Paul Lusk is in his sixth season as Missouri State’s sideline boss. The former MVC standout player continues to build up a proud Bears' basketbal program and looks to return it to prominence in the league he grew up in.
In his five seasons on the Springfield campus, Lusk has coached eight MVC Scholar-Athlete Team selections, four All-MVC players, four All-Freshman Team picks, three members of the MVC All-Newcomer Team and two members of The Valley Most-Improved Team.
In 2015-16, junior Dequon Miller became the fifth Missouri State player to earn MVC Newcomer of the Year laurels, highlighting a season in which the squad's rookies stole the spotlight. Freshman standouts Obediah Church and Jarred Dixon both earned MVC All-Freshman Team distinction, and super sophomore Chris Kendrix nearly doubled his scoring output from his freshman season to earn Valley Most-Improved Team honors.
The young Bears spent much of Lusk's fifth season battling through injuries and adversity with returning starters Dorrian Williams and Austin Ruder combining to miss 39 games on the injured reserve. However, the Bears showed tremendous resolve, collecting a clutch road win at Oklahoma State, defeating NCAA Tournament sweetheart Northern Iowa at home, and reeling off three straight Valley road wins in the month of January. MSU also finished the season strong, winning four of its last five at home and battling No. 2 seed Evansville to the wire in the second round of the MVC Tournament in St. Louis.
In 2014-15, the Bears managed an 8-6 record at JQH Arena to complete the club’s 44th straight season with a winning record at home. The Bears also finished in the top 100 of all Division I programs in home attendance for the 30th straight season. Postseason honors in Lusk’s fourth year included a pair of MVC Scholar-Athlete performers with first-team pick Austin Ruder and second-team selection Tyler McCullough -- both sophomores -- setting the pace. Williams was also named to the MVC Most-Improved Team by league beat writers.
The Bears fought to find their identity at times down the stretch, but tied for fourth place overall in a competitive Missouri Valley race. All told, nine MSU opponents played postseason games in 2014-15, including four in the NCAA field, with the Bears going 7-7 against postseason clubs.
Lusk led the Bears to their first 20-win season and postseason appearance of his tenure in 2013-14 with MSU’s trip to the Valley Tournament semifinals since 2011 and a CIT first-round appearance. After his third season in Springfield, Lusk was recognized with distinguished honors. He finished third in the MVC Coach of the Year voting and was named a finalist for the 2014 Skip Prosser Man of the Year Award. The Prosser Award is presented annually to honor those elite coaches who not only achieve success on the basketball court but who display moral integrity off of it. Lusk’s Bears played four top-10 ranked teams in his third season and parlayed that experience into manufacturing the eighth-best turnaround in the NCAA Division I ranks. MSU improved by a +9.0 margin in the span of a year, the third-best improvement in MSU history as well.
Senior Jarmar Gulley earned second-team All-MVC honors in 2014, while classmate Nathan Scheer snagged MVC Scholar-Athlete Team honors for a third straight year. Likewise, Ruder earned MVC All-Freshman team honors after he broke the Bears’ freshman 3-point record (72), making him just the fourth freshman in Valley history to score 70 or more long-range shots in a season.
The 2013-14 squad ended its season with a 20-13 ledger, including a 14-3 mark at JQH Arena. MSU finished 85th in the final regular-season RPI, making it the highest-rated team in Division I to not make the 2014 NIT or NCAA fields.
In 2012-13, Lusk fielded the seventh-youngest team in Division I basketball but led MSU to a winning record at home and the fifth-best turnover average in the nation (10.2). The Bears also set program high-water marks for most games ever against ranked opponents with six and the best single-season scoring total for a freshman class in program history.
The rebuilding campaign saw the young club finish in the NCAA’s top 200 in the final RPI and the top 100 in home attendance average, despite a final 11-22 ledger. The squad’s lone senior Anthony Downing was named All-MVC honorable mention, while Nathan Scheer earned a spot on the MVC All-Bench Team and MVC Scholar-Athlete first team. Christian Kirk was also a postseason honoree with MVC Scholar-Athlete second-team distinction.
The busiest road schedule in school history saw the 2012-13 Bears log 21,373 miles of ground and air miles that included a summer tour of Costa Rica and Thanksgiving trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. After a couple of last-second defeats in the Puerto Vallarta event, the Bears started the MVC schedule with a 3-1 record, including a home win over rival Southern Illinois.
In his debut season at Missouri State in 2011-12, Lusk guided the Bears to a share of third place in the Missouri Valley Conference, tied a school record for most road wins and finished 16-16 overall with arguably the toughest non-conference schedule in the program’s history. Close calls and tight finishes became the team’s calling card with five overtime games and 17 games decided by single digits. MSU’s 12 single-digit losses were the most in the MVC and program’s most since 2002.
Lusk’s inaugural campaign was also highlighted by a 4-0 start that included one-sided road wins at Nevada and Arkansas State. The Bears began league play with a 12-point win at No. 19 Creighton, the team’s first Top 25 win since 2008 and first-ever road win over a ranked opponent. The Bears came within an eyelash of beating Big East power West Virginia in the Las Vegas Classic and also had No. 18 Creighton on the ropes in the final seconds of a home game at JQH Arena in two potential season-changing decisions.
Downing went on to earn a spot on the 2012 MVC All-Newcomer Team, and Michael Bizoukas, a one-year senior transfer from DePaul, led The Valley in assists and assist-to-turnover ratio. The team’s six returning lettermen were also widely publicized in 2011-12 as senior Kyle Weems closed out his career as the program’s No. 2 career scorer while earning All-MVC first team honors and becoming a finalist for the Lou Henson Mid-Major National Player of the Year Award. The Bears claimed MVC Newcomer of the Week honors eight times, the second-highest total by one school in league history.
The 45-year-old coach came to Missouri State after seven seasons as an assistant coach at Purdue. When former Boilermaker associate Cuonzo Martin accepted the Missouri State job in 2008, Lusk was promoted to Purdue's associate head coach under Purdue’s top man, Matt Painter, a position he held until coming to MSU.
During his tenure on the Purdue coaching staff, Lusk helped guide the Boilermakers to five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances with a collective 129-45 ledger during that span. He first came to West Lafayette in 2004-05 as an assistant under then-coach Gene Keady and stayed on board at Purdue when Painter took the coaching reigns in 2005-06.
Lusk was named by FoxSports.com as one of the nation’s top 25 high-major assistant coaches in the summer of 2010. In April 2011, Lusk was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Hall of Fame. After his first year at MSU, CollegeSportsMadness.com named Lusk its 2012 MVC coach of the year after taking the Bears from a predicted sixth-place finish to tie for third.
Before moving to Purdue, he spent one season on Painter’s staff at Southern Illinois in 2003-04, a campaign that also culminated in an NCAA Tournament berth, a No. 15 national ranking and a 25-5 overall record.
Prior to that, he spent one season as head coach at (Division III) University of Dubuque in Iowa. His head coaching debut came on the heels of three seasons at Division II Missouri Southern State in Joplin where he was an assistant under coach Robert Corn. The Lions were 71-21 in that span (1999-2002) with an NCAA Tournament appearance in 1999-2000. His coaching career started with a one-year stint as an assistant at Southwestern Illinois College in Belleville where coach Jay Harrington’s Blue Storm finished 19-12.
The native of New Baden, Ill., began his playing career at Iowa in 1990 where he spent two years before he found a home at SIU under coach Rich Herrin. He helped guide the Salukis to three straight NCAA Tournament trips (1993-95), earning All-MVC second-team honors in 1994 with a 15.2 scoring average as a junior. As a senior, he earned a spot on the Valley Scholar-Athlete and All-Tournament teams and finished his career with 1,666 points.
He went on to play professionally both in the United States and Argentina and earned two different invitations to the Phoenix Suns’ training camp.
A 1995 graduate of SIU-Carbondale, Lusk and his wife Melanie have a daughter, Maddie, and a son, Jack. The coup le both earned their Masters of Science in Education from Missouri State in December 2000. Lusk’s current contract runs through March 31, 2019.