Catching up with Coach K (No, not that one)
By Gary Sussman
First round of the NCAA tourney, 12 vs. 5, Notre Dame trying to hold off the future leaders of America from Princeton. The Tigers, Ivy League champs, 23-6, with a 3 to win it…Devin Cannady rises up…and misses. And after the agonizing two-point loss, there on the bench, resplendent in his tailored suit, with words of encouragement from one shooter to another…Coach Kittles. Coach K. I didn’t see this one coming.
There are certain players that you can easily see keeping basketball in their lives after the playing has stopped. J Kidd, not a stretch. Sam Cassell (who to this day, performed one of the more memorable dances in a shower after a loss at Indiana that remains in my Top 5 highlights…that’s all you get- this is a family show…but I digress) another point guard with a very high basketball IQ. Jerry Stackhouse, D League COY, you could see that transition. But Kerry?
“ Did I see it coming when Kerry was a player? The honest answer is no, “ said Bobby Marks, the former AGM at the Nets who now is one of Woj’s merry band of basketball brothers @TheVertical, holding down the role of Front Office Insider. “However, as the year’s passed and Kerry got away from basketball, went back to Villanova and got his MBA, I could tell he was intrigued about coaching and the front office element. I would get calls about coming to practice, picking my brain about different transactions. So when I heard he landed at Princeton, I was not surprised. He has a lot to offer, not just on the court, but molding each player into a young man off the court.”
You can Google his Wikipedia, but needless to say, Kerry, a resident of Bergen County, had an outstanding collegiate career, a very solid and commendable pro career (14.1 ppg over nine seasons), made a lot of money, was wise with his finances, has two degrees and five kids at home. But when you hear that line, “I wanted to spend more time with my family, “ please know that usually has an expiration date. And so it was with the now (and new) Coach K.
“ I needed to scratch that competitive itch. It just doesn’t burn away. And with the kids all in school, I wanted something that was close to home. There was a common friend who knew Mitch (Henderson, the Princeton head coach), there was an opening, and so I decided to go for it.”
Kerry!!!! Kerry!!!! Kerry!!!!!
The rantings of Coach Cal, pre- 1 and done, when he was coaching the pros, with one of those, #30, who was many times the object of those high-volume sideline exhorts. Loud and persistent.
“Oh yeah, I played for Cal. That’s not my style with the players. I talk to them about time management, explain the grind, talk to them about how they view themselves, how they can get more out of themselves. We have a unique set of challenges. The school attracts really smart kids who are very ambitious. But that doesn’t mean they have all the answers when it comes to basketball.”
So are you just there for moral support, a hoop version of Dr. Phil, or are you thoroughly immersed in this coaching thing?
“ I’m involved in everything, from game planning to recruiting. And I love the recruiting, to see if I can beat the competition, to have a young man view Princeton as the better choice.”
And then there was this bit of insight.
“ The parents are too involved, they control the conversation. The kids are not engaged, so they make a college selection, find out it’s not for them, and transfer. When I was recruited by Villanova, I got on a plane, came to campus, met the coaches and made my decision. It’s like when you’re driving a car. When you’re a passenger, you don’t really pay attention to the road, and signs and speed limits, etc. But when you’re at the wheel, you see everything, including the potholes.”
Always engaging, always courteous, always thoughtful. As a person and a player. So is this it, college sidelines, teaching and mentoring young men about layups and life?
“ I don’t know. All I know is I am really enjoying this right now. Nobody likes every part of his job, but I love connecting with people, showing them how to embrace life and where basketball fits in, and just giving back to the game that gave me so much.”
And of course, scratching that itch.
I always felt one of the toughest things to do was to fail out of college. Ranking right behind would be getting suspended from a pro team. Both require pissing off a lot of people.
During a past Olympics, I recall staying with water polo because Doc Emrick was calling the match.
Since I received some great ducats for the Yankees this weekend, I would appreciate if Jeets could do something about the rain.
Kittles photos: Beverly Schaefer