Garrett Duffin, Minnesota State land Div. 2 National championship

“Coach’ would be proud of the Mavericks

Princeton's Garrett Duffin (at left, back row) took part in Minnesota State University's NCAA Division II championship run. He is the Mavericks' Director of Player Development.

Craig T. Nelson made famous his role as Coach Hayden Fox of the fictional Division I-A Minnesota State University Screaming Eagles football team in the ‘90s hit TV Series “Coach.”

While that storyline may have been made up, there’s nothing fictional about the accomplishment of the real-life Minnesota State University men’s basketball team in Mankato.

The Mavericks won their first NCAA DII Championship on a 3-pointer in the corner by Kyreese Willingham with 0.8 seconds left for an 88-85 win over Nova Southeastern in Evansville, Ind. on Saturday, March 30.

Adding to the real-life Minnesota State story is that their women’s basketball team also won the national championship, defeating Texas Woman’s University 89-73 the night before in St. Joseph, Mo.

Garrett Duffin, who was a standout at Princeton High School (2015) and played for Sauk Valley and Lakeland University, is in his first year as Director of Player Development for the Minnesota State men’s basketball program.

Duffin came to Minnesota State from Waubonsee Valley, where he was a volunteer assistant coach. His former teammate at Sauk, Karson Arrenholz, recommended him for the job.

Garrett Duffin

In his part-time position, Duffin assists the full-time staff by “building relationships with the guys, work on some skill development and do some injury prevention stuff.”

He’s making the most of the opportunity and enjoying the ride.

“It’s pretty surreal. Really haven’t had a whole lot of time to digest it. We won it and came back the next day and then I had to go to work on Monday,” said Duffin, who is a full-time physical therapist by day. “My role is small, but I was just happy to be here in some fashion and ride the wave with everybody else. Some times you got to get lucky and I definitely did.

“I am happy to have contributed. Some times the role has to start small and hopefully it can build somewhere over time.”

From a coaching standpoint, Duffin, 27, said the experience learning from the Mavericks coaching staff has been invaluable.

“They figure out, ‘How are we going to win? How are we going to play our best? How are we going to execute? Then to see them carry over and interact with the team and how they make in-game decisions has been great,” he said.

It’s been a season certainly built of storybook lines at Minnesota State. Both the men’s and women’s teams won regular-season conference championships as well as the conference tournament championships on the way to the Div. 2 National titles.

“We’re feeling pretty good about that. We remain humble about it and work toward next year,” Duffin said. “The staff’s already working towards putting together a team for next year. Obviously, enjoying the moment with the guys, but they get to it. Their success and the success here is no accident. The staff does a great job fitting the pieces together. And obviously the guys got to go out there and play. They’re the ones who’s got to go out and win the games at the end of the day.”

Princeton's Garrett Duffin had a front row seat for Minnesota State University NCAA Division II championship in Evansville, Ind. He is the Mavericks' Director of Player Development.

While he doesn’t know much about the TV show portraying the fictional Minnesota State football team, Duffin said he’s seen references around town that “Coach” would be happy.

Since taking part of the national championship, Duffin has thought a lot about his father, Jim, who passed away suddenly on Dec. 30, 2016 at age 53, and was his biggest fan.

“I’d like to think he’d be pretty proud just that I worked my way in to this situation. He always said, you’ve got to chase after the dreams you have,” he said. “He always encouraged me to do that with basketball as a player and now I’ve transitioned to the coaching side. I think he’d love that I’m still staying involved in the game and having some success, too.

“I hope he was watching down with his video recorder and we’ll watch that one day.”

Duffin was a two-time, first-team All-BCR and All-Conference player earning All-State Honorable Mention at Princeton. The “Blonde Bomber” averaged 15.9 ppg as a senior, leading the Tigers in rebounding (6.4), assists (2.1) and steals (1.5), shooting an area-best 51 percent from the field.

He scored 887 career points, ranked No. 18 all-time at PHS. He said he learned a lot playing for Tigers coach Michael Fredericks, especially about creating relationships with the players.

“You can be saying all the right things, but if you don’t have that foundation, they don’t have that trust that you genuinely care about them and you want what’s best for them ... That’s why everybody loves Coach Freds, because they know he’s as genuine as they come and he’s going to look out for your best interests. And so when he tells you something, you’re going to be all ears,” he said.

“I think that resonates with the guys. Not just you communicate that you care, but you show it.”

Kevin Hieronymus has been the BCR Sports Editor since 1986. Contact him at

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