Keatts aims for quick turnaround in first season with UNCW

McLeod Brown | Sports Editor

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For new UNC Wilmington men’s basketball coach Kevin Keatts, it was never a question of opportunity in his pursuit of his first NCAA head coaching gig. Instead, it was a matter of fit.

With his hiring on March 27, UNCW fans, players, and Keatts himself alike, are hopeful the 10th head coach in the Seahawks’ program history is the one to lead the team back to relevance, not only in the CAA, but nationally as well.

Keatts begins his tenure as head coach of UNCW after three years on the sideline of Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals, where he served as associate head coach.

Joining the Cardinals program in 2011, Keatts immediately had an impact on the team, helping Louisville compile two top-10 recruiting classes in 2012 and 2013, leading to a pair of Big East championships and NCAA Final Four appearances as well.

His persistence on the recruiting trail along with his on-court expertise led Keatts to be recognized as the third most-respected assistant coach in the country in 2013, according to a survey of more than 200 collegiate coaches by’s Jeff Goodman.

Now in Wilmington, the Lynchburg, Va. native has already begun building the Seahawks’ future, having recruited four transfers and three freshmen for the upcoming season.

In having such a quick impact on UNCW, Keatts is hopeful he can balance having a successful season this year while also preparing the team for future titles as well.

“We have to recruit them to our system,” Keatts said. “The toughest thing right now is, because we won in ’06 and a lot of these kids were seven, eight years old and don’t relate to that. I think you recruit to a great academic school. I think you recruit to the beach and the system and style of play.”

While he does not have any head coaching experience at the collegiate level, Keatts built a name for himself through his performance at the helm of Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va.

During two separate stints at the institution (1999-2001, 2003-2011), Keatts finished with a 263-17 record with the program, including two national prep championships in 2004 and 2008, respectively.

Additionally, over 120 players who played under Keatts went on to compete at the collegiate level, including nine who continued into the NBA.

“I had a cheat sheet from being the head coach at Hargrave for 10 years,” Keatts said of his transition into his first collegiate head coaching job. “I coached in 280 games so there hasn’t been a lot of difference because I’ve called a lot of timeouts and things, so it hasn’t been an adjustment for me at all.”

Switching from a perennial powerhouse program in Louisville to one that has not contended in the NCAA tournament since 2006 in UNCW, Keatts knows the Seahawks have a long way to go to return to their winning pedigree of the early 2000s.

While he admits it’s important to build for the future, that doesn’t mean he isn’t aiming high in his first season as head coach.

“I just want to implement my system,” Keatts said. “I plan on being as competitive as we can be this year and try to win some games. I’m not looking towards the future.

“I want to win right now.”