Irvine breaks milestone in 15th year as Burgin boys’ basketball coach

Published 11:05 pm Friday, February 16, 2018

Another basketball season is drawing to a close for Don Irvine, and he is right where he wants to be.

Irvine’s 15th season as coach of the Burgin boys has been one of building for the future, with a nod toward the past when the veteran coach reached a significant milestone earlier this season. Meanwhile, he’s enjoying the present in the third stint at the school that has become his professional home.

It’s probably fair to say no one is more is more identifiable with Burgin basketball than Irvine, who recently won his 200th game at the school. And it’s certain that Irvine identifies with Burgin more than any other place where he has worked.

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“I’ve made it home,” Irvine said. “I’ve spent more time here than I have anywhere else. It’s been a part of my and my family’s life. My kids graduated here, my wife worked here. It’s been a big part of who I am.”

This has not been Irvine’s best year at Burgin – the Bulldogs took a 9-16 record into their regular-season finale Friday against Riverside Christian, and they will play Mercer County on Tuesday in a 46th District Tournament semifinal at West Jessamine.

This season has, however, allowed him to teach the game to young players and to prepare them for better things next season and beyond.

“I knew we were going to struggle a lot,” he said. “This is one of the smallest and one of the youngest groups I’ve coached in my career.”

The team has no seniors, and Irvine said this season has been about getting experience, learning the game and getting better for next season.

“We’ve got kids as young as eighth and ninth grade playing and even a seventh-grader who plays some minutes,” he said. “I’m trying to get as much court time for these guys as I can.

“We’ve won more than I thought, but I don’t know if we’ve progressed as much as I’d like to see us do,” Irvine said. “We’re trying not to gauge that on the day-to-day, but to look at the overall picture and see where we are at the end of the year and see how we progress over the summer for next year.”

Along the way, the players celebrated their coach’s 200th victory at the school, which came Jan. 19 when the Bulldogs defeated Piarist.

“I like to think of it more as a team award. The kids were as much or more excited than I was to be a part of that,” Irvine said. “I was proud to be able to bring something positive to this team. It’s good experience for these guys.

“We low-keyed it, but it’s something to celebrate with our players. It’s something we’re trying to teach them all the time: When somebody helps you reach a milestone it’s something everybody celebrates.

That includes all of the players who came before them.

“I hope the other players and the other teams that have been a part of that history will celebrate this with us as well,” Irvine said. “I just think it’s a nice accomplishment for our players that we’ve had some consistency throughout the program.”

Irvine’s 200-plus wins at Burgin have come in 17 seasons but only 15 years – he spent two seasons simultaneously coaching the school’s boys and girls teams.

He first came to Burgin in 1986, and he recalls a 2-0 start that included a varsity-junior varsity sweep of Garrard County and a win over Model.

“It was a good honeymoon,” he said. “We were really deep back then, and we had a lot of good, athletic players.”

He said his early teams could have been even better, however.

“I was in my 20s at that time, and I think we’d be even better today if I was my age now coaching that team then,” Irvine said. “You can talk about youth and enthusiasm all you want, but wisdom and experience in this occupation make a whole lot of difference.”

He coached at Burgin from 1986-89 and again from 2003-12, when he retired from teaching. He returned for the 2015-16 season after the coach who succeeded him in 2012 returned to his hometown.

“One, I wanted to come back, and two, I was grateful they wanted to have me back,” Irvine said.

Irvine graduated from Pulaski County in 1977, but his coaching jobs have all been at much smaller schools. He has compiled more than 350 varsity wins as coach of Burgin’s boys and girls and of the boys teams at Augusta and McLean County and the girls team at Western Hills.

He is quick to point out, however, that the credit for those wins should go to his players.

“You don’t win games without your players,” Irvine said. “I’ve had some good players and people.”