DORSET — Mike Olson has amassed over 500 career wins throughout a 32-year coaching career that included many different stops along the way, most recently at Long Trail School where he has steered the Mountain Lions’ boys basketball program since 2019.
Fresh off the program’s most successful season, which saw LTS reach the Division IV semifinal and finish the season 21-2, the 64-year-old Olson has made the decision to step away from coaching. He cited a desire to focus more on his personal life and felt the timing was right.
“Everyone plays many roles in their lives,“ he said. “I’ve been a coach for a long time; it’s time I dedicate more time as a husband, as a father and as a grandfather.”
It’s fitting that Olson’s career comes to an end in Vermont, as the Green Mountain State is where it all started for the Wisconsin native. After playing NCAA Division III basketball at St. Norbert College in his home state, Olson began his coaching career with a coaching assistantship at Norwich University in 1982.
And what a decorated career it was, one that spanned 858 games, and 538 wins.
The game of basketball took the now former LTS coach all around the world over the past four decades; he has conducted clinics and camps in Scotland, England, Greece, Iceland, Sweden, and Australia.
“All of the opportunities that I have had, I just feel very blessed,” Olson said.
And the opportunities have been plentiful. In 2014, he coached the USA U18 Select Team to a silver medal after going 6-1 in the Albert Schweitzer Tournament in Mannheim, Germany.
Olson is a member of both the Black Hills State University and South Dakota Intercollegiate Conference Hall of Fames after a successful nine-year stint at the NCAA Division II school that saw the Yellow Jackets capture four conference championships between 1990-1999.
From there, Olson spent three years at the helm of Minnesota State University Moorhead before breaking into the NCAA Division I coaching ranks in 2002 as Associate Head Coach at Dartmouth College. After three years in Dartmouth, Olson stayed in New Hampshire as the head man at Kimball Union Academy where he built one of the most successful prep high school basketball programs in New England.
His 10 years at the private school in Meriden offered Olson some of his most rewarding moments, helping student-athletes enrich their lives both on and off the basketball court.
“I think that’s one of the things I loved the most about Kimball Union — schools like that give kids an opportunity, and we’ve had some of those kids,” Olson said. “They graduated from a prep school, they graduated from college and now they are successful professionals in all walks of life. You admire those kids so much that you take something from each and every one of them.”
Among those given an opportunity by Olson and Kimball Union was Nathan Knight, who played for Olson during the 2014-2015 season. Knight grew up in Syracuse, New York and at the age of 11 lost his older sister Yeisha Howard to a stabbing.
Knight came to New Hampshire around 50 pounds overweight and unsure of his abilities on the court.
“He lacked confidence — we gave him a chance and we believed in him more than he believed in himself,” Olson said.
Knight shined in his post-graduate year and was awarded a scholarship to William & Mary. He excelled at the collegiate level, giving him an opportunity to play professional basketball.
He appeared in 33 games during the 2020-2021 NBA season with the Atlanta Hawks and spent the 2021-2022 season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, playing in 37 contests and drawing two starts.
Olson’s success stories extend far beyond one player. Of the 52 seniors that played for him during his tenure at Kimball, 49 went on to play college basketball. Many now play professionally overseas.
In another full-circle moment, one of Olson’s former players, Devon Thomas, just signed to play professionally for the Ho Chi Minh City Wings in Vietnam, who are coached by Olson’s son, Erik.
The two haven’t seen each other in over two and a half years because of the pandemic and both coaches’ demanding schedules. One of the first things on Olson’s to-do list now that he has stepped away from coaching is making the trip to reconnect with his son.
“I’m gonna recharge my battery this summer and then in the fall, I’m gonna go spend a month with him,” he said. “Life’s too short.”