I was able to meet with and interview many great Kentucky high school basketball coaches while researching for my book, How Sweet It Is. The experience proved to be so influential that it led me into the coaching profession. In an effort to learn the stories of more Kentucky hoops coaches, I am posting a series of email Q&As with a few of them as the 2019-2020 season gets rolling. From now until December 20, you can purchase copies of my aforementioned book for just $5 (75% off) through my publisher by clicking here. Thank you to Robertson County Boys Head Coach Patrick Kelsch for the responses below
JV: You coached the girls’ team when you were at Bracken County. What are the biggest differences in coaching girls and boys?
PK: As far as the game goes, coaching girls is much different. The pace of play is much slower and you have more time to throw in in-game adjustments. Girls also want to be coached and require coaching to get a good shot. Girls will do anything to please the coach, sometimes to a fault. On the boys’ side, they are much more athletic, and the pace of play is much quicker.
JV: You coached the Robertson County boys’ and girls’ teams in 2016/2017. How did you stay fresh that year?
PK: That was the most challenging year of my coaching tenure. I coached some talented and understanding student-athletes. I tried my best to give them both an equal amount of time. I stayed fresh by having an understanding family. I spent every free minute I had with my daughters and they helped me put things into perspective. It took a lot of time and energy from me, but with those same groups of kids, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all over again.
JV: Was there a lot of executional crossover as far as what the two teams ran or was it totally different stuff?
PK: There wasn’t as much crossover as I would’ve liked. Both teams had different strengths and as a coach, I try to develop game plans geared towards the strengths of my players. So, very few sets or defenses could be used for both teams.
JV: How did you shift gears emotionally from coaching boys and then an hour later, coaching girls, or vice versa?
PK: That was the most difficult part of it all and I’m not sure that I did a very good job of it. Boy/Girl doubleheaders were good for me because it was the same night and one less night that I was out and about, but also it was hard to go from coaching one to the other in just a 20 minute warm up period. I relied on my assistant coach, Aaron Massey, a lot to help with the transition between games. He would work to get the boys ready while I took a minute to myself.
JV: Did you ever combine practices or anything like that? How did that go?
PK: No. I never had combined practices. I had four hours of practices on days when games weren’t played. I would practice with one team from 3:00pm to 5:00pm and the next team would come in and go from 5:00pm to 7:00pm. Once again, I relied heavily on my assistant coaches for both teams (Michele Smith and Lacy Mitchell for the girls and Aaron Massey for the boys).
JV: Robertson County went 17-66 in the three years prior to your arrival. Some changes take time to fully implement, but what did you set about changing immediately upon taking the job?
PK: Coming from a small school myself and playing at a small school (Augusta), I had some experience in the trials and tribulations that small schools and small athletic programs face. I wanted to come in and change the expectations of the players. I wanted them to expect to win. I didn’t want to hear the excuse, “we’re small, we can’t compete”. So, my expectations for them were going to be challenging and I wanted them to challenge themselves. Also, I’ve never been one to lack confidence, so I tried to do things to help them build their self confidence and believe in themselves. Still to this day I tell my players, “Believe in yourself the way I believe in you!”
JV: Now that you are several years into it, how is the program different now than when you took over? What long term changes have you made that you are proud of?
PK: Robertson County has always had great coaches and a great administration. The one thing that’s different now for me and when I started coaching boys at Robertson County is the dedication and consistent effort in the weight room. At the beginning, players balked or even refused to lift weights because they hadn’t done it before. It took a while, but now we have total buy in from all the players. They enjoy it and are proud of the physical and mental toughness it has created. We don’t have a football program, so we had to do something to try to level the playing field with the larger schools who have successful football programs. I started the Black Devil Bootcamp. Mr. Holbrook, our superintendent, is always supportive of our athletic programs and went out and hired us a strength and conditioning guy. Two years of buying in to weights and trying to change our bodies, the hard work is starting to pay off.
JV: How did you game plan ahead of and during the 2018 10th Region ALL A tournament and guiding your team to the championship? How did you get the buy in you need and what was your plan from an execution standpoint?
PK: The one thing I preached was “Believe”. I kept saying, “We (players and coaches) are the only ones who believe that we have a chance to win. We don’t need anyone else to believe in us if we believe in ourselves and each other.” It was snow day and school was canceled. Coach Massey had the team out to his house for lunch. As a team, we watched the movie “Hoosiers”, just trying to get our students to buy-in to believing that they had a chance to defeat Paris, the defending ALL A State Champs.
Mason Burden, a senior at the time, made the biggest sacrifice to help our team. Mason had started varsity for several seasons and been the team’s leading scorer. He sacrificed some of his individual scoring for the betterment of the Black Devils. I was very impressed with Mason’s attitude and his leadership with our young, but talented team.
The longer we stayed in the game with Paris, the stronger our belief got. You could see it on their faces in time-outs, they were energetic and communicating with each other. They really believed we had a chance to win. Down two points with under 10 seconds to go, Ross Becker found Brandon Dice in the corner and hit the winning three-pointer. We had just won the school’s first ever Class A Championship and I couldn’t have been happier for our school and our community.
JV: You attended Augusta High School, a tiny school with a proud basketball tradition. Is it safe to say Augusta is the closest thing we have in Kentucky to the Hickory Huskers from the movie “Hoosiers”? What was it like growing up and playing basketball there?
PK: I couldn’t have grown up in a better place. Augusta is a tight-knit community that is very supportive of the school and its athletics. Every Tuesday and Friday night, the Panthers’ Den was packed and excitement filled the stands. They loved their Panthers. Very little has changed today. As an opposing coach going to the Panthers’ Den, it’s very difficult. They love to come out and support their team and try to make it very hard on the visitors.
There’s a lot of small schools in the state that can relate to the Hickory Huskers in the “Hoosiers” movie, but it’s safe to say that not a single kid in the state of Kentucky pretended to be Jimmy Chitwood more than I did. I don’t know how many times I ran the picket fence in my mind and hit the game winning shot to win a state title.
JV: What is it like coaching in Robertson County, which has a population of less than 3,000 for the entire county? Greatest challenges? Greatest benefits?
PK: Coaching in Robertson County is a lot like growing up in Augusta. You have the support of the entire community. They show up for home games, away games, and cheer loudly for their Black Devils and Lady Devils. They lift you up when things aren’t going well and cheer proudly when things are going great. It’s amazing to look up in the stands at an away game and see more people from Robertson County there than the home team. When we played at EKU in the ALL A State Tourney, it was no coincidence that the largest crowd of the entire tournament was the night we played. They show up and show out! We appreciate our community support very much.
JV: What is your favorite “small town high school basketball” story that a coach at a city school could not relate to? Either from your days at Augusta as a player or as a coach.
PK: Here’s a good story, one that I’m not directly involved in as a player or coach but happened between Augusta and St. Patrick. My brother, Robin Kelsch was coaching Augusta and current Augusta Head Coach Jason Hinson was coaching St. Patrick. It was a cold, stormy night at the Panthers’ Den. Augusta had a significant lead and the electricity had shut off twice already, stopping the action. The officials and both coaches agreed that if it happened again the game would end and whoever was leading would be declared the winner. St. Pat went on a huge run and battled back from a double digit deficit to tie the game. Yes, you guessed it! The lights went out again, so the game ended in a tie.
To this day, it’s been rumored that Coach Kelsch sent his son, Will (my nephew) to the stage turn off the lights to prevent a loss. LOL! We have a phrase we use, “Only in Augusta!” So, we like to use that phrase when discussing that game because it would happen Only in Augusta.