High School/AAU Coaches Sound Off (Part 4)

In Michigan's search for its next basketball coach much has been made of the next coach's ability to recruit and relate to the high school and AAU coaches in the state. Ironically, no one has spoken to many of the people that must be related to, so GoBlueWolverine has been busy doing just that. In part four we spoke to coach of the 2007 Class B state champion, Detroit Country Day's, Kurt Keener.

Kurt Kenner has won seven state titles in his 29 years at the helm of Detroit Country Day's program. Along the way he has coached such standouts as Chris Webber, Shane Battier, and Alex Legion.

What do you believe the perception of Michigan is?

"Well, first off let me say that I had a good relationship with Coach Tommy Amaker and I also knew Mike Jackson real well. I felt that they were very approachable people and I had a fine relationship with them. I believe frustration has set in with Michigan.  They had some bad luck last year with injuries and then this year they could not win the key game and that hurt their chances of making it to the tournament. I am not down on the University of Michigan, but I think their self perception is that we are so good that we can get the job done just by getting a new coach. That is going to be tough for them to do because they really need to upgrade their facilities. You look at new facilities at Ohio State, Michigan State, and the Big Ten as a whole…they are getting it done with facilities. Until Michigan takes some aggressive action they are going to have a hard time of it."

What type of coach could get to help them turn it around?

"Michigan will have a hard time recruiting the blue chip kid and trying to move back up into the Big Ten without upgrades. Even with Michigan getting the best coach possible, it will still be hard to overcome these deficiencies.  Michigan is a great institution with second class facilities.  Without those, they will have to try and out work other schools for recruits. Whoever they get will have to hire a staff that is well connected to this area and the state of Michigan… as well as Chicago and Illinois. Michigan can recruit anywhere and they have to get assistants that can do this. The coach that comes to Michigan has to salvage this recruiting class of Legion, Harris and Grady. If they don’t, they will be battling Penn State for the bottom of the Big Ten. Michigan will struggle and it will be very tough. Michigan is losing four seniors and it might take some time for these guys to get going, but at least they would be ready by their sophomore year to really get the program going. If they don’t come, it will be really tough on that coach.  He will be given a grace period to get his guys in, but by then the classes of 2008, 2009 and beyond could have already been negatively affected.  Losing those kids could hurt them getting it turned around."

Can you tell us what you know about Coach Beilein of West Virginia and Chris Lowery of Southern Illinois University?

"Well Coach Beilein is a coach that I have never met.  I think he did a good job at West Virginia. He has taken the program their and really built it into a solid team."

"I had a chance to meet Coach Chris Lowery during last years NCAA tournament. His team practiced at our gym and I was very impressed. Chris would be a really good choice.   He takes kids that are not elite and makes them into good basketball teams. He would be a guy that could be a good fit under the circumstances at Michigan with no facilities.  Plus he has Midwest ties.  He would be very good for Michigan."

What could Michigan do to be more visible?

"Well I look at what Tom Izzo has done up at East Lansing and they could take a few notes from him. He has an "Izzo Shootout" where the top teams in the state come and play in a tournament that he puts on. Tom puts on a great weekend for the players and kids to have a great time with that tournament and by doing so, the kids and the coaches get a chance to see the great atmosphere and facilities that they have up at Michigan State. Why doesn’t Michigan do that?  Maybe because they don’t have the facilities to do it.  They could try and do something like that to let the kids see Michigan. There is a lot of talent in this state and there is no reason at all for a DePaul to come in here and take a Mr. Basketball (Wilson Chandler- Benton Harbor, 2005) away from this state or a player as good as a Darquavis Tucker (Saginaw Arthur Hill) and pull them away from Michigan.  If the kids don’t go to Michigan then they should be going to Michigan State. Bottom line… Michigan has always been successful with Michigan kids.  They need to get back to that."

Do you think that Michigan has been hurt by not being able to lean on their recent most successful pros like Michigan State does with Magic Johnson and Mateen Cleaves for recruiting?

"Absolutely! The Fab Five was a phenomenon and had a huge impact on college basketball and a whole generation of kids. It is sad and tragic the Chris Webber is the person that can’t be a part of Michigan. They chose to put a self-imposed sanction on themselves so that Chris would be the scapegoat and they could get into the good graces of the NCAA. Chris has returned to Detroit a basketball hero and U of M can’t deal with him. Tommy Amaker wanted Chris to be able to come to Ann Arbor… and this is a fact… to work out and talk with the guys and be a part of the program. North Carolina and Michigan State fall back on their guys and it helps them when they are recruiting these kids."   

It's clear that you believe Michigan has fallen a bit.  How important do you think Michigan still is in this state?

"Very Important.  They have a tremendous alumni base, they have great tradition, great academics, and the Michigan family in general looks out for each other. That is one of the reasons Alex Legion decided he was looking forward to being a part of the program. I think to have two good programs in this state at one time would be great for the fans here. I think in some ways, Tom Izzo would like that because it would raise the level of play in that rivalry."

Stay tuned to GoBlueWolverine for more in our series of interviews with the top high school and AAU coaches in the state.

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