Coach Pat Kelsey is fired up about his first season at the College of Charleston. | Photo courtesy CofC Athletics

After a whirlwind last six months that saw Pat Kelsey accept the position of head men’s basketball coach at College of Charleston, move his family from Rock Hill to the Holy City, and recruit nearly a dozen players to fill out the Cougars’ squad, he is happy to take things one small step at a time.

With the regular season looming on the horizon, Kelsey is finding joy in the little things. 

“The goal for us every year is to win championships. But we do that by being excellent today, in the next repetition of the next drill,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “That’s how we roll.”

In March, Kelsey, 46, was named to head the college’s basketball program, following in the footsteps of Earl Grant, who left to coach at Boston College. Kelsey, a Cincinnati native, comes with a weighty resume: The fifth all-time winningest coach in the history of the Big South Conference, he averaged nearly 21 wins a season over the last nine years with an up-tempo Winthrop University team, including three conference titles.

A proven winner

“Pat Kelsey has been a winner wherever he’s been,” said Debbie Antonelli, a longtime ESPN analyst and Mount Pleasant resident. “He’s high-energy, he’s an engaging guy and you will recognize that with his teams.”

But before he can get into the X’s and O’s, Kelsey wants to talk team culture. He spent much of his formative coaching years as an assistant at Wake Forest under the late Skip Prosser, a man who built winning groups through unanimous buy-in for a fast-paced offensive style, and with a little help from Nietzsche quotes and mascots riding Harleys to hype fans on game days. 

“I owe everything I am today as a professional to him,” Kelsey said of his mentor.

Historically, Kelsey’s teams have emulated much of what made Prosser’s great: a similar speedy playstyle with an emphasis on team defense. When he took the reins this spring, the College of Charleston only had three returning players, so Kelsey and his staff set out on a recruiting spree. They brought in 11 new faces, vetting them through a process he describes as “peeling back the onion.”

“They have to be a fit for our culture and for our basketball system,” Kelsey said. “We spend a lot of time, not just identifying the best players, but the right players.”

Among those players is Charles Lampten, a 6-foot-11 junior college All-American that Kelsey calls a “natural-born shot blocker.” Kelsey and his staff also brought in guard Dalton Bolon, who averaged almost 22 points per game at the Division II level last year.

A look at the new season

Although his team is not among this year’s field, Kelsey said he was looking forward to the upcoming Shriners Children’s Charleston Classic the weekend of Nov. 18, calling it “a great showcase of our city.”

“People get to see what we’re all about,” Kelsey said. “So many people that have been a part of that tournament, they’re blown away.”

The Cougars have a pair of closed-door scrimmages over the next few weeks before their opening game against South Carolina State at TD Arena on Nov. 11. The following week features a big early-season test against a University of North Carolina team ranked 19th in the Associated Press preseason poll. 

But Kelsey said he doesn’t view games against ranked opponents like UNC any differently than he will the scrimmages.

“The opponent that’s right in front of us gets the same level of intensity of preparation as the one coming up after,” he said. “Our mentality is to prepare at an elite level every single day. When you prepare that way and train that way, you’re prepared when your name is called and the lights are the brightest.”

Part of that is every member of the team and staff, many of whom have been with him for the past nine years at Winthrop, owning what he likes to call their “20 square feet,” in other words, understanding individual importance to the collective.

“No one’s role is any more or less important than anyone else,” he said. “Our brand, what we’re about, how we work, how we roll, how we train, how we expect our guys to carry themselves off the floor, those are the cultural pieces of our program that are more important than anything.”

Having the opportunity to build something in a place like Charleston just makes it sweeter, he added.

“We want to make Charleston basketball Charleston’s team. We want the city to adopt and buy into what we’re building there,” Kelsey said.

“We’re going to work our tails off to create an elite basketball team here in the Holy City — our city.”