July 7, 2011
BY ALEX PODLOGAR
FSU SPORTS INFORMATION
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - The notion that college basketball coaches are more than just floor generals on the hardwood, that they are teachers as much as coaches, is so often used that it has become one of college athletics' most endearing clichés.
But clichés can be dangerous if they morph into their ugly, more established cousin, the stereotype. Certainly, there are good stereotypes, but it's a slippery slope, and when stereotypes go bad and are allowed to fester, the cliché-turned-blanket statement can cause disillusion rather than intended inspiration.
That Fayetteville State head men's basketball coach Alphonza Kee is undeterred in using the coach-as-teacher illustration, though, should come as no surprise. That's because nothing about it is cliché. It is, in fact, the exact opposite. It is a part of Kee's singular nature. To him, it comes with the territory.
What it is, rather, is real.
The imprint was made on a young Alphonza Kee from as early as he can remember. His mother, Brenda, spent much of her adult life working in various school systems, and the idea that education usurped all else was a clear and constant rule.
"My mother was always doing more than she was asked to do," Kee recalls. "I just saw that, and it was a part of what I had to do. I needed to help someone get to where they needed to go."
Where, and how, though, Kee could foster that idea was unknown to the lanky, silky-shooting player as he moved up the ranks of competitive basketball.
Until he reached Fayetteville State, where Kee came under the tutelage of former Broncos basketball coach Rick Duckett.
"Rick Duckett was a life-changer for me," says Kee. "I don't think there was a more influential person to me that combined what I loved to do - basketball - with incorporating what it takes to be great in life. And that's exuding character, being disciplined and working hard. But because it was basketball, it got my attention."
A-ha - there's the rub, thought Kee.
Never a bench-warmer as a player, Kee figured early on he could forge a life in the game of basketball. He immediately warmed to the idea of coaching on the collegiate level, which could fuel his competitive fire in a number of ways - on game night, certainly, but in the lives of young men as well.
It wasn't long before Kee began to see where he could help beyond the age of his players or the age of his own epiphany.
Or, rather, before that age.
"Young people are impressionable and I have to - I have to - be able to coach them as well," says Kee.
Upon returning to his alma mater to coach, Kee quickly went about making connections not just in recruiting circles, but in the Fayetteville community as well. He contacted area schools, including McLauchlin Elementary School, where he teamed with school officials to build a Young Men of Distinction program.
The program is a results-based system that emphasizes character development while increasing class performance. Students - and their parents - are required to consent to the program with achieving these lofty goals in mind. Sign on, and Coach Kee will keep an eye on you. But he'll also encourage you, speak with you, take time out with you, and discuss anything you want to discuss.
"We talk about real issues," explains Kee. "It's not too young to have a goal. We really have to balance character and integrity because society and the media do not stress that. We really have a big fight on our hands and I'm ready. These young males have to be great and learn to be disciplined, to do the right thing and value education. Then they can lead in our society."
It's a life lesson that Kee feels is necessary to ingrain as early as possible - like his mother did for him. But it also works with the Broncos.
"It's like our players currently," says Kee. "We want our guys to be productive citizens, leaders, fathers, good citizens. That fight, and that battle for me is a daily battle for me. But I'm very excited to represent Fayetteville State in that way."
Throughout the year, Kee speaks at schools, at community organizations and at basketball camps. The connection of basketball and teaching lifelong goals and character traits is clearly obvious to him, even if it's not so at first to the young men he is trying to reach. But basketball gets Kee into the door -- and allows him the opportunity to stay - and teach -- a while.
"Basketball gets the attention," says Kee." (Young people) equate that with the fun and the extracurricular, but I can grab their attention and talk about the fundamentals to success. It's a tremendous platform that I use daily.
"To see their eyebrows raise and get their attention because we come from basketball is one thing, but to come back and hear tangible improvement from the principal in academic areas, and they say it's a testament to the influence of the program, that's incredible."
Incredible, yes. Necessary?
"I must win in this area," Kee says, his eyes burning with the same clear focus and intensity the Broncos players see in the huddle during a timeout. "This is about our community, our young people, and I must use athletics to teach about life because we're losing some young people out there. We talk about leading in our community. We must win here.
"If I would coach basketball and that just be it, that would be a travesty."
Kee knows all the clichés and the stereotypes, and therefore he can afford the risk of being lumped into one.
But to be one is to know when one is wrong. To know how one can change. And why it must change.
That's the lesson Coach Kee is trying to teach.