A veteran coach familiar to many in this area is bringing his competitive reputation to Durant High School.
Phil Daniel has been selected as the new Lady Lions head basketball coach.
Daniel was inducted in 2012 into the Oklahoma Girls Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. In 28 seasons at the high-school level, he has a total 565 wins and 10 state appearances. He’s taken teams at three different schools to multiple state tournaments, which is actually a fairly rare feat.
“I’d like to make it four,” Daniel said.
One of the three was Atoka. In his 11 years there, the Lady Cats climbed to “the big house” six times. They won the Class 3A state title in 1992, which was the senior year of Crystal Robinson. (Remember her? She went on to become a three-time all-American while setting just about every record on the books at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, then American Basketball League rookie of the year before starting a career in the WNBA.)
Daniel isn’t shy to say he’s a competitive man who prefers to be the victor in whatever the contest, attributing that spirit to his raising.
“I don’t want to come here and mess around,” he said this week about DHS. “I’m not saying we’re going to win every game, but by gosh, we’re going to try.”
There is a lot of room for improvement, at least in terms of the record. The Lady Lions went 3-18 on the 2013-14 season.
Daniel said he’s met with parents already and has opened the gym to players for informal shoot-arounds. He’s averaged eight to 15 players in attendance and has made some positive observations.
“I’ve seen some kids who seem to want to learn and seem to have good attitudes,” he said. “It’s definitely early right now, but they appear to be very eager and coachable. That’s nothing against Casey.”
Casey Strahan’s resignation was accepted at the June school board meeting. Strahan is a Silo High and SOSU graduate, and he’s accepted the opportunity to lead the Lady Rebels at his alma mater.
Daniel noted every coach has a different style, but ultimately, that is not what decides ball games.
“I said it in my hall-of-fame speech and I’ve always said that it’s not about me. As a coach, I never made a point, got a rebound or stole the ball. The players did that. It’s all about the kids.
“I could talk until I was blue in the face, but if they don’t listen and take it to heart, it won’t do any good. I can try to motivate, but they have to make up their minds they want to play hard and win.”
As a player, Daniel took to the court under the tutelage of renowned coach Wayne Cobb at Murray State College. He went on to earn his teaching degree from SOSU. He began his coaching career in 1977 in Crowder, where his Lady Demons set a school record at the time for wins. Next was his stellar stint in Atoka, followed by a few years at Marietta, when the Lady Indians set a school record for wins in the 1994 season. Then, like Strahan, Daniel got the chance to return to his alma mater.
Daniel graduated, as salutatorian, from Coleman High in 1973. In 1995, he was in his hometown and coaching daughters Tonya and Toni. This reporter played against them and noticed the competitive spirit seemed to be a family trait.
It paid off. In Daniel’s six seasons with the Lady Wildcats, they went to the state tourney twice, which were the first and only times in the program’s history. And the second trip was in 1997, very shortly after the forced conversion from 6-on-6 to 5-on-5 girls basketball.
“I loved the 6-on-6 game,” said Daniel, who’s coached boys only in a five-year span at Coleman. “When we went to 5-on-5, I thought it would be the end of the world.”
Obviously the switch didn’t turn out too bad for him. Daniel said he still misses 6-on-6 when he thinks about it, but he doesn’t sit around lamenting that loss.
Daniel left coaching for a little while as he pursued an administration certification and master’s degree from SOSU.
He was back at Atoka in 2003 for two seasons before becoming principal at Caney High. In 2007, he took over the Lady Cougars program. They went to state twice in his four seasons and won 102 games.
The past two years, Daniel returned to MSC to coach the Lady Aggies. Three of his players advanced to Division I for the upcoming season.
Daniel has devoted 33 years to public education, a decade of that as a principal in the Sooner State and Arkansas.
For 40 years, he’s been married to Karen, and they are active in church and keeping up with their grandkids’ activities. Daughter Toni McLemore lives in Durant with husband Kyle and three children. She also teaches health sciences with the Health Occupation Students of America organization at DHS. Daughter Tonya Bucher lives in Marietta with husband Quentin and four kids. Son Trent lives in Coleman and has two daughters.
Contact Regina Phillips at (580) 634-2163 or @NewspaperRegina on Twitter.