Don Nuckols, one of the state’s most legendary boys basketball coaches and one who took his Mullens teams to five state championships, died Thursday at the age of 78 due to respiratory problems.
Nuckols held a career record of 283-101 in 16 seasons of coaching at Mullens in Wyoming County from 1969-84. He later served as the school’s principal.
Two of Nuckols’ titles with the Rebels came in Class AA (1970, 1972) and he also won three in a row when the school dropped to Class A enrollment from 1982-84 just before he stepped down.
At Mullens, he coached some of finest players in the southern coalfields and state history, among them Mike D’Antoni, Herbie Brooks, Greg White, Jerome Anderson, Bill Mizell, Shawn Finney, Jerry Thomas and Willie Stewart.
“Good players make good coaches,’’ Nuckols told a gathering in Beckley last year that honored him for his accomplishments at Mullens.
White, one of his former players with the Rebels who would go on to play and eventually coach at Marshall, was both a player and a student under Nuckols, who taught history at Mullens High School.
“He had a tremendous impact on me,’’ White said, “not only as a coach but also a teacher. He was just a mentor. As I advanced in coaching, we just shared so many great basketball times. He traveled with my Marshall teams many times, any time he wanted. He was always welcome to travel.
“He was just a great, great person — a constant in my life. It’s a tough loss for me and certainly all his basketball players, along with his family.’’
Marshall’s current coach, Dan D’Antoni, and his family in Wyoming County got to see Nuckols weave his magic up close many years with the Rebels program.
“Don was a great person and a great coach,’’ said Dan D’Antoni, older brother of Mike D’Antoni. “His biggest contribution was getting to excite people with basketball. He passed down his passion of playing basketball to his kids. Not many people can do that, and he did it for a long time.’’
Nuckols also participated in the Legends Tipoff Classic at George Washington High School in Charleston on Dec. 10, one of a dozen of the state’s most successful retired veteran coaches to be honored between games at the event.
One of the other coaches introduced to the crowd that night was Dave Barksdale, the former longtime boys basketball coach at Woodrow Wilson who also took his team to five state titles.
Barksdale, coaching at a Class AAA school in Beckley and Nuckols, then heading up a Class A program, never got the opportunity to coach against each other, but Barksdale and Nuckols became good friends off the court, and Barksdale said he patterned his success at Woodrow after what Nuckols had built in Mullens.
“When I came to Beckley in ’83,’’ Barksdale said, “I told the people there at the high school and anyone who would listen that we have to get our basketball program like Mullens and Logan. Northfork had closed by then, or they would be in there, too. Those were your hotbeds of basketball. You go to the old Armory for Mullens and Pineville and the place is packed. What an atmosphere.
“They loved basketball at Mullens. They were contenders and had a basketball program where kids loved to play, and that’s what we tried to emulate — to become like Mullens and Logan. And that’s about as big a compliment as I can give. What he did down there, he built the basketball program. It wasn’t like you hear about Mullens one year and then you hear about them again six years later. You heard about Mullens every year, either winning a state championship, or in the finals or being a contender, and that’s what we wanted to do, and hopefully what we did.
“It’s just unbelievable what he did for basketball. It was great not only for his community, but for our state. We were fortunate to have Don Nuckols in the profession of basketball, and we’ll all miss him.’’