The Christmas holiday break back in 1976 came at just the right time. For Nate Quinn, a freshman basketball player and yet-to-be standout, his first semester at Drury University had been the School of Hard Knocks.
So upon returning home, his dad — a longtime high school basketball coach in Oklahoma — took him to shoot baskets. Lots of baskets.
“I came here, had high expectations and it didn’t turn out too well,” Quinn recalled. “So I went home, and my dad took me out shooting. And I kept shooting the basketball. He said, ‘They want you to shoot the ball more.’”
Call it a turning point, one that kick-started a journey that has led the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame to proudly induct Quinn with the Class of 2016. His enshrinement is part of the Hall’s Basketball Luncheon presented by Mercy, set for 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 14 at the Ramada Plaza Hotel & Oasis Convention Center. (See ticket information below.)
Quinn expanded his point guard role, surging to be one of the Drury Panthers’ best ever. In fact, he helped lead the Panthers to the 1979 NAIA national championship and finished his career the next season with 1,935 points, a mark that stood as the second-most in program history until the early 1990s.
Even better, Quinn gave back to the game. He served as the Hillcrest High School basketball coach for 13 seasons after one season as an assistant on its 1984 state championship team. There, he is Hillcrest’s career leader in wins with a 223-145 record, including a school-record mark of 26-2 in 1992.
Looking back, that Christmas break of ’76 changed everything.
“Being a coach’s son, I knew the things a point guard needed to do, but the coaches wanted me to shoot more,” Quinn said. “That’s all it took, and I never stopped shooting.”
Quinn played high school basketball at Boley, Okla., where his dad, Nathaniel, became an Oklahoma Coaches Association Hall of Famer. The program produced Jerry Alexander, who graduated a year ahead of Quinn and went on to become one of Drury’s best himself.
When Quinn followed suit to Drury, he found success after the initial slow start.
“I learned to play hard for a longer period of time,” Quinn said. “We pressed a lot, and we went up and down the court. That wasn’t an adjustment (from high school). But going against bigger bodies and stronger players … instead of just one (like in high school), you had five on the floor.”
Quinn helped Drury reach the national quarterfinals in March 1978, scoring 23 points and 11 rebounds in a loss to East Texas State. He then played an instrumental role the next season as Drury won it all.
In the championship game, Kirksey called for a 1-3-1 zone defense. Quinn will never forget the moment.
“With about five minutes to go, coach (Jerry) Kirksey to go into a 1-3-1 zone, and we all thought he had lost his mind because we hadn’t practiced a zone all year,” Quinn said. “But it was so bad it was good.”
When he graduated, Quinn held the second-most career assists (514) and the sixth-most points in a single season (569) in program history. He was voted NAIA All-American honorable mention in 1980 and twice earned First Team All-District 16 honors, with an honorable mention All-District during his junior year.
Quinn earned a master’s degree from Pittsburg State University and then returned to Springfield, assisting the Missouri State basketball program for two seasons.
At Hillcrest, Quinn emphasized a complete buy-in from players, explaining that they learn every role on the team, not just their own. The strategy fueled a terrific run.
“I really enjoyed the teaching part, making corrections and getting people to where they needed to be – to the point where they did not need the coach,” Quinn said. “That was the fun part, seeing the development of freshmen and sophomores into juniors and seniors.”
Quinn eventually went into administration, serving as assistant principal at Hillcrest for seven years and then three years as principal at Jarrett Middle School. He then was Coordinator of Cultural Diversity and Expanded Learning Opportunities with Springfield Public Schools for six years and, in recent years, has served as a Missouri State University instructor in the Educational Administration Graduate Program.
But he still looks back on his basketball days with fondness.
“Our kids worked hard, and I see them every now and then, and they’re doing well,” Quinn said. “That’s great to see, that in their time at Hillcrest, whether it was basketball, or cross country, or track, that they picked up something that hopefully helped them along the way.”
Basketball Luncheon presented by Mercy
When: 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 14
Where: Ramada Plaza Hotel and Oasis Convention Center in Springfield.
Inductees: Missouri native Jerry Armstrong, part of Texas Western’s 1966 national championship team and a longtime Missouri high school basketball coach; Malta Bend standout Charlie Henke, one of the first big men to star at the University of Missouri; Missouri State Lady Bear Jeanette Tendai; Drury University’s Nate Quinn; and the 1990 Raytown South High School boys basketball team.
Filbert Five teams: Women’s team — Kayli Combs Price (Branson/College of the Ozarks), Tag Morris (Blue Eye/Evangel), Bethany Creed (Ash Grove/Drury), Casey Garrison Powell (Bolivar/Missouri State) and Kami Scrivner Eddington (Mount Vernon/Pittsburg State); Men’s team — Daniel Cutbirth (Hurley/Evangel), Tim Brown (Rogersville/Drury), Corey Stone (Reeds Spring/College of the Ozarks), Junior Roweton (Halfway/SBU/Drury) and Tim West (Skyline/State Fair juco/Nebraska).
Tickets: Call 417-889-3100. An individual ticket is $40, and a head table ticket is $100. A sponsorship table of eight is $400 and includes an autographed print and recognition in the printed program. Numerous other sponsorships, such as congratulatory ads, also are available.