In today's publishing climate, how do you sell a book about a retired basketball coach from a little-known Div. II school in the upper Midwest? That was the question worrying Buster Olney, author of the recently published How Lucky You Can Be, the story of Don Meyer, the former men's basketball coach at Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D., whose horrific 2008 car wreck resulted in the amputation of much of his left leg, as well as the discovery that he has terminal cancer. But it turns out that Meyer, 65, whose 923 career wins are the most for a men's NCAA basketball coach, is famous not only in South Dakota, where he has lived for 11 years, but also within a large fraternity of folks who love sharing inspirational tales: other coaches. And their enthusiasm has turned the book into a surprise success. "In the coaching community Don Meyer is a giant," says Eastland (Texas) High boys' coach Doug Galyean, who says he would buy the book "by the case" if he had the money. "He has 923 wins, but he's responsible for thousands more because of the way he has shared everything he has with coaches across the nation."
Olney delves into Meyer's contributions as a teacher—when he coached at Lipscomb University from 1976 through 1999 he ran the country's largest basketball camp—but the book's most compelling story line is how the accident gave the once reticent Meyer the voice to express his love for and gratitude to others. Says Peggy Bieber, owner of Chapter I Book Center in Aberdeen, which has sold more than 700 copies in just two weeks, "The book is really about life and how to live it." That's a theme that resonates beyond basketball and South Dakota. New York Life executive and part-time high school coach Mark Pfaff, who has brought Meyer in to speak at company meetings, has ordered 700 copies for his managers.
Meyer, who has already outlived his two-year prognosis, has been making appearances with Olney on behalf of the book. "The greatest reviews," says the coach, "are from people who say they aren't basketball or sports fans but still couldn't put the book down. And then most say they end up crying reading it. Crying or laughing."
DAVID E. KLUTHO (MEYER)
WINNING WORDS Despite injuries and cancer, Meyer continued to coach and teach the game.