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President Gordon B. Hinckley isn’t a name that comes up often when reporters talk with a college basketball coach outside his team’s locker room two hours before the biggest game in school history.

But Mark Madsen is a Latter-day Saint and no typical basketball coach. So the late church leader’s name came up Tuesday night in Las Vegas in a hallway at the Orleans Arena as he spoke with me and Church News reporter Trent Toone.

While his Utah Valley University players moved around us to warm up with stretch bands and jump ropes, the interview naturally turned to leadership. After all, Madsen was about to take the team he led to a school-record 28 wins this season into an NIT semifinal game on ESPN2, a tremendous national platform for a UVU program that became a full-fledged Division I member little more than a dozen years ago.

“I went back to graduate school to try to become a better leader, to become a better communicator, to try to enhance a skill set,” he said.

While he was trying to choose which school to attend to get an MBA, Stanford offered him a dual track. He could work as a graduate manager with the basketball team he’d played for in four NCAA tournaments and pursue his master’s degree in business administration at the same time.

“The combination of education and basketball was really appealing,” he said. “The phrase, ‘Get as much education as possible,’ has always been in the back of my mind.”

That is a familiar phrase to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but to be precise, I asked Madsen where he heard it.

“From President Hinckley,” he said. “That is just a great mantra for life, always be seeking education, whether it’s a formal class setting or just by observation, whatever the case may be.”

UVU lost the game by the slimmest of margins, 88-86 in overtime on Tuesday night. On Wednesday afternoon, Cal announced it had hired Madsen as its new head coach.

Here’s what Cal is getting, according to UVU administrators I spoke with at the game on Tuesday night:

  • “I tell everybody that I know that Mark Madsen is the one-and-only, 100% honest basketball coach in America. He would rather get his arm cut off than break a rule.” — Nate Mathis, assistant athletic director for corporate partners.
  • “As good of a coach as he is, he’s an even better human, and it’s hard to find that in college basketball. ... Mark is one of those people that everything he says is the truth. You don’t get that a lot in college athletics. What you see is what you get with Mark.” — Jared Sumsion, athletic director.
  • “He’s a special person. I’ve worked with a lot of coaches on contracts and other things, and the thing I would say about Mark Madsen is he’s always thinking about his players and he’s also thinking about his staff, the other coaches.” — Val Peterson, vice president of administration and strategic relations.
  • “When we interviewed Mark my immediate reaction was No. 1, he understood excellence; he’s got a track record of it. No. 2, I had a sense that he had character and care, and for UVU our fundamental value is exceptional care, so I knew he would care about our students, our players and the institution, not just basketball and himself. No. 3, he had coached already (assistant with the Lakers, head coach in the G League), so he had experience.

“I’m a university president with very little previous exposure to athletics, so you’re looking for those technical skills and the leadership skills. I always hire based on leadership. Leaders, regardless of your circumstances and your resources, will build men and women and make things happen. With Mark, you don’t see an ego. He gives credit to the players. I’m very proud of that hire.” — UVU President Astrid Tuminez.

My recent stories

Church names 61 new Area Seventies during April 2023 general conference leadership session (March 30)

UVU’s Mark Madsen has a decision to make (March 29)

About the church

What I’m reading

Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon influenced Herman Melville? This is a really interesting read.

Great story on a player who BYU’s softball coach offered a scholarship when she was 12 and who this year had to change positions in a pinch.

Latter-day Saint teammates describe UVU’s historic run from devastating loss to NIT final four.

Wired published an odd profile of Latter-day Saint writer Brandon Sanderson, the biggest fantasy fiction writer in the world. The writer takes bizarre shots at Latter-day Saints. I won’t say anything more other than to share Deseret News editor Hal Boyd’s response.

Behind the scenes

Utah Valley University President Astrid Tuminez talks with ESPN2 sideline reporter Myron Medcalf during the NIT semifinals.
Utah Valley University President Astrid Tuminez talks with ESPN2 sideline reporter Myron Medcalf during an NIT semifinal game between UVU and UAB at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on March 28, 2023. | Tad Walch, Deseret News
Utah Valley University President Astrid Tuminez cheers during an NIT semifinal game between UVU and UAB in Las Vegas.
Utah Valley University President Astrid Tuminez cheers for the school’s men’s basketball team during an NIT semifinal game between UVU and UAB at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on March 28, 2023. | Isaac Hale, UVU