St. Catharine and Morehead; a coaching tree that continues to grow

Just like a family tree, those in the college basketball profession speak of a “coaching tree” when it comes to the relationships formed during their employment in that sport. And nowhere is there a more solid, and intertwined, tree than the one that has grown between St. Catharine College and Morehead State University.

When current St. Catharine head basketball coach J.T. Burton’s Patriots visited Morehead for an exhibition game November 9th, it was a celebration of a tree planted in Lourdes Hall in 1996 when current Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall led the Patriots. A member of that team, one that went to the Junior College National Tournament for the only time in school history, was J.T. Burton.

But that is just the start of how the branches of this coaching tree started to grow. Burton moved on to graduate from Tennessee Wesleyan and returned to St. Catharine for the 2007-2008 season where he served as an assistant coach under Wade O’ Connor. When O’Connor left for Western Carolina before the 2008-2009 season, Burton became the St. Catharine head coach.

O’Connor stayed at Western Carolina for two years before accepting the position as associate head coach at Morehead under Tyndall last season. But Tyndall and O’Connor aren’t the only branches that have stretched from St. Catharine to Morehead. Just before this season, Burton’s assistant coach Beau Braden left to become an assistant with Tyndall’s Eagles.

While some coaching trees may become somewhat disjointed, the one that started with Tyndall has firm roots. “I talk to both Donnie and Wade all of the time,” said Burton. “In fact I’m going up there this week to watch them practice. Donnie is like the godfather in this group of coaches.”

And like a godfather, Tyndall values the bonds that his tree has formed over the years. “The year at St. Catharine was one of the best years of my life,” said Tyndall. “I made great friends and memories that I will cherish forever.”

As for the Burton branch of his coaching tree, Tyndall is more than pleased with how it has grown. “J.T. was the hardest working player on my team and a true overachiever. That has carried over into his coaching career. His players carry themselves in a first class manner and the job he is done is truly remarkable. He is like a son to me and I am very proud of him. We will continue to play St. Catharine every year because of my friendship with J.T.”

O’Connor, whose own coaching tree started with Billy Donavan at Marshall University, echoed Tyndall’s sentiments about St. Catharine and Burton. “I am indebted to President Huston for giving me the opportunity to be a head coach in 2004 at St. Catharine. We worked together as a family and it was a time of great learning experience and professional growth.”

Added O’Connor, “J.T. is a very loyal and close friend that worked endless hours and was a relentless recruiter for me. He is a student of the game, extremely knowledgeable and exceptional at developing relationships with players on and off the court. There is no doubt in my mind that in the very near future they will be raising a National Championship banner in Lourdes Hall.”

And just as Burton learned from his mentors, so does he distribute wisdom to those branching off from his leadership – such as Braden who left just St. Catharine just before this season began. “That is what you expect,” said Burton of his assistant’s departure. “You want your assistants to move up when they can. With guys like Beau and Will (Will Finch who also left the Patriots before the season for a position at Marshall) I am now starting my own tree. I also now have Arthur (Latham) on my staff who played for me and Wade”

As the tree grows, one constant acts as fertilizer to keep it healthy as Braden related. “Loyalty, that is so important to coach Tyndall,” said Braden. “It goes for all those who have played for him and all those who have coached with him. I am fortunate to be at Morehead. I know I left at a bad time but J.T. understands that and remains loyal. And there is no way I would be where I am today without him. I learned a lot at St. Catharine and made a lot of friends.”

Friends and coaches that now are branches of a tree that spans the 120 miles from St. Catharine College to Morehead State University.