Ryan Dusha ’01 is the first to acknowledge he had some legendary coaching mentors.
There was longtime Saint John’s University basketball coach Jim Smith, for whom Dusha played from 1997 to 2001. And before that, at St. Cloud Cathedral, there was the equally iconic Bob Karn, who has spent the past 52 years teaching and coaching at the school and has more wins than any coach in Minnesota prep baseball history.
And there was also Daryl Oja, an institution at Melrose High School where he served as both the head football and boys basketball coach. Dusha was one of his assistants for two seasons before taking over as the head boys basketball coach himself in 2003.
Oja then went on to join his staff as an assistant.
“Coach Smith impacted my life so much,” Dusha recalls. “He treated everyone the same, no matter if they were the best or the worst player on the team. And that really contributed to a culture of inclusiveness and togetherness. We all cared about him because we knew how much he cared about us. Bob Karn has always been ahead of his time. He’s an old-school guy with a new-school approach. He does all the little things right and I learned a lot from him about respecting the game and your opponents.
“Daryl Oja was a Hall of Fame head coach here in Melrose for many years. And he’s been a huge influence on me. You could see how much he cared about the kids and respected the game. He taught me how important it is to fight for your players. So I took a lot of different things from each of those guys.”
Judging by his own coaching career, the lessons seem to have stuck. Dusha has gone on to become the winningest head coach in Melrose’s storied boys basketball history – leading the Dutchmen to state tournament berths in 2015 and 2019 (his team was in the section finals in 2020 before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought the season to a premature halt).
His 2015 squad took home the Class 2A state title – Melrose’s first state championship since the glory days of future ABA and NBA star Mark Olberding in the early 1970s.
But beyond all that, he’s also formed a close bond with the many players he’s coached over the years, as well as with those he’s worked with at the school and in the community.
That’s probably why Melrose activities director Jonathan Ruoff found so many willing to lend their support when he decided to nominate Dusha for a 2022 Double-Goal Coach Award.
The awards are handed out by the Positive Coaching Alliance, a national nonprofit organization that provides online tools, courses and workshops to promote more positive approaches to coaching youth and high school athletes.
The regional winners from around the country were announced earlier this month. And Dusha was one of just four coaches from Minnesota selected.
“It’s very humbling,” Dusha said. “As a coach, you don’t really know the impact you have on people until later on when the kids get a little older and come back. They have families and they’ve gone on to do different things. And they’ll tell you that you were an influence in their lives. But during the season, you’re just trying to get through the day and do what’s right. You’re focused on the here and now and you don’t always take the time to realize the bigger picture in play.
“You just hope you’re taking the right approach.”
The nomination process was comprehensive - requiring responses to several essay questions and plenty of detail, as well as obtaining many references from players, parents, fellow coaches and administrators with whom the coach has worked over the years.
Dusha joins swim coach Nathan Meyer – a 2003 SJU graduate – as Melrose coaches who have earned PCA awards.
“First and foremost, he develops relationships with these boys,” Ruoff said of Dusha. “He truly cares about them and they know that. He has the kind of relationships with them that we want all of our coaches to have with all of our kids.
“No. 2 is that he does things the right way. He’s always on top of things. He’s organized and he’s easy to work with. If there is a gym issue, he’s always the first person to jump in and help out. He doesn’t get too up with all of the success he’s had and he doesn’t get too low when times are down. He’s a great coach and an even better person.”
Dusha’s old head coach agreed he is deserving of the honor.
“I’m really happy for Ryan,” Smith said. “When I recruited him from Cathedral, I saw him play many times. I was always impressed by his smart play. He also was a team player and a leader. This continued when he played four years at Saint John's. Even though he was outsized often in the post, he did a great job.
“I have watched his team play and it is evident that he knows the game extremely well and his players love to play for him. His character is outstanding. He’s a good man and a great coach.”
From the field of 50 regional winners, the PCA’s selection committee will chose 25 national winners who will each receive $500, a certificate and recognition on the PCA's website and in its newsletters and media campaigns.
Then, one coach will be selected to win the Taube Family Prize in Recognition of Excellence in Coaching and be named PCA’s National Coach of the Year. That coach will receive $10,000, of which $2,500 will go to the coach and $7,500 to the youth sports organization or school of their choice.
“Melrose is such a wonderful and supportive basketball community,” Dusha said. “That was the case long before I got here. We’ve worked hard as a staff to develop relationships with players that aren’t just about basketball, but about so many other areas of life important to them as well. We’ve tried to create an environment that’s inclusive and values everyone.
“And it’s just so gratifying to see that people think we’ve been successful in doing that.”