There was definitely a feeling of excitement inside Trask Coliseum Tuesday afternoon as UNCW Athletic Director Jimmy Bass introduced Kevin Keatts as the 10th men’s head basketball coach in the school’s history.
“I feel really good in saying that we’ll need to make additions to the banners hanging in this arena really, really soon,” said Bass. “We are confident that Coach Keatts is ready to lead our program back to that level and to do so in the right way by recruiting quality student-athletes who want to make this a better program, university and community.”
Keatts brings experience from all aspects of the game, having spent time as the head coach at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., and associate head coach under Rick Pitino at Louisville since 2011.
“It was a great turnout today and I’m excited to get things going after meeting with the players and staff just before the introduction,” said Keatts. “I know that these guys have a chip on their shoulder and [are] ready to put in the time to turn this thing around. When I had a chance to go through my interview process, what stuck out to me most was that everyone involved here had the same mindset, and that was what we do we need to do to get this program back on track. I felt very comfortable with that situation.”
With UNCW basketball falling below the mendoza line and really out of the minds of many sports fans here in the community over recent history, Keatts was adamant about bringing this community and university together to set the men’s basketball program in the right direction.
“With the community’s hard work, with the faculty and staff’s hard work, and with hard work from our coaches and players, we will get this program back to where it was in 2006. I promise you that.
“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. It’s going to be an exciting brand of basketball. I’m extremely happy and can’t wait to get started.”
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.
“I think it gives me credibility when you’re talking recruiting,” said Keatts. “When we’re going to go inside someone’s house, that helps give a family that trust in me that I’m going to help this young man grow as a person on and off the court. We’re going to recruit guys that believe in our system and that are going to do the right thing in the classroom and in the community. Win, lose, or draw. That’s the most important thing when you go to college ”
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).
Contract discussions have been at the forefront for many fans and supporters after breaking ties with Peterson last month..
According to a copy of the contract released by the university, Keatts has agreed to a five-year deal with a base salary of $300,000 per season, with other incentives for athletic and academic success.
“I’m certainly well-compensated here and I’m happy with my contract,” said Keatts. “Working for Rick Pitino, he was a gracious guy, so I’m not here for the money. I took the job for the opportunity. Coach Pitino has a book that says one-day contract. And, I’m going to coach like I have a one-day contract. Meaning, I’m going to work extremely hard every day to get my contract renewed for the next day.”