Melinda Mawdsely: Heaps of praise

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Sometimes it feels like forever, sitting in the hallway, waiting for Steamboat Springs boys basketball coach Kelly Meek to complete his post-game talks.

The digital clock hangs from the ceiling. The red lights read 9:15, then 9:25. On some nights it approaches 10 p.m. before I am allowed inside -- win or lose.

But when you get inside and begin to talk basketball with one of the game's great minds, you wish you could talk forever.

Meek sits straight up behind his desk, in front of a wall of photographs and news clippings. You don't really need to ask questions. Much like his scouting reports, his post-game comments are thorough, well thought out and right on.

Some I can print.

Some I cannot.

On Saturday, Meek won his 500th game, averaging 16 wins a season for the past 31 years. The things players remember the most about Meek were the same in the 1970s as they are today: his mind, his passion and his mentoring ability.

"He's like a father figure for everyone that's played for him," senior Patrick Ayres said. "Every game you play, you want to win for him."

But for Meek, all 693 games he has coached have been about the players. Meek didn't tell anyone he was approaching 500 wins, at least not publicly. It was his assistants, the players and the players' parents who wanted Meek recognized.

It was a slew of former players and coaching peers who heaped praise on Meek. It was college coaching legends Dean Smith, Roy Williams and Mike Krzysewski who sent letters of congratulations because the coaching fraternity is tight and fraught with men who respect those who do things right.

Moffat County girls basketball coach Craig Mortensen had a game Saturday afternoon in Craig, but he made the 40-minute drive so he could see a man he admires be honored for reaching a career milestone.

"He made me a better coach," Mortensen said.

I never had a coach change my life, so to look into the stands Saturday, as the clock ticked away, it was inspiring to see more than a dozen former players with smiles on their faces.

"It's amazing how many people that lived in Steamboat played Sailors basketball," said former player and University of Denver sophomore Cody Sherrill. "Once you're a Sailor, you live that program and try to give back to what Coach Meek gave us."

"He's always there, not only for basketball, but for you life," Ayres said. "We're real excited (about 500 wins). That's definitely a big honor. We feel pretty special to be able to give that to him."

This year's team had the fortune of being on the court when Meek won his 500th game Saturday, but every player who has ever been on the other end of a Meek compliment or Meek tongue-lashing for the past 31 years has been integral in his reaching this point.

"He's a great friend," former player Jay Poulter said. "In terms of developing sportsmanship and leadership skill, he was, at the time, the greatest influence. He is definitely somebody to be respected."

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