck-and-neck with Cresap. The difference is the two are colleagues, fraternal brothers in the Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association. Cresap is in his 35th year coaching at Perham while Oxton has spent 28 of the past 30 years as the head coach at Lakeville/Lakeville North.
Both are among five Minnesota coaches who have reached, or will soon reach, 600 career coaching victories. Red Lake County's Steve Philion was the first of the Class of 2020 to cross the finish line, earning his 600th victory on Feb. 6 as the Rebels won 67-54 at Fosston. Cresap needed another two days, winning his 600th with Perham's 65-58 victory at Osakis on Feb. 8. The Yellowjackets are 18-0 and ranked No. 6 in Class 2A by Minnesota Basketball News from Feb. 5.
Only nine Minnesota coaches before this season began had more than 600 career victories. Oxton can pick up victory No. 599 on Tuesday at Burnsville in our Top Game of the Week.
The Panthers (10-10, 6-6) take a three-game losing streak to Burnsville (6-12, 2-9). The last time Lakeville North lost more than two games in a row was in 2010, when the Panthers started the season 0-6. The next season, Oxton and Lakeville North were in the Class 4A state championship game.
Oxton credits his success at Lakeville North to a steady stream of talent, players willing to sacrifice individual goals for team success and support from school officials and the school community. In fact, Oxton has had a graduating player go on to play Division I basketball each year since 2010. The list includes Tyler Flack, who's playing professionally in Sweden now; JP Macura, who played a big role at Xavier; and Nathan Reuvers and Tyler Wahl, who are both at Wisconsin this season.
"We've been blessed with great kids," Oxton said. "I don't know how much of a difference I've made ... but I hope I've had some impact."
Tartan's Mark Klingsporn (596 career victories) and Anoka's Jeffrey Wall (593 career victories) also are close to joining the 600 Club. Klingsporn is almost certain to get there this season and he could even get there before Oxton. His Titans have won 19 of 20 games already this season.
Oxton might have passed the 600 mark long ago, but he stepped away from his coaching duties for two seasons (2006-08) to watch his daughter Megan play at Lakeville South. He credits that sabbatical, in part, for his continued enthusiasm for coaching.
"I think that's one of the reasons I'm still coaching," Oxton said. "It kind of rejuvenated me a little bit. It's a grind, a lot of work, a lot of sacrifice. I watched things from a different perspective."
The Blaze are fueled by Daniel Rosenber (18.6 ppg, 9.6 rebounds per game).