In the last year, three boys high school basketball coaching stalwarts in and around Kansas City, Missouri — Willie Bowie, Bud Lathrop and William Madison — have died. As holiday tournaments get underway, the coaches’ longevity and success are sure to be remembered, all while the next legends establish themselves.
North Kansas City High School activities director David Garrison’s first game as a head coach was on the road against Raytown South. His counterpart on the other bench was Lathrop, who died July 12 at the age of 82. Lathrop has more wins as a coach than anyone else in Missouri history (955) and spent 45 years at Raytown South.
“It didn’t go very well for us. We got beat pretty good,” Garrison said of his Excelsior Springs team. “It was one of those things when you’re sitting on the bench and you see Coach Lathrop at the other side. When you get a chance to go through and do that, it’s just things you don’t forget.”
Garrison didn’t envision himself being a coach over the long haul, and said he was ready for a change when his son, Mac, was ready to play high school basketball.
Mac, a sophomore at Liberty North HS, plays on the JV basketball team there. Garrison's heading coaching career stretched for 11 years.
“I thought, ‘You know what? I want to be able to watch him and do that,’” said Garrison. “Moving into the activities director side gave me that opportunity and it was also an aspiration. As I was going through coaching, I had some great activities directors that I worked with.”
Garrison said it takes someone special to remain a coach for a long time.
“It’s almost a calling for them. It’s the opportunity to go through and coach a game that they love,” he said. “But they’re using that opportunity to coach that game to build life skills, to build connections with kids and have an impact on them.”
One coaching legend who’s still around is the 94-year-old Jack Bush. Speaking at his home in Kansas City, Bush has goals, too.
“I would like to continue being the oldest retired basketball coach,” he said, laughing. “I want to still maintain that position.”
Bush coached for 52 years, 33 of those with the Central Blue Eagles, and amassed 799 career victories.
Since Bush was considered the dean of high school basketball, he said he could tell if someone had the potential to be a great coach.
William Madison was one of those people. Madison was on the sidelines at Manual, Southwest and Northeast high schools; he died Aug. 12 at the age of 79.
“Bill (Madison) was right down to earth and if it there was something that he didn’t quite understand or needed some assistance, I was right there,” Bush said.
But the coach with the most passion for the sport and the job? Bush said without hesitation: “Bud Lathrop. No. 1 Bud.”
The third member of the coaching triumvirate, Willie Bowie, died Dec. 22, 2017, at the age of 71. He coached at Paseo for 23 years and compiled more than 400 wins. His most notable player was Anthony Peeler, who went on to play for the Missouri Tigers and was an NBA first-round draft choice in 1992.
Garrison holds the distinction of coaching Kansas City’s most recent NBA first-round draft choice — Landry Shamet, who’s now on the Philadelphia 76ers after two seasons at Wichita State. Shamet, a 2015 Park Hill High School graduate, said he maintains contact with Garrison even though the 6-foot-5 shooting guard is now in a higher tax bracket; more than $1.7 million this year.
“We still talk fairly often. Pretty often,” Shamet said before a recent Sixers road game. “He (Garrison) still texts me pretty consistently. We still have a good relationship, a good friendship going.”
Garrison believes Shamet has a future in coaching.
“He’s definitely smarter than me. He is just a basketball nut,” said Garrison. “I tell him and I tell people (that) when his career is over he would be a fantastic coach.”
That’ll have to wait while current Kansas City area coaches cement their legacy. Consider Mark Scanlon at St. Michael the Archangel. He’s in his 40th year as a head coach, including 22 years at Raytown High.
Like Garrison and Bowie, Scanlon had an eventual first-round NBA draft pick — Tyronn Lue, who coached LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA championship.
This story has been corrected to show that Lathrop had 955 coaching victories, not 995.
Greg Echlin is a freelance sports reporter for KCUR 89.3.