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Find out how the College of Charleston’s energetic basketball coach Pat Kelsey is building a winning culture and keeping his team motivated

Find out how the College of Charleston’s energetic basketball coach Pat Kelsey is building a winning culture and keeping his team motivated
December 2023

Age: 48
Lives: Daniel Island
Education and playing history: University of Wyoming (one season); Xavier University (three seasons)
Career: Assistant coach (under Skip Prosser) at Wake Forest; associate head coach at Xavier; head coach at Winthrop before CofC
Overall coaching record: 234-113

Coach Pat Kelsey arrived at College of Charleston to high hopes, but nobody expected the Cougars to be the number-18 team in the country midway through his second year. They achieved that feat last season during a 20-game win streak, culminating in the Coastal Athletic Association Conference championship and a trip to the NCAA tournament. 

What’s less publicized is that just before summer practice commenced, Kelsey underwent neck surgery for a herniated disc causing excruciating pain in his back and arm. Known as one of the most energetic, animated coaches in college basketball, Kelsey was back leaping on the sideline—and leading drills in practice—before fall classes kicked off. He’s a husband, a father of three, a frequent public speaker, and the face of a program that’s proven it can compete with college basketball’s blue bloods. Here, he talks about building character and staying motivated.

CM: What time do you get up in the morning?
4:45; some days I have coffee at home with Lisa [his wife], but now that we’re in full practice, I leave home by 5. I know what time each Starbucks opens on the way downtown from Daniel Island. And when I drive over the bridge, I take a moment to look to the left and right and pinch myself a bit that this is where I get to live. 

CM: You’re an active coach and you’re in great shape. What’s your workout routine?
Sometimes I get a 15-minute quick hit of push-ups and pull-ups in, but mostly I’m jumping around in practice, getting into drills. I get my competitive juices flowing in practice. That isn’t very smart for a 48-year-old who had neck surgery, but I don’t have to be the smartest guy in the room. I just need to have the smartest room (my staff).  

CM: How do you consistently build the roster in the age of the transfer portal (a database where teams can pick up eligible players)?
We are so dogmatic in our standards about who we recruit. They have to fit us and our culture. That starts with the ABCs: academics, basketball, and character. The players we recruit care about earning their degrees. Academics matter. Secondly, they must be what we call “hoop dudes.” In other words, they love the game. But “C” is the most important. Where are their hearts at? Do they give of themselves for the good of the team? 

CM: When you’re on a winning streak, how do you keep the team hungry for more?
What’s the most important thing in the history of our program? It’s the next weight-lifting session. It’s the next film session. When you let outside pressure get to you, you can tense up and focus beyond the next thing. We got caught up in what the world was saying and lost a couple of games midseason last year to well-coached teams that were better than us that day. But we finished the season in an elite way. Nobody had the power of the unit like we did. There were no egos—it was about winning, and “What can I do to help the team?”