The road from Fairbanks to Madison Square Garden has taken Mike Dunlap all over the basketball world and the real world. His resume is long and winding: Three years in Australia coaching the Adelaide professional team. Two seasons in the NBA as an assistant for George Karl. Two NCAA Division II national championships as the head coach at Denver's Metro State. Appearances in the NCAA Division III national championship as the head coach at Cal Lutheran. Jobs as Division I assistant at Arizona, Oregon, USC, Iowa, Loyola-Marymount.
And this season, briefly, a return trip to Alaska.
Dunlap, 53, made a rare visit to his home state last week for the Great Alaska Shootout as an assistant coach for St. John's. He's attempting to restore luster to the storied New York City program as a member of first-year coach Steve Lavin's staff.
St. John's is the latest stop in a journey that began when he was a kid in Fairbanks.
Dunlap discovered his future when he was little. He enjoyed an up-close view of the UAF basketball team because his dad was the team doctor and had a seat on the bench.
He really got hooked when he started watching Clair Markey's teams at Lathrop High. Markey had previously been a coach at Seattle University, and he brought an exciting brand of basketball when he came north.
"He brought transition basketball to Alaska," Dunlap said. "His style of play was different for Alaska. I remember as a boy watching them in fascination."
Dunlap played for Markey in high school -- he was a 5-foot-10 point guard for the Malemutes -- and made it to the state tournament his sophomore season in 1974. He graduated in 1976 and got a two-year degree at Pierce College before going to Loyola-Marymount, where he played two seasons of basketball, becoming Alaska's first Division I player.
He's been a coach ever since, beginning with a job as a graduate assistant at Loyola.
Upon his hiring at St. John's, Dunlap was praised by a litany of marquee coaches as a basketball genius:
• "Within the coaching circle, he is looked upon as one of the next Coach Ks or Roy Williams or Calhouns. I don't know a better teacher or mentor than Mike. He is a walking encyclopedia of basketball knowledge," said coaching great George Raveling.
• "Name any top-level, elite coach in the game -- the only difference between Mike and them is their address. There is no higher level of coaching ability than his. There is absolutely no one better," said Karl.
• "He is one of the outstanding minds in the game," said retired Arizona coach Lute Olson.
Dunlap, in turn, lists a Mount Rushmore of coaches who have helped him get where he is.
The list begins with Markey and includes John Wooden and Pete Newell -- two of the greatest ever, men Dunlap was lucky enough to forge relationships with while playing and coaching in California. It includes Raveling, who hired him as an assistant at USC, and Karl.
"I've been very, very lucky, because I've had great mentors," he said.
Dunlap turned down an offer last season to become Arizona's interim head coach when Olson became ill, but he declined because it wasn't a long-term offer. "I would've been a lame duck," he said.
But a Division I head coaching job remains his goal.
"I'm going to be a head coach in D-I, I've just gotta be patient," he said. "I've turned down some offers because I didn't think they put in the resources to win. I have to be careful, and I just have to stay positive."
Coaching keeps Dunlap busy most of the year, so he seldom gets to Alaska, even though he still has a brother and sister in Fairbanks and a sister in Anchorage. The Dunlap family settled in Fairbanks two generations ago when Mike's dad opened the Tanana Valley Clinic.
Throughout the Shootout, a number of old acquaintances -- including guys he played against while at Lathrop -- have stopped to say hello.
"Players from East, Dimond, West," he said. "It's like old-home week."
Contact Beth Bragg at adn.com/contact/bbragg or call her at 257-4335.