Ray Nacke Basketball Court

Ray Nacke is introduced during the dedication ceremony for the Ray Nacke Court at Briar Cliff University on Feb. 4, 2012.

Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal

SIOUX CITY | Before Northwest Iowa native Ray Nacke arrived as head coach in 1971, Briar Cliff men's basketball teams were typically pedestrian in playing against regional colleges.

Nacke by the late 1970s had established the so-called Panama Pipeline of drawing smooth, high-scoring players from Panama. In mixing those players with others from Siouxland, he took the program to new heights.

Nacke's achievements were lauded Thursday as news that he died late Wednesday moved through the community. He was 79.

Nacke compiled a 507-254 overall record and was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame in March 2008 during a Division II men's national tournament.

"It's a real nice honor for this to happen, but I really didn't think it ever would," said Nacke at the time. Later, in 2012, Briar Cliff named its home floor in honor of Nacke.

Funeral services are tentatively scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Monday at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Sioux City. There will be a public memorial at Briar Cliff, to be announced later.

Nic Nelson, Briar Cliff men's coach since 2011-12, said Nacke's impact on the college and the program through today can't be overstated. Nelson noted Nacke helped steer much of the funding to open the Newman Flanagan Center for basketball teams and other uses in 1982.

Nelson said Nacke kept his interest in the program for years after he stopped coaching, at times offering tips such as using more full-court pressing defensively.

"He loved to talk basketball. He had a keen eye for the game," Nelson said, while adding that Nacke was much more than a high-achieving coach.

Briar Cliff University President Bev Wharton agreed.

“This is a sad day for Briar Cliff and the entire Siouxland community. Coach Nacke’s legacy transcends basketball. More than a basketball coach, he epitomized everything we stand for at BCU. He was a devoted husband, father and coach who cared deeply for his family, his players and this university. He will be greatly missed," Wharton said.

Nacke was a coach at Bishop Heelan High School in Sioux City prior to his Briar Cliff coaching, which covered 26 seasons. Of Nacke's 26 teams through 1997, 11 made it to the national tournament.

A Remsen St. Mary's High School graduate, Nacke played on the basketball team at Westmar College in Le Mars. He gave up his final two seasons of basketball at Westmar to take the Granville Spalding high school coaching job. He went on to coach for 41 seasons, three at Spalding, 12 at Heelan and 26 at Briar Cliff.

Ron Schultz still lives in Sioux City after serving as Nacke's Briar Cliff assistant coach for 22 years through the mid-1990s. As a high school senior at Heelan, Schultz was also coached for one year by Nacke. Schultz said Nacke embraced the coaching principles of UCLA's high-achieving John Wooden, "to be fundamentally good in everything you do."

The 1978-79 Briar Cliff squad featuring sophomore Rolando Frazer reached the quarterfinals of the national tournament in Kansas City, losing to eventual champion Drury (Mo.), 89-84.

Frazer, part of the Panama Pipeline that drew national attention to Briar Cliff, as a senior in 1980-81 led the nation in scoring and the Chargers were ranked No. 1 in the final poll before falling to Hillsdale (Mich.) in the national tournament.

Twenty-nine Panamanians played for Nacke, and four — Frazer, Eddie Warren, Ernesto “Tito” Malcolm and Mario Butler — were drafted by NBA teams. Schultz said it wasn't a case of riding the Panamanian players to victories; Nacke knew a complete team was necessary to rise to the top of NAIA ranks.

"The talent meshed together real well. He was good with the X's and O's. I never saw a time I thought he was out-coached. He was a great motivator," Schultz said.

Schultz noted Nacke had a fiery side. Due to his sideline antics, including flinging his suit jacket, opposing student sections frequently chanted, “Sit down Ray!”

Schultz said it is tough to lose his longtime friend, noting "the end of an era. He was a great guy ... It is a sad day at Briar Cliff. He established the Briar Cliff basketball program."

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County and education reporter

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