Steve Hesser has become one of the most successful and recognized names in NCAA Division II basketball nationwide as he just completed his 11th season at the Panthers' helm in 2014-15.
A large part of that winning reputation has been magnified in the past three seasons, when his Panthers have posted an 80-17 combined record with three Great Lakes Valley Conference West Division titles, three NCAA-II tourney trips, two GLVC Championships, two Midwest Regional titles, two Elite Eight appearances and one NCAA-II national championship (2012-13).
The Panthers not only won the 2012-2013 NCAA-II national championship with their thrilling 74-73, come-from-behind victory over Metro State in Atlanta, Ga., but followed that up by taking a squad that graduated the best backcourt in school history back to the Elite Eight in 2013-14 before this past season's 21-9 finish yielded another GLVC Championship and NCAA tourney appearance.
Hesser's Panthers finished 31-4 in the NCAA title season, including a school-record, 23-game winning streak to close the campaign, and backed that up with a final 28-4 mark this winter for an amazing 59-8 record over the past two seasons.
Of course, that also included a heavy dose of success in Great Lakes Valley Conference play, as the Panthers won their second league title in '13 and captured a second straight GLVC West crown last season, going a combined 32-4 in the nation's toughest D-II basketball conference over the past two years. Hesser's Panthers have now won or shared a GLVC West title in seven of Drury's 10 years as a league member.
But it's not like the past two years have signified a major uprising. Hesser has had just one losing season in 11 years at the helm and won 20 or more games nine times, leading to a 244-88 overall collegiate coaching mark, a .735 winning percentage that is the best in DU history and ranks among the top 10 active coaches nationally in NCAA-II.
Steve HesserHesser's Panthers have been particularly tough at their five-year-old O'Reilly Family Event Center, one of the nation's top D-II arenas, where Drury had a school-record, 32-game winning streak that carried deep into the 2014-15 season before it was snapped with a 62-58 loss to eventual NCAA-II national semifinalist Bellarmine. Drury is 70-8 all-time at The O', including 44-4 the past three seasons, since the doors of the O'Reilly Center opened just prior to the 2010-11 season.
Prior to the recent success, Hesser's top season at DU came in 2007-08, when his Panthers compiled a 25-5 overall mark and won their only GLVC championship, a run of league success that continues to this day. Hesser's GLVC regular season mark since the Panthers joined the prestigious 16-team league is now 120-46 (a .723 winning percentage).Hesser and Coach K
Hesser's squads finished with a 78-13 record in his six seasons in Weiser Gym before the move, giving Drury a 140-18 mark - an .887 winning percentage - when Hesser's on the home bench with the Panthers.
Drury's winning ways have continued along much the same path as Hesser took when he fashioned a stellar coaching career at Springfield's Glendale High School before taking over the Panthers in 2004-05.
The results make it clear that the former long-time high school coach has had no problems getting young athletes at the next step to understand that basketball is basketball, whatever the level.Then again, that’s what then-Drury athletic director Dr. Edsel Matthews believed all along when he tabbed Hesser as the 19th head coach in the history of Panthers’ basketball in the spring of 2004, after the latter had put together a lengthy, successful run at Glendale.
His five-year stint with the Falcons produced a 14-12 mark in his initial campaign, then a stretch where Glendale won an average of 21 games over the next four seasons. But Hessser’s run of coaching success started long before he arrived in Springfield, which explains why in 2007, the Stillwater, Okla. native was elected into the Oklahoma Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Most of his most famed work was done as head coach during a seven-year run at Bartlesville High School, where his teams won state titles in 1989, 1991 and 1992 and twice earned state Coach of the Year honors for Hesser. His Bartlesville teams also finished second in the state in 1988 and made the state quarterfinals in 1986 and 1990. He also coached the prep programs at Pauls Valley and Stillwater, leading the latter to four conference titles and two state tournament appearances in six seasons. His prep coaching record in Oklahoma was 262-142, including a 147-47 mark at Bartlesville.
As a result, Hesser was enshrined into the Bartlesville Sports Hall of Fame in October of 2011, followed by his induction this past spring into the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame by his coaching peers.
Hesser, a 1980 Oklahoma State University graduate, also picked up valuable college experience early in his career as an assistant coach for one season with Billy Tubbs at the University of Oklahoma for one season before he accepted the job at Bartlesville.
After the 1992 state championship campaign, he decided to return to the college ranks to serve as an assistant coach to Jim Kerwin - his high school coach - at NCAA Division I Western Illinois University, before a family illness led him back home to take the job at his alma mater, Stillwater High School. There, his Stillwater teams won four conference titles and made two state tournament appearances in six seasons before Hesser moved to Springfield to accept the Glendale position, where his Falcons annually ranked among the best teams in the Ozark Conference and southwest Missouri.
As a player, Hesser was a two-sport standout at Stillwater High, excelling in both basketball and football. He started his college playing career in both sports at New Mexico Military Academy before moving on to finish his college education, and playing days, at the University of Central Oklahoma.
His playing career ultimately cut short by a leg injury, Hesser finished his undergraduate degree work at Oklahoma State, then earned his master’s degree in secondary education from Oklahoma in 1985.
Hesser and his wife, Patti, have one son; Tyler is a Drury graduate and former a student assistant basketball coach for the Panthers who now is an accountant in Springfield. Tyler and wife Stephanie have one child, two-year-old son Henry Thomas Hesser.