Rural Missouri - July 2020 - 47
by Jim McCarty | firstname.lastname@example.org
had never been to the national tournament. If it wasn't
miraculous it was close to it."
Gene inherited a team that had no gymnasium and
ene Bess didn't give much thought to how long he
struggled just to ﬁnd a place to practice. The team used
would stay when he was named assistant basketthe local high school and even practiced at the W.E. Sears
ball coach at Poplar Bluff's Three Rivers Junior
Youth Center, a state correctional facility for juveniles.
College in 1970. He was just glad to have a job.
Today the college is home to a state-of-the-art ﬁeld house
"Everybody was wanting a college job of some kind,"
with a court named for its fabled coach.
Gene recalls. "I'd had 12 years of high school and I had all
With so many victories, it's no surprise none stands
of the high school I wanted. I had a good team that year. I
out in the 85-year-old's memory. "I remember the losses
had some players who were recruitable. So, I became wora whole lot more than the wins," he says. "My motivation
thy of being an assistant coach, I guess, on this level."
was always win the next game. As a coach you are no betIn the world of college basketball, one obvious measure
ter than your next game. And that was what I tried to get
of success is the number of victories a coach has achieved.
across to my players."
Pundits refer to the win-loss record when bestowing legA humble man, he's hard pressed to put into words the
endary status on the greats of the game, bandying about
key to his success. "When I talk to my former players they
names like Duke's Mike Krzyzewski with 1,132 wins and
do seem to think discipline was a big factor," he says with
the late Tennessee Coach Pat Summit who posted 1,098
wins in her career.
The coach had strict rules players were expected to folThose marks pale in comparison with what Gene Bess
low, along with consequences should they break them. Any
has done as coach of what is now Three Rivers Community
question Gene was serious about team rules was answered
College. In February Raiders fans watched Gene notch his
when he dismissed a player on the eve of a national cham1,300th win, showering him with confetti as the game drew
pionship game. In 1985, he sent six players packing - and
to a close. No other college basketball coach - at any level
still had a winning record for the year.
or gender - has come close to winning as many games,
"We had certain standards that we tried to get the playmuch less win them all at the same college.
ers to follow," Gene says. "I knew enough to know that
In 2001 Gene passed North Carolina's Dean Smith and
players who were focused and really dedicated could perRichard Baldwin of Broome Community College as college
form better than just a bunch of guys who showed up and
basketball's winningest coach, and he's never looked back.
tried to play on talent."
He's won two National Junior College Athletic Association championships and has had only two
Those standards included showing up on time, using
good judgement and, at all times, being a gentleman.
losing seasons in his entire career. He's been
recognized as NJCAA coach of the year twice.
Perfection was a requirement, and drills were run again
He's been named to the Poplar Bluff Sports
and again until the play was ﬂawless.
Hall of Fame, Missouri Sports Hall of Fame and
If you wanted practice to end sooner rather than
later, you did it right the ﬁrst time recalls Anthony
the NJCAA Hall of Fame. SEMO Ball honored
Beane Sr., a Bernie High School product who
him with its Lifetime Achievement Award and he
found success at Three Rivers and later Kansas
holds Legend Status in the Missouri Sports Hall
of Fame. Two of his players - Latrell Sprewell
and Marvin "Moon" McCrary - were drafted by
"I had already heard the stories before I arrived on campus," Anthony says of the man he still calls
coach. "Once you got there you got a chance to see not
In May, Gene announced his retirement after 50 years
only a disciplinarian but also a man who cares about each
at the helm of the Raiders. His replacement is his son,
player. He got his point across real quick. You come to
Brian, a longtime Raiders assistant coach and former
practice you better be on time. On the ﬂoor you play hard
player for his dad. "I just can't think of anything that could
all the time. Everything was team oriented. If one guy did
happen to a father any better than that," Gene says of his
something wrong, the whole team was punished. That was
replacement. "He has really impressed me down through
something I wasn't accustomed to. But it holds the team
the years with his feel for the game. I just don't have any
together and makes you accountable."
doubt that he will do a great job here as head coach."
Anthony, now an assistant basketball coach at NorthA farm kid who honed his own skills in a barn loft, Gene
ern Illinois University, says Gene cared as much about his
launched his coaching career in the small towns of southplayers' future success as he did about their contribution
east Missouri where he led Lesterville, Anniston and Oran
to the Raiders. "No question the intangibles I took away
high schools, achieving 250 wins. His high school coaching
from Three Rivers helped me at K-State and in the coachcareer was capped when he took Oran to the state ﬁnals,
ing business, as a father and as a husband," he says.
bowing out to Dixon on a controversial call in the game's
Gene practiced tough love for his players, noting that as
a player he resented a coach who did not demand his best.
Hired as Raider Coach Bob Cradic's assistant, Gene
"I was focused and I knew how important it was to be suctook over the head spot one year later and almost immedicessful here, for the players to be successful, and I tried
ately made his mark on the team.
to zero in on that," Gene says. "I've heard players say I do
"The ﬁrst year I was head coach we actually went to the
a good job of following up with them. They feel like I really
national tournament and I think ﬁnished fourth," Gene
do love them and I do. I want them to do the very best they
says. "The interesting thing about that, I knew a lot of
can simply because I want the best for them."
junior college coaches who had been in it a long time and
JULY 2020 | RURALMISSOURI.COOP
Rural Missouri - July 2020
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