Gary Hull has won a lot of basketball games as a head coach.
In his 31st year as head coach of Western Mennonite’s boys basketball team, he has a record of 601-224 and is the No. 7 winningest boys basketball coach in Oregon history.
But the wins – though the total is impressive – are not what has made him a great coach.
“He’s lost some, and that’s made him a better coach, and he’s won some, and that’s made him a better coach,” said his daughter, Madi Hull, an all-state senior point guard on the girls team at Western Mennonite.
“He’s just been in so many games, so many situations that he knows what to do with any of them. That’s just the big deal is he’s been in so many games, he knows what to do.”
Hull hit the magic number of 600 wins in the Dec. 29 win against Harrisburg in a game at the Crusader New Year’s Invitational at Corban.
Getting the 600th win for Hull wasn’t as big a deal for him as it was for others.
“That was pretty cool because ever since I was little, like in fifth grade, I’ve always known who coach Gary was, and just to be a part of something so big for him was really special,” said sophomore Johnny Williams.
“Helping out, getting that 600th win was really cool.”
When Hull first came to Western Mennonite in 1987 – after a few years as an assistant at Canby, Molalla and in college – he intended on staying at the school five or six years and moving up the coaching ranks into college.
After watching friends going through the grinder of coaching, he decided to make a home at Western Mennonite.
He rarely has the tallest or most talented players, but he has a way of getting the most out of each player.
“What he does as a coach is very special,” said junior Matthew Hull, a second cousin of Hull. “He’s able to bring people together. It doesn’t matter the egos. He finds a common goal and then he gets people to strive for that. This group is very special because of how close we are.”
Before Hull came to the school, when teams needed a sure win, they called Western Mennonite to schedule a game. If they needed two wins, they called Western Mennonite to schedule two games.
Now when someone mentions Western Mennonite in any context, the successful basketball program is what they’re going to think of.
“I think it’s like the heart of Western Mennonite,” said senior Simeon Hess. “Gary just built it up. It’s almost like a legacy. They’re not recruited, but they come not only for basketball, but the community, and the basketball is, I think, the biggest part of our community.
“Everyone will come to games and supports Gary and what he does because it’s not just basketball, he’s growing young men and developing them to live for God and stuff like that.”
Under Hull’s direction, basketball has become the identity of Western Mennonite.
His stamp is all over both the boys and girls programs.
When he guided the 2011 boys team to the 2A state championship, it was the first state title in an OSAA sport for the school.
When the girls team won the 2015 state championship, it had four players who had played for him on youth teams. And the team’s coach at that time, Robby Gilliam, had played for him and coached under him.
“It’s like our go-to when it comes to Western,” said junior Cade Nofziger. “I think he’s had a lot to do with it. He really cares for each of the guys. He loves all the support we get and stuff. It’s really cool to have all the people come and watch us and stuff.”
Part of why Western Mennonite has had a sustained level of success recently – the team has placed at the state tournament the past 11 years consecutively – is Hull’s work with youth.
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A few years ago there was a Saturday in the middle of the high school season where Hull coached nine games, and not one of them was a high school game.
“You don’t see a lot of coaches from other schools around the area that stay out on the weekends and go to tournaments with little sixth graders and put in a lot of extra time to prepare them for high school,” said senior Drew Berkey.
“That’s why we’re such a good fundamental team and why we’re always such a smart basketball team that goes so far into the postseason.”
A number of the youth players he coaches don’t end up coming to high school at Western Mennonite, and that’s fine with him.
He ends up going to as many of their games at the high schools they eventually attend as he can.
Even if they stop playing basketball, he still makes time to be involved in their lives.
“It is known around, not only in our school community, but the surrounding community, that he takes a vested interest in our kids,” said assistant coach Geoff Martin, who played for Hull until he graduated in 2009.
“For me as an assistant, he encourages me to do the same as well. It’s nice because you get to know kids on a different level. You get to know them more than as just a basketball player. When kids know that you care about them and their life, they’ll do anything for you.”
A lot of potential problems the program may face are ironed out before they become problems.
A number of the players on the current roster had fathers who played for Hull.
Players like Nofziger and Camryn Roth knew they would play for Hull when they were young because their fathers did.
“If I don’t get something, I can always go to my dad, and he can explain it a little easier,” said Roth, a senior whose father Jerry played for Hull. “They have the same principals, like it starts on defense, so my dad can help me when Gary’s not there.”
The milestone victories are nice, but they’re not what Hull is there for.
He spends hours every day after school and many weekends coaching multiple teams because of something greater than wins in a record book.
“They’re plaques on the wall, these are great,” Gary Hull says. “What I love is working with kids. I love seeing kids get better and taking some kid who can’t do a two-foot stop and be able to see them get from point A to point B. To me, that’s the fun part.
“The same fundamentals we teach right there is taught at the varsity level. We always try to fine tune something. I just think it’s vital in this sport. We’re not always going to be the tallest, but we’re going to take what we have.”
Conatact Bill Poehler at bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com and follow him on Twitter @bpoehler