WINONA LAKE – Jim Kessler boasts one impressive basketball coaching resume.
The longtime Grace College men’s hoops mentor now has another noteworthy accomplishment to add to his lengthy list of achievements in the sport.
Kessler just returned from spending several days as a court coach at the 2013 USA Basketball Men’s World University Games Training Camp in Colorado Springs.
“It was just a terrific, positive experience for me,” said Kessler in a phone interview this morning. “It was humbling to be around that collection of great athletes and coaches.
“It was something that I’ll remember forever. It was a thrill, an honor and a good thing for the NAIA. I’m glad and thankful to USA Basketball for giving the NAIA a seat at the table for this. I think that’s important.”
Kessler, who has had a remarkable 36-year run at Grace, was the lone NAIA coach invited. The three court coaches were Kessler, Tad Boyle of Colorado and Matt Matheny of Elon. Bob McKilop of Davidson will serve as head coach of the team, while John Beilein of Michigan and Frank Martin of South Carolina will serve as assistant coaches.
Kessler said it was quite a treat to get to be around the players and the coaches.
“To be around and get to talk and interact with that collection of athletes was phenomenal,” Kessler said. “It was really fun. I was familiar with some of the players, but they were all amazing athletes.”
The original list of 26 players was cut down to 16 Wednesday after evaluation by coaches and the USA Basketball Committee, chaired by Jim Boeheim of Syracuse. Training camp will continue through June 30 with the final 12-player roster announced before the team leaves for Russia July 1. The list currently includes Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey of Indiana, Jerian Grant of Notre Dame, Adreian Payne of Michigan State and Doug McDermott of Creighton.
“All of the guys went hard all the time and they all played their way on,” said Kessler. “Yogi caught the eye of a lot of people. He brought a lot of energy to the floor. Coaches were impressed with how hard Sean Kilpatrick (of Cincinnati) went all the time. He always had the hammer down. I was impressed with Payne. He went after every rebound.”
Kessler, a 1970 Grace College graduate, has won 679 games in his 36 seasons at Grace. He has guided the Lancers to 20 wins 15 times and posted 30 wins three times, including winning the NAIA Division II National Championship in 1992. His 2012-13 team went 24-10 and reached the semifinals of the NAIA Division II National Championships.
Kessler said a typical day at training camp included drills, scrimmages and staff meetings to go with a lot of basketball conversation.
“We were always evaluating players,” said Kessler. “We would discuss how guys did that day and rank them. The committee was ultimately responsible for picking the team and coach Boeheim carries the most weight as the head of it.”
“We were talking or listening basketball all the time. We were sharing and learning. I learned from those guys. I came back with a couple of drills I picked up that we will use. I thought coach Beilein was such a neat guy.”
The World University Games are set for July 6-17 in Kazan, Russia. They include players ages 17-24.
“I’d love to go to Russia with this team,” said Kessler, who has taken teams to Europe in the past. “We will have the quickest and the most athletic team there.
“These guys just have to understand that with that USA on their jersey that they will be a target. Some of those other teams have been playing together for a long time and they have the experience and their big goal is to beat the USA. We have the best basketball in the World here.”
Kessler, who is currently conducting his summer camp sessions at Grace, says everyone should get a chance to experience what he did.
“It was just fun and humbling for me,” said Kessler. “I wish every coach could have this opportunity.”