West Point – Kevin Kuwik, Army’s new men’s basketball coach, is undaunted about taking on his first head coach job. In fact, he is confident that working under a number of college basketball legends over the last 20 years has given him all the experience he needs to successfully lead the Black Knights when they open their new season in November.
Speaking to the press after an introductory press conference at West Point’s Kimsey Athletic Center Thursday, Kuwik said working for Butler’s Brad Stevens, Ohio State’s Thad Matta, Davidson’s Bob McKillop and Archie Miller at Dayton has helped him develop a greater understanding of the game and should allow him to quickly transition to leading the Black Knights this fall as Army’s 32nd men’s basketball coach.
Kuwik made it extremely clear that nothing short of playing aggressive, selfless and smart basketball and getting to the championship game of the Patriot League post-season basketball tournament – and winning that game and earning the league’s automatic spot in March Madness, the NCAA basketball tournament – is the goal.
“When I think about Army basketball, the word that keep comes back to me is special,” Kuwik said. “It starts out that this is a special place. We are really excited to be a part of this great place. We are going to work so hard to represent it and make it proud. We are going to play tough, physical and mentally. We are going to play together. We are going to move the ball and share the ball on offense.
“We are a special place with a special mission, with a special group of young men who play a special game and we have a special opportunity. This is where the championship process comes in and it is time for us to step up.”
Army finished 17-16 last season, losing to eventual league tournament champion Colgate in the semifinals of the Patriot League tournament. The Black Knights return eight seniors next season, including leading scorer Jalen Rucker and top rebounder Charlie Peterson.
In front of about 200 people, including current and former players, top West Point officials, and his own extended family, Kuwik noted that he took the Army head coaching job, in part, to make history and that history is getting the Black Knights to their first-ever NCAA tournament. Army is one of just four teams, along with The Citadel, William & Mary and St. Francis (Brooklyn), who have played the sport since the start of the NCAA tournament in the 1930s and never qualified for the tournament. St. Francis is dropping all of its sports programs after the end of this school year.
Kuwik’s attitude seemed to quickly win over the search committee, which included some suggestions from returning players.
“We are thrilled to welcome Kevin and his family to the Army West Point family,” said director of athletics Mike Buddie. “We started with a list of 10 to 12 names of people we thought would be a fit. As we developed the profile, those 12 names ballooned up to 50 to 60 and that is a credit to the young men who played their hearts out every night on the hardwood and put us in the position that made this job attractive to several dozen candidates. And, then the challenge was to whittle this list down.”
While Buddie made clear that Kuwik’s attitude and experience working for these other coaches played a big role in his hiring, he added that the new coach’s own military career was also a big plus. He graduated from Notre Dame’s Army ROTC program as a distinguished military graduate, served 10 years including an 18-month leave of absence from coaching at Ohio University. He was a member of 113th Engineer Battalion of the Indiana National Guard during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“What really stood out with Kevin specifically was the fit. It is really important in college athletics that there is a fit between the vision of the athletic department, the vision of the academy leadership and the head coach,” Buddie said. “It is important at all Division I institutions but it is even more important at West Point. This is not a garden-variety, civilian institution, our expectations are different, our demands are different and the commitment and discipline are also different.
“What also stood out to me and the committee with Coach Kuwik were all the things that put him in the position where he is today. Not just where he coached but who he learned from. When you get a phone call from Thad Matta, and Brad Stevens and Archie Miller and Bob McKillop and you have recruited at places like Butler, Davidson and Ohio State and had success at so many different levels. For me, who he learned from is probably as important as the tremendous accomplishments he has had.”
Kuwik, who reportedly signed a five-year deal, has coached at the college level for more than 20 years, most recently, as an assistant coach at Butler University last season. Before that, the 48-year-old Lackawanna, N.Y.-native was an assistant coach at Davidson for four years and at Dayton for four years. He was a video coordinator at Ohio State and director of operations at Butler.