MIAMI — The death of former Oklahoma State coach was especially tough for MHS boys basketball coach Rusty Mercer.
“It’s very tough,” Mercer said. “Over the last year or two you knew it was eminent, but you just kept hoping you wouldn’t see this day.
Mercer said he had gone to bed early Saturday, but found out in the middle of the night.
“Once I found out, it was tough to go back to sleep,” he said.
Sutton, a 2020 inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, died Saturday evening in Tulsa. He was 84.
Sutton is OSU’s second-winningest coach after capturing 351 wins behind Iba with 751, three regular-season conference titles and three conference tournament championships during his tenure.
The court inside Gallagher-Iba Arena was named Eddie Sutton Court on Jan. 15, 2005, in honor of Sutton’s contributions to the basketball program.
“I learned so much about basketball, for sure, which is why I went the route that I did with Coach (Larry) Gipson and Coach Sutton,” Mercer said. “I couldn’t have ben more fortunate than to have been with two coaches from the Iba tree.”
Mercer was a manager on Northeastern A&M’s 1989 NJCAA men’s national championship team that was coached by Gipson.
“He afforded me so many opportunities, so many contacts and so many neat trips and to places,” Mercer said. “It allowed me to be around Mr. Iba (legendary OSU coach Henry Iba).”
Mercer would give Iba rides home following Cowboy practices.
He was in Stillwater from 1990 to 1994 — the first four of Sutton’s 16 seasons at his alma mater.
“I would not trade that for anything,” Mercer said. “The program was brought back. We had two Sweet 16s and we won a Big Eight championship his first year. I saw that place (Gallagher-Iba Arena) just go nuts over basketball again. He had instant success with Byron Houston, Corey Williams, Darren Alexander, Cornell Hatcher (who Mercer went to high school with at Tulsa Edison)” and former Norseman Milton Brown who indirectly got Mercer the job of manager.
Mercer was part of the 1992 OSU team that fell three points short in the Sweet 16 to Michigan’s “Fab Five.”
“I was in the same locker room as Jason Kidd his freshman year at Cal. He was the LeBron James of high school and college basketball before there was LeBron.”
Mercer credits Sutton with helping him land his first coaching job at Welch.
One of Sutton’s stipulations was that his managers had to want a career in coaching.
So once he found out Mercer was in the running for the job at WHS, Sutton went to bat for his former manager.
It worked. Mercer was at Welch from 1994-1997 before making the move to Miami, first as girls’ coach then taking the boys’ reins.
“Coach Sutton said ‘OK, I got you the job. Now its up to you to keep it.’ He said it sternly, but with a smile on his face,” Mercer said.
The Mercer family connection with the Oklahoma State basketball program continues: his son, Caden, is a manager on the men’s team and his daughter, Cali, will be a manager on the women’s program starting this season.