Life might have been quite different for St. Mary’s coach Buddy Meyer had the Air Force not stationed him at Kirknewton, Scotland, in 1958.

“Maybe I’d be doing something in sales or something like that,” said Meyer, who gets his first crack at earning career victory No. 500 when the Rattlers (11-6 overall, 3-0 in the Heartland Conference) take on Oklahoma Panhandle State (1-2, 1-13) at 7:30 tonight at Greehey Arena.

Fortunately for St. Mary’s, Meyer started thinking about a career as a basketball coach during the six months he spent at Kirknewton playing for a base team coached by Staff Sgt. Tony Trovato.

“He had some definite influence on me,” Meyer said of Trovato. “He was a very competitive guy and he knew what he was talking about. He had good knowledge of the game.”

And Trovato also had a demanding coaching style that Meyer continues to emulate to this day.

“Tony was a pretty good disciplinarian,” Meyer, 64, said of his fellow West Virginian. “He didn’t put up with any crap.”

Said Trovato, 75, via phone from his home in Tennessee: “He’s right. I sure didn’t and I still don’t. When I coached, it was, ‘Do it my way or hit the damn highway.'”

It’s a philosophy shared by Meyer, who has made discipline the cornerstone of a program that has produced 12 seasons of 20 or more victories, 14 conference titles and a 61-58 victory over East Central Oklahoma in the 1989 NAIA championship game.

“If guys aren’t going to listen, you have to be willing to straighten them up or get them out,” said Meyer, who is in his 26th season as the Rattlers’ coach and has a 499-241 record. “The ones that aren’t going to do what you want them to do, you have to get them out of your program.

“There is no question that a structured environment is good, otherwise you are going to have chaos. If you can’t make your guys do certain things, you are going to have problems. It doesn’t matter whether it’s high school, college or the pros. Discipline is necessary if you are going to teach.”

Meyer enrolled at St. Mary’s in 1961 after he left the Air Force and was recruited by then-Rattlers coach Mel Barborak, who saw him play in an Air Force game in San Antonio. As a point guard, Meyer became the first Rattlers player to earn all-conference honors four straight years.

After graduating from St. Mary’s, Meyer served as Antonian’s head coach from 1965 through 1968 and was a St. Mary’s assistant from 1968 until he became head coach in 1978.

Meyer doesn’t yell as loud or nearly as often as he once did. But make no mistake, his authority is never questioned.

“He picks his places a little bit more, but he can still get on the players pretty good,” said Jim Zeleznak, Meyer’s longtime assistant.

“He wants the image of the program to be a certain way,” Zeleznak said. “He doesn’t care how anybody else does it. You either conform to his way or you go someplace else.

“That’s how it’s been since Day 1 and that’s how it still is.”

The players understand that, senior point guard Ky O’Dell said.

“When he says something, that’s what goes,” O’Dell said. “There is no doubt as to who is running the ship.”

O’Dell said the players also respect Meyer because he treats everyone on the team the same.

“He doesn’t shy away from getting into any player’s face,” O’Dell said. “It doesn’t matter who it is or what the circumstance is. I’ve seen him get on managers, assistants and players. He gains your respect very quickly and he maintains it.”

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