NORTHFIELD, MINN. – St. Olaf eased away from St. John’s down the stretch for a 72-61 road victory on Saturday afternoon. Oles basketball coach Dan Kosmoski detoured to Minneapolis on the return trip to join Clem Haskins and a number of former Gophers for a 25-year reunion of the 1989 Sweet 16 team.
All in all, that made Saturday a very good day for Kosmoski, the basketball man who started as a standout player for Owatonna High School, sat on the bench as a walk-on with the great Gophers team of 1976-77, got into coaching as an assistant for Flip Saunders at Golden Valley Lutheran J.C., and served nine years as an assistant to Jim Dutcher and Haskins with the Gophers.
Dave Buss, a coach with a Division I résumé, left St. Olaf in the spring of 1994 and Kosmoski was hired as his replacement. He’s still with the Oles 20 seasons later, which remarkably puts him only fourth on the MIAC seniority list behind St. John’s Jim Smith (50 seasons), Carleton’s Guy Kalland (30) and Gustavus Adolphus’ Mark Hanson (24).
Bob Gelle was the coach preceding Buss at St. Olaf. His good work over 22 seasons led the Oles to add “Bob Gelle Court’’ to the title inside the school’s Skoglund Center.
Kosmoski has a different sort of distinction. He has been around long enough and has been attached to enough important figures that “Koz’’ is the only identification required with a Minnesota hoops crowd.
Exchange messages with Ellen, his wife for a quarter century, and the references to her husband come back as “Koz.’’
Asked if he could have envisioned himself being at St. Olaf for two decades, Kosmoski said: “It’s a different mentality from Division I … a different realism as to what education is, what it’s supposed to be. All of our guys, at St. Olaf and in this conference, are going to be in the workforce. That’s where our athletes are going to be influential.
“I’ve been blessed to be here. Hopefully, I have a few years to go yet.’’
There is a void from a competitive standpoint in Kosmoski’s résumé.
The Oles have not won an MIAC title in the regular season or the postseason playoffs. St. Olaf’s top finishes with Koz have been a pair of thirds, in 1998 and 2012.
Until this winter.
On Wednesday night, St. Thomas brought a 15-1 record and a first-place standing onto Bob Gelle Court. St. Olaf was waiting with a 14-2 record. This was the big shot for Koz and his 20th collection of Oles.
The opportunity passed. The Tommies came out much more equipped for the full-contact style permitted by the officiating crew and built a 28-14 lead late in the first half. St. Olaf rallied and had the lead down to two in the final minute, but the Tommies prevailed 55-51.
St. Thomas now leads by two games with three to play in the MIAC schedule. The Tommies got it done on this night by giving great attention to Connor Gunderson, the Oles’ leading scorer, holding him to five points.
“That was an outstanding effort by two really good defensive teams,” Kosmoski said.
“When you hold a team to 55 points, you’re usually going to win.”
Kosmoski’s familiarity with St. Thomas isn’t limited to the Tommies’ dynastic hold on the MIAC, first with Steve Fritz and now Johnny Tauer. For 14 years, Koz ran the Clem Haskins Summer Camp at St. Thomas.
“One Twenty-Five Dowling Hall … I was there for four weeks every summer,’’ Kosmoski said. “Add it up: four weeks, 14 summers, 56 weeks. I told Clem on Saturday, ‘Your camps cost me a year of my life.’ ’’
Kosmoski understood the potential of this season’s club with eight seniors and a roster that would enable him to go a dozen deep.
“We have 12 guys who have played in 20 games,” he said. “We’ve been getting contributions from players 8 to 12 in our rotation.’’
The MIAC’s 20-game conference season leaves room for only a handful of nonconference games. Kosmoski tested this group with three away games against nationally rated teams — including No. 1 Wisconsin-Stevens Point — in a five-day period in late November.
“We lost to Stevens Point and Augustana [Ill.], and beat [Wisconsin-] Platteville, and I thought it gave extra toughness to this team,” Kosmoski said. “Our guys liked the challenge. They have had a good time trying to put everything together as a team.’’
The Oles hope to get another chance to demonstrate that to the Tommies in a possible MIAC playoff final in early March.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org