Former SMC assistant coach hired at UNC Wilmington

Published 9:14 am Monday, April 7, 2014

Kevin Keatts, an assistant at Southwestern Michigan College in 1996-97, was named the new head coach at UNC-Wilmington Tuesday. (Submitted photo)

Kevin Keatts, an assistant at Southwestern Michigan College in 1996-97, was named the new head coach at UNC-Wilmington Tuesday. (Submitted photo)

WILMINGTON, North Carolina — Kevin Keatts, who started his collegiate coaching career at Southwestern Michigan College, became the 10th mens basketball coach in UNC Wilmington history Thursday.

Boldly proclaiming, “I’m a winner,” and promising “an exciting brand of basketball” newly-christened Seahawks coach Keatts said Tuesday during his formal announcement.

Keatts, 41, was named UNCW’s new head coach late last week, but didn’t appear in Wilmington until an introductory press conference and welcome gathering was staged Tuesday afternoon at Trask Coliseum. Keatts previously served as associate head coach at the University of Louisville for Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino.

“With everyone’s hard work, we will get this program back to where it was in ’06,” Keatts told a crowd of more than 500 students, faculty, staff, alumni and community supporters. “We will turn the program around. I had the opportunity to talk the players earlier and the one thing that stood out to me is that they all have a commitment to winning.

“We will play fast. We will be the best-conditioned team in the country. We’ll run, we’ll fast break and it will be exciting for the players, the fans and the media. Everyone will enjoy the way we play basketball. I’m extremely happy and can’t wait to get started.”

Keatts joined Louisville as an assistant coach in April of 2011 after heading up the program at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va. He led Hargrave to a pair of national prep championships and three runner-up finishes during his time at the prep school. He was elevated to associate head coach at UofL this past January.

The engaging Keatts is known for his recruiting expertise. He helped the Cardinals compile two straight top-10 recruiting classes en route to a pair of Big East Conference championships and NCAA Final Four appearances in 2012 and 2013. Last season, the Cardinals won a school-record 35 games and captured the NCAA title.

This season, the Cardinals, the 2013 national champions, picked up where they left off, streaking to seven straight wins en route to a third consecutive appearance in the NCAA’s Sweet Sixteen before dropping a close game to rival Kentucky.

Keatts is no secret to those in the basketball world. After surveying more than 200 collegiate coaches, He was named the third most respected/feared assistant coach in July of 2013 by’s Jeff Goodman.

Prior to arriving at Louisville, Keatts served as the head coach at Hargrave. In 10 seasons with two separate stints at Hargrave (1999-2001, 2003-2011), he compiled an impressive 263-17 record with two national prep championships (2004, 2008), three runner-up finishes (2005, 2006, 2009) and two other appearances among the final four prep teams (2007, 2010).

Keatts, who was inducted into Hargrave’s Hall of Fame in 2011, won his second national prep title in 2008 with an unblemished 29-0 record — the school’s first undefeated season. His teams lost one or fewer games six times.

Hargrave produced 103 players who signed NCAA Division I men’s basketball scholarships during Keatts’ 10 seasons and 18 others played on the NCAA Division II level. Current UofL senior Luke Hancock — the Most Outstanding Player of the 2013 NCAA Final Four — played at Hargrave under Keatts.

Keatts has coached nine players at the prep level who have reached the NBA, including Joe Alexander, Jordan Crawford, Josh Howard, Vernon Macklin, Mike Scott, Marreese Speights, Sam Young, David West and Korleone Young.

Keatts also had stops as an assistant coach at Marshall and Southwestern Michigan College. He worked for two seasons at Marshall from 2001-03 under former head coach Greg White and assisted with the program at Southwestern Michigan in Dowagiac during the 1996-97 campaign.

Keatts was a two-sport standout in football and basketball at Heritage High School in Lynchburg, Va., and went on to play four seasons of basketball at Ferrum (Va.) College.

Keatts is one of 11 former Pitino aides now working as active NCAA Division I head coaches. The others include Mick Cronin (Cincinnati), Billy Donovan (Florida), Steve Masiello (Manhattan), Marvin Menzies (New Mexico State), Richard Pitino (Minnesota), Kareem Richardson (Missouri-Kansas City), Herb Sendek (Arizona State), Reggie Theus (Cal State Northridge), Kevin Willard (Seton Hall) and Tubby Smith (Texas Tech). Overall, Pitino has had 27 former assistants become head coaches through the years.

Keatts takes over after the termination of Buzz Peterson on March 11 and follows in the footsteps of Bill Brooks (1952-72), Mel Gibson (1973-86), Robert McPherson (1987-90), Kevin Eastman (1991-94), Jerry Wainwright (1995-2002), Brad Brownell (2003-06), Benny Moss (2007-10), Brooks Lee (2010-interim) and Peterson (2011-14).

Keatts and his wife, Georgette, have two sons, Kevin and Kaden.