CROOKSTON, Minn. — Gary Senske was “totally amazed’’ when he first saw the University of Minnesota Crookston basketball court after it was named in his honor.
The longtime UMC basketball coach — and former Eveleth High School coach — was more than deserving of the honor, according to former Eveleth player Dan Zbosnik.
“What a wonderful honor for him,’’ said Zbosnik, who went on to play point guard at Mesabi Range College and later coach the Lady Norse. Zbosnik said Senske took UMC from being a junior college all the way up to Division II during his time there from 1981-2002. “It was his impact that made that happen.’’
Zbosnik was personally connected to Senske over the years as a player and a coach.
“He took a strong interest in all of his players,’’ the 1982 Eveleth graduate said.
That included having the players go to summer camps. He even gave Zbosnik a ride to a camp at Bethel University in the Twin Cities one time, using his own vehicle and his own time. “That’s the type of person he was.’’
Even with all of his accomplishments, Senske was “totally surprised and very much humbled’’ by having the floor at UMC’s Hersch Lysaker Gymnasium named Gary Senske Court.
“It’s quite a nice thing. It’s quite an honor,’’ Senske said in a telephone interview. “To have it in my name is kind of unbelievable.
“It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,’’ said Senske, who thanked everyone that helped make it possible. He tallied 176 wins in 21 years at UMC, including a State Championship. He was inducted into the UMC Athletics HOF in 2004.
Making it even more special was the major renovation the entire Lysaker Gymnasium recently underwent, including the floor itself, which is now named for Senske, one of Minnesota Crookston’s greatest all-time coaches.
“It was very impressive. I liked the arrangements around it,’’ according to Senske, who said everything was centered around the court.
Senske, 75, was born and raised on the family farm in Perham, Minn. After high school, he went on to Bemidji State for one year and then transferred to play for Moorhead State. The guard remembers the team having a pretty good season his sophomore campaign, which included games against (NBA coaching legend) Phil Jackson and the University of North Dakota.
Senske got his first job in Underwood, Minn., and spent five years coaching there before landing a position in Eveleth for about 10 years. He ultimately got the opportunity at Minnesota Crookston and started his 21-year career there in 1981.
He remembers arriving in Eveleth and seeing the great big sign outside of town touting the Iron Range city as the home of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. He said to himself, “I’m a basketball coach’’ moving into a hockey town. “That was a rather shocking experience.’’
Senske had fun with that over the years as he and the hockey people “exchanged barbs back and forth a few times. I enjoyed the people there in Eveleth and on the Iron Range.’’
Being an outspoken person himself, the coach had a good exchange with the locals because they were straight forward and told me what they thought,’’ he added.
On the court, Zbosnik “took a lot of lessons’’ from Senske as a player and later coaching at Mesabi. Intensity, competitiveness and focus was “much of what I learned from him. He expected us to take the lead. No shortcuts (even in drills).’’
Zbosnik added that “Gary was very, very passionate and knowledgeable. He had a clear vision of what he wanted out of his players and his program.’’
Senske was really good at reading people and Zbosnik used that as a coach too. “I was always pleased to visit with student athletes to get to know them. I took that from him.’’ Zbosnik said he always tried to motivate and inspire his players “to be the best that they could,’’ — just like his mentor did.
While Zbosnik admired Senske, he was a tough coach at the same time, which the line drills he knows as crushers. “We ended every practice with crushers’’ one after another after another. “We were in great shape’’ because of it. “It was kind of a hallmark of his.’’
Senske moved to Crookston before Zbosnik’s senior season, but pulled the player aside to explain the coaching opportunity that was ahead.
“It made total sense to me,’’ Zbosnik said, but Senske’s departure was still emotional. “My eyes welled up with tears.’’
Ironically, Senske did recruit Zbosnik to play at UMC, but the Eveleth player decided to stay local at Mesabi Range. Talking to his mentor recently, Zbosnik told him he couldn’t believe he didn’t go to UMC and play for him.
Despite the decision, Senske was always supportive. “He was very understanding and gracious to me.’’
Senske’s Eveleth days brought back memories of his 1976-77 squad, which was one of his best teams. They ended up second in the Region, he said.
“It was a good group that came through at that time.’’
The 1976-77 team was also able to avenge a loss to Chisholm from his first season. The loss was extremely lopsided even though his players were working really, really hard.
Five years later, Eveleth’s own talented team got the chance to go into Chisholm (coached by legend Bob McDonald) and pay the Bluestreaks back. “That was kind of exciting,’’ Senske said.
Senske retired in 2002 after battles with diabetes and cancer took their toll. He said he didn’t have as much energy after the health issues, which basically made the retirement decision for him.
Senske, now retired at the Perham family farm, was known for his energy throughout his career.
The UMC coaching great as having “a passion for the game. I had an intensity for the game.’’
But it was the players and the atmosphere around basketball that he loved the most.
“I really enjoyed the camaraderie I had with the players’’ and improving on a daily basis. “That was the piece that was really important to me.’’
As far as the atmosphere created by players, coaches and officials, Senske said it was the “all encompassing kind of feeling’’ that he loved.