Off Campus: Struggles at St. Joseph's helped mold Rider's new basketball coach, Kevin Baggett

Kevin Baggett went through rough times as a player forSt. Joseph's in the '80s.
Kevin Baggett went through rough times as a player forSt. Joseph's in the '80s.
Posted: June 01, 2012

One of the more emotional phone calls Kevin Baggett made after being named head men's basketball coach at Rider University this week was to Tracie Daly, daughter of his St. Joseph's coach, Jim Boyle.

Those weren't glory days back in the '80s on Hawk Hill for Baggett. Everyone knew it. Baggett said he sat out his senior season by "mutual agreement" with his coach.

Former Hawks teammate Bruiser Flint, now Drexel's head coach, was at the Rider news conference Wednesday when Baggett's appointment, after 16 years as an assistant coach, was made. Flint was asked if he saw Baggett as a future coach those many years ago. Flint let out a cackle.

"I don't think any of us envisioned this back in the St. Joe's days," Flint said.

Baggett was a big-time recruit out of Burlington Township High School and could have gone most anywhere. He took a recruiting trip to Kansas when Larry Brown coached the Jayhawks.

But he chose Hawk Hill, expecting to be the next Bryan Warrick, an instant success. Instead, Baggett played 58 minutes as a freshman, and was suspended as a sophomore after publicly complaining about his lack of playing time.

"Every kid in high school goes to college, every kid is that kid," said current St. Joe's assistant Geoff Arnold, who also was at the news conference. "Well, [Baggett] didn't realize when he was a freshman that he was behind Mo Martin. Mo Martin was an all-American, No. 16 pick [in the 1986 NBA draft] for the Nuggets, first round. He couldn't understand that. He wanted to play, he was anxious to play."

In those days, Baggett was listening more than he let on.

"Geoff actually threatened me one day," Baggett said Wednesday. "Geoff was a senior when I was a freshman. He threatened to kick my behind because I was complaining about something. He just grabbed me and said, 'Listen, this is my time. I'm a senior. You're a freshman. Your time will come. But if you mess with my team, I'm going to kick your behind.'"

His time never exactly came as a player, but Baggett is pretty sure he wouldn't be where he is today without those struggles.

"He was that 12th man, who came from being all-state in high school," said his best friend and former Burlington County teammate, Byron Taylor. "He'll have some guys who were all-world wherever they were from, and they come to college and it doesn't seem to work out for them as fast. He'll understand."

"It's just how you handle adversity, which is what I had to learn, which made me who I am today and how passionate I am," Baggett said.

As a coach, Baggett took a path that didn't skip many steps. He started as an assistant at Cinnaminson High School and, after leaving St. Joseph's, Baggett first worked in sales for Colgate-Palmolive.

Arnold remembers Baggett staying with him at a Final Four, which also serves as the yearly coaching convention. Baggett had printed up and handed out cards that read, "Available Coach." Flint and Arnold told him, "Put those cards away."

But he got a job and kept working. Coastal Carolina, Western Kentucky, Howard, James Madison, Maryland-Baltimore County.

"It builds maturity that helps you stay in this profession, because this profession is a grind," said Maryland-Baltimore County coach Randy Monroe, Baggett's former boss.

Rider, Baggett's home for the last six years, turned out to be the perfect stop. Athletic director Don Harnum wasn't afraid to hire from within instead of going outside for a hire with sizzle. Harnum himself had been Kevin Bannon's assistant at Rider, then replaced Bannon as head coach, then became AD and hired Tommy Dempsey, who just went to Binghamton after a successful run.

"I always have a short list," Harnum said of potential next coaches. "Every year [Baggett] stayed, he moved up a notch on that short list."

The two had talked about the need to be more than a recruiter, being on top of game plans and player development, being a "total coach." It was obvious that Baggett was a popular hire on Rider's campus, including from players.

"This is what I sleep, eat, and breathe every day," Baggett said.

Not much will fool him.

"We were young back then," Flint said of their days on Hawk Hill. "Our focus wasn't always on basketball. It was a little different than it is now. We had way more free time."

In his call to Jim Boyle's daughter, Baggett wanted to let her know that he loved her family, and that the good times and the bad times all prepared him for the man he has turned into, the coach he has become.

Another Hawk Hill coaching success, but maybe the most unconventional one yet.

"If I can keep one or two kids from going down the road that I did," Baggett said, "then it is a success story for me."


Contact Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @Jensenoffcampus.

Read his "Off Campus" columns at www.philly.com/offcampus

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