Kent Dernbach

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Kent Dernbach is the Men’s Basketball Head Coach at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.  Named head coach on March 12, 2018, Dernbach served as the Eagles’ interim head coach for the 2017-18 season.  He is 80-39 overall and 38-24 in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) in his first five seasons.

Dernbach previously served as associate head coach at UW-Stevens Point from 2011-17.  He was the Pointers’ interim head coach for the last 13 games of the 2016-17 season, leading the team to an 8-5 record.  UW-Stevens Point made four straight NCAA Division III Tournament appearances from 2012-15.  His fourth season with the Pointers culminated in winning the national championship in 2014-15. 

Prior to arriving at UW-Stevens Point, Dernbach was the director of basketball operations and an assistant coach at Northern Illinois University from 2009-11. He served as director of basketball operations at George Mason University (Va.) from 2007-09 and was an assistant coach at Marymount University (Va.) from 2005-07.

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Have a notebook handy as you listen to this episode with Kent Dernbach, Head Men’s Basketball Coach at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

What We Discuss with Kent Dernbach

  • Playing one of his high school games on carpet
  • Growing up on a farm in a small town playing multiple sports
  • Learning to take chances from his parents who raised ostriches on their farm
  • “Cheer for your son, and cheer for your son’s teammates harder.”
  • Explaining to recruits that they’re going to fail a lot when they get to college
  • The need for total honesty with players
  • “When there’s love and emotion involved, how can you avoid having conflict? There’s going to be conflict.”
  • “I can’t guarantee them they’re going to have a great career, but I can guarantee them that I’m going to work my butt off for them.”
  • Getting a GA job at Ohio State in the academic support services department
  • How working the Morgan Wooten Basketball Camp led to his first coaching job at Marymount University
  • Just showing up every day and George Mason before he got hired and started earning a check
  • “You can’t expand your role until you’re great in the job that you were hired for.”
  • Leaving George Mason to get back to the midwest at Northern Illinois
  • “If you’re too good at that role, then can you ever get out of that role?”
  • “If you’re one of the best teams in our league, you’re going to be able to compete at a national level.”
  • “We wanted to run a division one program at a division three level.”
  • The fragility of coaching confidence
  • “You don’t know who you can win with until you lose with them.”
  • Finding players that can guard is a priority in recruiting
  • Looking at both high school games and AAU games when evaluating recruits
  • “I wish we would go to days rather than weeks in division three” off-season work
  • “What do basketball players want?… they want to be in the game. And then once they’re in the game, they want to be able to do something with the ball occasionally.”
  • “Is our system good enough to get us there?”
  • “Did you earn the right to play well?”

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[00:00:00] Mike Klinzing: Hello and welcome to the Hoop Heads Podcast. It’s Mike Klinzing here without my co-host Jason Sunkle tonight, but I am pleased to welcome to the podcast Kent Dernbach the head men’s basketball coach at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Kent. Welcome.

[00:00:15] Kent Dernbach: Well, it’s great to be here with you, Mike,

[00:00:18] Mike Klinzing: Excited to have you on looking forward to diving into all of the things that you’ve done throughout your coaching career.

Let’s start by going back in time to when you were a kid. Tell me about the earliest experiences with the game of basketball that you can remember.

[00:00:34] Kent Dernbach: I remember kind of like being in our living room and dribbling the ball with my left hand and how excited my dad was, I think is like my first memory of basketball. Like we like our, our parents, like they, they redid their house and I think it took like 15 years. I think we were like on like subfloor for like 15 years. And it didn’t matter. Right. Because you just

[00:00:59] Mike Klinzing: Better to dribble on the carpet. Right. I used to have to dribble on the carpet in front of my TV.

[00:01:04] Kent Dernbach: Well, speaking of I played on carpet when I was this in high school, we had a high school, wild rose and they play, you played on carpet for my are you serious up, up until my junior year you played on carpet. I remember my brother had to play in a regional final there and they got permission from the librarian to go into the, the library, to like dribble on carpet and practice on carpet.

Like to get the, get the feeling for that’s what happens, small town small town 50 kids, 30 kids in a class. You kind of get weird things like that. But that’s probably, that’s like my first memory over just overall with basketball and I have three older brothers. I didn’t really have a choice.

Right. And my dad loved coaching and you know, was willing to kind of like start like summer leagues, like even be like, kind of, I think before that was happening in Wisconsin, my dad had the highway 54 summer league with where he got other high school coaches together. And I remember him like sending letters, right.

You’d have to send a letter of what date you were going to get together to meet. And it’s so different now, right. That stuff can be like organized in two seconds, just like this podcast,  but he did that stuff and he’s just kind of that first coach that I ever had.

[00:02:21] Mike Klinzing: Was it always basketball in your family or did you guys play multiple sports,

[00:02:26] Kent Dernbach: Multiple sports. Basketball and baseball were the most popular with it. And again, from being from a small town  Almond Bancroft has a hundred, 170 in our school. Okay. In the high school. So we had the largest ever graduating class of like 54 in it. It’s now down to like 20. And I, I say that be because I loved it.

Right. And I love where I’m from, but you just didn’t have, if it was the spring, you played baseball. Right. If it was the winter, you had football, there was no track or soccer or something like that. Or to go to and wrestling, whatever it is. My senior year, we finally got track and field for the first time there if, if you’re going to play sport in the spring, you played baseball.

If you didn’t play baseball, then you went and you started working on, on as a farm hand somewhere. And, and that’s just what it was. So there wasn’t, there was just probably that lack of opportunity where we were just basketball, baseball.

[00:03:24] Mike Klinzing: So from a basketball standpoint, living in a small town like that, how do you go about getting better as you start to take the game more seriously?

How do you find. Pick up games or are you just working on the game by yourself in the gym or just you and your high school teammates? How’d you guys approach that?

[00:03:43] Kent Dernbach: Well, I was really lucky. We grew up on a farm. We farm a thousand acres of beans piece, sweet corn and field corn. And then, and for about 25 years, we raised about 300, 350 ostriches.

So we had a large shed and that had a hoop in it. Now the ceiling was a little low where it was, it was tougher to get out to the three point line where sometimes it would if you’re doing like a moonshot you’d, you’d hit the ceiling. So you, you kind of always got the right trajectory there , but I mean, I spent so many hours in, on that floor on that.

Luckily it wasn’t smooth, concrete, right? It was rough concrete. So you could have a little grip on it down there when it got dusty. But my dad always would always say to me it’s this you know, the coolest place on the farm is in the shed, the coolest place, right? Cause we didn’t have air conditioning or anything like that.

Our house didn’t have air conditioning, no place at air conditioning. The coolest place on the farm is in, in that shed on that, on that cement floor. And I spent a ton of hours there and, and then him and my dad, my mom being from Alman Steven’s points about 25 minutes away. And he got me joined in with the points hoops club and were they had their travel team was the Stevens point area.

And they were really, really looking back. They were, they were nice enough to let me join that. And you know, Back in the day teams in it. Now we have premier we have the premier and then we have platinum and then we have all of these different names back then, right.

We just had team A, B and C. You, you knew

[00:05:19] Mike Klinzing: I was on, even before I was I’m a little older than you. Before that we only had, we had like team a, so in the city of Cleveland, when I was playing, there was like one team from the west side of Cleveland, one team from the east side of Cleveland. That was it. Two teams done.

[00:05:30] Kent Dernbach: Yeah. Yeah. Like now, like I, I go on, I watch and God bless. There’s so many great AAU programs out there, and there’s so many people that want to play basketball. That there’s nothing wrong. Hey, there’s just a lot of teams out there, but like, oftentimes I’ll be like, what one is the top team? Like you just get confused and, but there’s never confusion.

Like with us, you only had one team and we had team a team B team C and whatever team I on was on. Well, that was, that was team C Mike, I could tell you that.

[00:05:56] Mike Klinzing: All right. I can’t let it pass without just asking you a one word question. Ostrich is

[00:06:03] Kent Dernbach: Yeah. The better red meat, the better red meat beef has like 16% fat ostrich has like 2% fat and it’s not gamey.

Right? It doesn’t taste game. You just can’t overcook. It it’s really, really lean. It’s great. It’s great. Now did they, how did they get, how did they get into that? Well, it like farming you know, 25 years ago, like interest rates were 13, 14, 15%. Right. So when you’re taking out large farm loans and, and and, and corn, I don’t know if there’s any farmers out there, but corn are, is coming in like a, a dollar or two, a bushel, like you’re not making any money or sweet corn contracts green bean contracts.

There’s no money in it. There was very little money in it at the time. I think now you you either have to go huge, right? Which farmers have done, or you get out. And what my dad has has done is they decided to go a different way where they still farm, but they thought they’d try to make some money another way.

And so they got into the ostrich and we were actually like, like, like the number one producer close in the Midwest of, of ostrich meat. And it’s a my cool. Yeah, they don’t like, they don’t like have a lot. They don’t take a lot of pride in it. Actually. I think it’s amazing two two people that, that didn’t have a college degree that were really lived in central Wisconsin just went out and they started something so different raising ostrich, I give them so much credit for it.

And I think it’s probably one of the reasons that I’ve been willing to take chances in, in my career with different things as interim, as interim tags and stuff like that because they were willing to take a chance on some things.

[00:07:50] Mike Klinzing: It’s very cool. It’s obviously something that you don’t hear about every single day.

Definitely. Interesting. And you think about just, as you said, the family farm has kind of gone by the wayside where you’ve either had these big industrialized farms or people, as you said, are kind of getting out of the business. When you think back to your time as a high school player, what’s your favorite memory from being a high school basketball player?

[00:08:12] Kent Dernbach: There there’s games, right. I remember winning like the regional title and then playing in a sectional championship. I remember knocking in two free throws to, to, to advance in the playoffs. My, my my junior year, like were down by one with one second left. And either you make them or you miss them right to, to go down there’s just like certain memories like that, that, that pop up.

But II’ll say it again. And I go back to it. And I think just as you get older, Mike, and I’m sure you feel this way about with your dad and there’s so many somethings out there that feel this way about their parents, that try to coach them. But those moments of like, Just being in the gym.

Like I went home for Memorial day this past weekend and to see my dad, who’s 84 now in the gym working out with, I have four daughters and rebounding for them. And it just takes you back to that time, like how special that was growing up, high school, grade school, how special that was, all those moments that you have with it.

And you know, there’s great competition moments, but I think at the end of it, it’s like so many things. It’s the relationships that you have with your teammates. And then fortunately enough for me, it’s the relationships that I had with my parents during that time.

[00:09:35] Mike Klinzing: Sports just has a way of connecting people again, across all walks of life, but particularly parents and kids.

I think if you have that sporting relationship with your parents, it’s something that there’s no way to. There’s no way to describe that for someone who hasn’t gone through. And it’s what what’s been interesting, I’m sure for you and for me and you and I have talked about a little bit on our pre podcast call, just that connection that you have with your own kids and looking back at your life and your experience with your parents when you were a kid, and then trying to translate that to once you become a parent and trying to figure out, well, how do I manage and navigate this with my own kids?

And that’s a whole conversation about navigating the sports. They use sports landscape is such a, it’s such a wild west. And I I’ve always said that one of the things that is more needed now than it’s ever been is just trying to help parents to understand mm-hmm, what the system looks like. What’s good about it, what they should watch out for, and as a parent, even when you know what the right thing to do, because so many people are out there doing things that maybe aren’t the best, it’s easy to get caught up in.

Well, we have to be doing this. We have to be doing that. We have to be doing this. You sometimes forget, and I wish we could educate all parents that there’s lots of paths to be able to achieve whatever goal it is that you want to achieve. And then the other piece of it is that you have to remember why your kid is playing sports in the first place.

Because so many people are chasing something that is either completely unattainable or it’s something that the parent wants and the kid doesn’t. And ultimately for me, it comes back to, does your kid like to do whatever it is that they’re doing and do they want to do it by themselves? Do they want to do it on their own or is it always being forced upon them?

And I think if you can take those two things into account, you’re much more likely to have a good youth sports experience as a parent.

[00:11:30] Kent Dernbach: Yeah. It’s such a struggle, right? I mean, I know with our oldest is nine and you know, we’re traveling up to Minneapolis for a soccer tournament this weekend.

We talked about that before and I’m like, I think to myself, what the heck are we doing? Right? What are we doing? right. I mean, But I also know she enjoys it. She enjoys it and you know what, to be honest, you, I enjoy it. You know, I enjoy it. And you kinda, maybe, maybe, eventually I won’t as much, but, but I look forward to watching her compete if she enjoys it.

[00:12:03] Mike Klinzing: And that’s right. That’s exactly it. Yeah. When you’re not pulling teeth, when you’re not pulling teeth to get them to go and do things, that’s when it’s really fun. And then it doesn’t matter if you’re down the street or you’re going across state lines to go and compete. Yeah. When you get a chance to watch them do something that they enjoy doing.

And again, in some cases, it’s basketball, in some cases, it’s soccer, in some cases it’s violin or whatever it is when you get to see your kids do something that they love. There’s nothing better than that. And I think as parents, as long as we remember that it’s about our kids and it’s not about us, which isn’t always easy, easy to do.

Trust me. Yeah. I’ve been in those situations where, when my kids were younger, none of them were wired quite like me, where I was a kid who you. Give me enough and I always wanted to do more and my kids were not wired that way, especially when they were younger. And so that can be frustrating and it’s easy to be like, ah, I’m just going to drag you to some place that you don’t really want to go.

Cause I think you should. And that inevitably never turns out well. And I learned over time that they’ve have to come to it on their own or you’re just you’re they’re never going to get to where, where you want them to go, unless they love it.

[00:13:10] Kent Dernbach: Yeah. And the other thing that’s really helped me, Mike is like, for the first time I remember last year we went to a tournament and you know, they don’t have the positions out there in soccer and I don’t really know them I try to get to know the game a little bit.

[00:13:21] Mike Klinzing: You’re right there with you’re right there with me. All of a sudden, the whistle blows in a soccer game. I’m like, what was that? I don’t know what happened.

[00:13:28] Kent Dernbach: Yeah. I mean, when the goalie can kick it when he can, when she can throw it or roll it, I don’t know. But anyway it’s, but, but it was like my daughter, my oldest daughter, her name’s Camilla.

And she normally was like scoring goals all the time. And then we went to this tournament and she was like on defense and she wasn’t the striker. And I’m like, well, wait, why isn’t she the striker . And it was like, for the first time I had that feeling already of like, oh, I I, all the time I’m preaching we say this, I, I learned this from coach Bob Seing you know, said it.

I’m sure. Maybe somebody else said it before, but you know cheer for your son, and cheer for your son’s teammates harder. And that’s when I get our, when I get our parents together for our inner squad scrimmage at the beginning of the year. So everybody gets to know each other before the season. Right.

Everybody’s happy with me after the inter squad’s inner squad scrimmage with playing time. Right. Everybody’s real pleased with her. So we all get together. And then we come into a room and I lecture, right. I sit there and I lecture and I say that to them. And it was for the first time and that’s eighth grade, eight year old soccer, like it’s a challenge for parents to see their son sit the bench right.

When they’ve played their entire life with it when they’ve played. Yeah. I, I know I’m just going off. I mean, we can get into that later into the the stuff of just how challenging that is for not only the player, but their family and everybody that surrounds them for them to learn how to help a team on the court and to be able to get there.

And I guess I’m just saying it was the, for the first time, I felt that in a very, very small way in eight year old soccer.

[00:15:08] Mike Klinzing: There’s no way to duplicate that feeling as a parent. Like you can, you can think you understand it, but until you’re in that situation, you don’t understand how frustrating that can be, and it won’t be the first time probably you feel that Kent and I’ve felt it. And when you go and you sit and you’re like, well, why just from a soccer standpoint, like why is my kid on defense? Why aren’t they getting a chance to play offense? And then you get to basketball and you’re like, well, why, are they outta the game?

And they should be playing all the time. And they’re better than this kid who’s going in. And you see that it’s very, very easy. And you’re a person. I’m a person who understands those pitfalls. And yet we still feel those things. Now, now hopefully we’re mature enough not to act on them, but, but you feel them.

And so you can understand where parents sometimes can do things that maybe they wouldn’t under ordinary circumstances, just because of those feelings. So let’s, even though we’re jumping ahead a little bit, I think it’s worth having this discussion right now. Cause you’re talking, you’re talking about it.

When you start thinking about players who are on your roster, who. Aren’t playing and you have to have that conversation with them, whether it’s preseason of like look going into the season, I don’t really see a role for you out on the floor, but here’s some things I do need from you. Just, how do you approach those conversations either before the season in season with kids who aren’t getting the minutes that obviously they would want, everybody wants to be out on the floor.

[00:16:36] Kent Dernbach:  We start really in the recruiting process with it, with it Mike, where, I mean, I remember sitting down and for the first time here at La Crosse some of our staff is like listening to me, talk to a recruit where we talk about how they’re going to fail. You know, like, Hey, you’re our top recruit all the way down to somebody that, Hey, we’re not quite sure about.

And we’re just talking, you know about, but we talk about how you are going to fail. You’re going to be the reason why your team wins big games in high school, maybe a state championship in high school, and then you’re going to get to college. And if we’re any good, you are going to be the reason why your team loses a drill and how humbling that is and what a challenge that’s going to be for you.

And you’re going to fail, fail, fail, fail, and then you’re going to have a little glimpse of success. And then you’re going to go right back to, to failing. And you’re not sure if you’re going to be good enough. And I’ve had that conversation, basically kind of those exact words with a little bit more in depth to it with every single kid that has, that has come to La Crosse.

And I think because of that Mike, it’s one of the reasons why we’ve never had a kid transfer to another school that we we any, any kid that we’ve ever recruited to UW La Crosse has never transferred to go play basketball in another school. Now it’s only, it’s been five years and next year it could happen or whatever it is.

But if we take great pride in that, because hopefully we’re really honest during the recruiting process with them, how hard it is to get on the court. And then when they come in and they’re not sure kids the kid might not know what his teammates always know. Like, like I remember my first year at La Crosse.

And I was the interim head coach and we, I got the job the day after the season started. So we’re like practicing and, and I’m like, let’s get our five starters out there. I didn’t know who the hell the five starters were Mike

[00:18:35] Mike Klinzing: First five, the first five that ran out there.

[00:18:38] Kent Dernbach: Right. The first five that ran out there and you know what, those five guys were our starters and those five guys a year later started every single game and were led us to our second NCAA tournament and program history.

Right? The first one, like in 20 some years. And like kids know, like kids actually know, I think at a certain at least at the college level, who’s supposed to be playing and who’s not supposed to be playing. I really think that, so kind of back to your point, maybe that the individual doesn’t know it, but as if we try to be honest in the recruiting process and we try to not beat around the bush.

If somebody has a question for it. And, and I know the word fail, I say, fail, fail, fail. And you’re like, well, that guy’s, that guy’s something, right? No, I think it, it, it doesn’t mean that that it’s a negative word. It just is just the honest truth and kids want honesty. They want to know they don’t want to be, they don’t want to ha get beat around to say like, well, if you could just do this, this, this, no, it’s like exactly.

You don’t get in a stance and you can’t guard. And the next week they come in, well, coach I’m working at it. Well, you still can’t get in a stance and you still can’t guard,  like it doesn’t change the reason. And if you, and if you kind of like try to be soft with it or whatever, I feel that’s wrong.

Right. And, and you’re not going to get anywhere with it. And I know it sounds like I’m passionate about this subject, because I believe it’s the correct way to go about it and I’ve seen it work and I’ve seen guys not leave, not quit, but want to be challenged and get to the point where they’re good enough to get on the floor to help or help.

Hopefully a top 25 top 50 program in the country win games.

[00:20:41] Mike Klinzing: If you’re not honest with them and you don’t get right to the point, if you’re wishy-washy. It makes it really easy for a kid to misinterpret what’s being said. And then I think there’s nothing worse for a player than to be confused about where they stand with their coaching staff.

That’s an awful way to go into a game, a season, a segment of the season where you’re not sure exactly where you stand, or you go in thinking, Hey, this is going to be my time. Because coach said I’m getting better. And I think I’m going to get some minutes this game. And then suddenly you don’t play at all. That’s where you get into that lack of clear communication is where problems arise.

If a kid knows here’s exactly where I stand, then they’re less surprised when they don’t get the minute that when they don’t get minutes, because you’ve already, you’ve already prepared them. You’ve had that conversation, I think to your point too, about kids knowing I think ultimately. When you look at it and I don’t care what level we’re talking about.

Maybe if you get down to the elementary school level and the middle school level, you have kids who are somewhat delusional about their abilities. But I think by the time you get to a high school, varsity level, and certainly in college kids know, like if there’s a kid playing ahead of, ahead of you, it’s very rare.

The player who honestly, deep down doesn’t know why that kid’s playing ahead of them. Now, I guess it could happen sometimes. But for the most part, I think a lot of those problems come from the people around the player, whether that’s the parents, their friends, somebody back home saying, well, how can this kid be playing ahead of you?

That’s where those problems come in. It’s not the kid ultimately knows because they’re out there on the floor against whoever they’re going up against every day in practice. I think, I think they know.

[00:22:23] Kent Dernbach: Yeah. I agree with you a hundred percent. I really do believe they know and it happens sometimes.

And we’re where somebody is. So. Just has a lack of lack of self-awareness where they’re at on it. But I also think that when you’re recruiting, you can kind of tell that individual not all the time, but I think if there’s 50 kids out there that are you know, if there’s 10% of the kids that are like that out there, I think you could cut half of those out through the recruiting process.

So then the number becomes even less where you can tell, you can tell just in their conversations and the parents’ conversations of, of what kind of individual this is going to be. And we’ve been just so lucky that we’ve just had such great parents and really good kids doesn’t mean that we’re, it’s, it’s all sunshine and rainbows, right?

That’s not it at all when there’s love and emotion or involved, how can how can you avoid having conflict? There’s going to be conflict. I, when like I, when a kid commits to. I always, I think I thank them and I tell the parents, like, I will not take this for granted. You know, basketball is a priority for your son.

It’s you have family and basketball probably in their life, along with academics. Right. For you know, some kids are just smart or however they do it. Right. But those three things maybe their faith for other kids, but it’s certainly a priority. And they’re putting that faith in me and our staff and our program and our, and our school.

And I’ll never take that for granted, like what we owe them, right. What we owe them. And that’s just to be honest with them, I can’t guarantee them they’re going to have a great career, but I can guarantee them that I’m going to work my butt off for them and I’m fortunate enough. That’s that’s been good enough.

You know, to, to keep guys feeling good about our program and where they’re at.

[00:24:22] Mike Klinzing: Well, to your point, when you’re talking about that during the recruiting process, and you’re already having those conversations. you’re tending to then bring in kids who want that style of coaching who want that type of honesty, who want to have those conversations.

And as you said, you’ve already weeded out a lot of guys who probably wouldn’t fit in with the type of culture that you’re trying to build. And ultimately that’s, I think how you have success. Let’s go back in time. When did coaching get on your radar? When’s the first time you started thinking about, Hey, I want to be a coach growing up with your dad coaching you was, was it something that was always on your mind or was it a case where, Hey, I’m playing, I’m playing, I’m playing and now I get done and I’m looking around saying, man, I still want to be involved in the game.

Maybe I had to think about coaching.

[00:25:08] Kent Dernbach: When I was at Carthage, we had some great teams. Went to a final four went to another Sweet 16. I waved a heck of a towel there Mike.

[00:25:19] Mike Klinzing: I  swear. You were like, you were the ML Carr. You remember ML Carr  from the Celtics.

He used to be the guy that, yeah, but he always had the towel going.

[00:25:25] Kent Dernbach: Yeah. I never played one minute of college basketball. Never once did I get into a, to a varsity game and I lettered for three years. How about that?

[00:25:39] Mike Klinzing: You were doing something right. You were doing something right behind the scenes.

[00:25:43] Kent Dernbach: I had to do something. Yeah. Yeah. Well, I folded, I remember went to the final four and, and I and I ironed Jim, Aboywiches and Jason Tel and Antoine McDaniel’s Daniel shirts before, before we had the banquet. I think that was that’s about what he, but I I went, I didn’t know what I was going to do out out of out of college I had the sport management degree, psychology degree, and I kind of thought I wanted to get into coaching a little bit.

And I tried to get a GA position somewhere. And fortunately enough I, I reached out to all these schools and it just happened to be late that Ohio state Reached got back to me. A and I was calling her name was Leslie Barnes. She worked in the academic support service office there. And I remember like calling Leslie all the time and to the front desk of it was called the Sasso office.

It was like one of the, one of the first academic support service offices really in the country that, that was big time. Right. They had their own building there. And, and I remember calling there and I could even hear Leslie in the back. I’m not here, I’m not here. Right. because I’d be calling, I’d be calling up there.

Cause I’m just looking for somebody to pay for my schooling. And I’ll never forget I’m in like the I’m in this field. I’m disking. You know, at sometime like in late in June or something like that. And I get a phone call from Ohio state and somebody dropped out and I. Because I kept calling every day.

Leslie’s like, well, just give it to this kid. Right. Let’s just give the GA position to this kid. So I went there and they paid for my schooling and, and I was not qualified to be in that office at all. There was some great counselors in there working with student athletes. And then there was me, right. I don’t know what I was doing.

They didn’t get their value outta me at all. but I was so thankful that they paid, they paid, they paid for that. And then it was kind of that year. There was some transition going through if we’re going to keep our GA spot or not. And I went back home for Christmas. and long story short we’re Catholic, we’re supposed to be going to a church.

You know, that my mom thinks is like at five o’clock instead, it was actually at four o’clock, so it’s already going on, but we’re already in the town over to go to church. And my dad’s like, well, the Methodist church is starting right now. You know, what’s the difference. Let’s go to the Methodist church.

So we go to the Methodist church for Christmas and in front of me is sitting Eric conk, who now is the head coach at Tulsa, right. Just was at Louisiana tech. And he was from that town. And I didn’t approach Eric there, but later on I emailed him and I said, Hey, Eric, is there a way that what do you think about getting into coaching?

And he’s like, well, you should work the Morgan Wooten Basketball Camp. You know, he emailed me back and he’s like, here’s the contact information? And it was the best summer that I ever had in my life.  I traveled up and down the east coast, living out of my Jeep Wrangler, working five star camps, the Morgan Wooten camp, any other camp that, that was available, the Eastern invitational and, and work in camps and getting into it.

And lucky enough, I  caught Joe Wootens eye and, and his good friend, Scott McLarty, and then they offered me a position for $2,000 at Marymount university. So then I packed my bags up from Ohio state and drove out to. To Arlington Virginia, Fairfax, Virginia. And it was Arlington Virginia, Mary mountain, and then was out there.

So there wasn’t like a time where I was like, oh yeah, I’m going to get into coaching. It just kind of it’s in your blood. Right. And and then I just took a chance, right? I took a chance of, of staying at staying at country and in suites, staying in their parking lot, sleeping there in their parking lot, waking up in the morning.

And at that time there was always a shower next to the pool. Right. You’d if you just walk in, you act like, you know that what the hell you’re doing, they just let you go’s. So I go in there, I’d shower at the country and in suites at their shower next to the pool they usually had a continental breakfast, grab a bagel on the way out, and then I’d go work camp.

And I did that for an entire summer, and it was amazing the amount of things that I learned. Listen, to Morgan Wooten talk Listen to Joe Wooten and what he does does at Bishop O’Connell and the passion that he has in that league, Glen Farrell was there, who was at Paul, the sixth coach now like so many great coaches were there.

Mike Rhodes came in and spoke. Who’s the head coach at VCU. Like, it was amazing. It was just amazing the experience there. And, and then and then I got the job at Marymount and bartended at night and, and coached basketball. 6:00 AM practices in the morning.

[00:30:18] Mike Klinzing: Was coaching what you thought it was going to be?

[00:30:20] Kent Dernbach: No, I like, look back Mike, like, I don’t know what I, what value I brought like I swear, I don’t hear you. There’s no, you know what I mean? Like, I don’t know. No, I know exactly how I brought the practice. I, I don’t know, like, I don’t think I brought anything to practice until finally when I got to Steven’s point.

Maybe a little bit, my last couple years at Northern Illinois, but my first time. So at Marymount, I  didn’t bring anything to Scott McLarty staff other than like being a good guy and going out and recruiting and would have like a beer with him so he could get away from his family. Like that was Scott McClarty was the head coach at Marymount and he went to Linberg and now he’s a really successful coach in the Pennsylvania area.

His team just won state title there. But he gave me that opportunity right. To, to break in and everybody, so many people have stories like that, where it’s just what it takes to get into the business. And I don’t know how the heck I did it. I just know that I would never trade it.

Right. I would never trade this journey to, what’s gotten me to this point right now. And, it doesn’t mean, and, that doesn’t mean like I’m anywhere I love where I’m at, but I’m just saying like, it, it was, it’s been an incredible run. This sport has been incredible to me. And, I just love, I love coaching.

[00:31:49] Mike Klinzing: What did you love about it? Right from the very beginning. So obviously, Hey, I don’t really know what I’m doing, but clearly even with not knowing what you’re doing, there’s something about it that strikes a chord with you. So when you think back to that, yeah. First experience, what’s something that you’re like right off the bat.

You’re like, man, I love this aspect of coaching.

[00:32:08] Kent Dernbach: The look, the look at a player’s eyes when they believe in you, when somebody believes in you, right. And maybe not entirely, maybe not, they don’t believe in your personal life or anything, but they believe in what you’re telling them. And I, and one of the first guys that I had that feeling with is actually when I was at Carthage.

I was coaching in the Christian youth council. It is like the YMCA in Kenosha, Wisconsin. And his name was Steve DRA Kovi who went on to be a great player at Carthage. I played for his dad Bosco. Well, I can’t say I played cause I never got into a game, but you know, I ldt her for his dad, but I led her for, I let her for Bosco.

And Steve was like a, I don’t know, I dunno like a third or fourth grader. And he was a really good player. And, and Steve was the first one that gave me that look and I it’s addicting. Right. It’s just, and it’s, and, and that’s like, oh, that’s just self gratifying. But it really, it was I, if you’re, that’s the honest truth, like to have somebody look at you and believe in you just like, hopefully I’m doing to our players and guys that I coach, hopefully my, my daughters feel that every single day for me and my wife and other people that I love that.

But. But to have somebody believe in you. Right. And, and, and the satisfaction that it, that you get from that. And then from there, you know there’s so many things developing a team and you know, now as a head coach, like seeing a team grow, seeing a young man grow with it that’s all that’s all, that’s all great stuff.

And, and then I will say this winning is fun. The feeling after a win, oh God, it’s addicting. Isn’t it addicting Mike,

[00:33:49] Mike Klinzing: the feeling, it really, it really, it really is. I mean, I think if you’re a competitive person that when you start thinking about what it, what it means to, to win games and you have that question of how much do you love to win versus hate to lose.

And I think it’s always an interesting question to answer. And I, I look at myself and I think I always go back to, for me, it’s always, I hated to lose more than I love to win, because I think as, as a player, especially early on and. And coaching. When I was coaching, I was an assistant varsity coach. So it’s not the same when you’re an assistant, because that one loss record doesn’t go.

Yep. It doesn’t get attached to your name. So it’s not quite the same. You don’t get that, quite that same personal feeling that you do when you’re a head coach when you’re a player. But I always felt like, because as a player you’re used to winning that the losses stand out to me. Like if you ask me to remember games from my career, I’m much more likely to remember the losses than I am the win.

So for me, that always equates back to, I hate to lose. And yet at the same time, what you just described completely resonates with me, which is that feeling of winning is one that you just, you just keep credit. You can’t get enough of it as a competitor.

[00:35:00] Kent Dernbach: Yeah. Well, I don’t know. I think this is through to an extreme, right.

You know, there there’s addiction and just about every family that’s out there and. So, so I, I try to be sensitive to that including ours and, and, but I, I believe I’m addicted to that feeling. I think it’s, I think there’s when you love somebody there, when you love something, as much as I love the game of basketball and coaching, there’s so many reasons why you love it.

Right. There’s so many reasons, but one of the reasons, and that we just is, is that feeling. And I believe that I’m addicted to that feeling. Like I it’s like why the, and then the pain, like you want to curl up in a fetal position. when you lose like, oh, you know what I mean? I don’t know. I know exactly what you saying,

[00:35:51] Mike Klinzing: Showing your face.  That was always the thing that was hardest for me. And it wasn’t again, because I wasn’t a head coach. I didn’t feel it in the same way as I did when I was a player. But I know when I was a player and I lost games, it would be so hard to show up at school. The next day. And it would be so hard to answer questions from, go back to the dorm room and answer questions from your roommate or your friends.

Hey, what happened? Or, Hey, how come you, you didn’t play very well. And like those things, just the pain of those, the sting of having to answer those questions and like feeling that wind slipped through your fingers, that’s a pain, it’s definitely a painful feeling. And I think that it’s something, like I said before, if you’re a competitive person it’s really hard to lose when you know, that that feeling of winning was sitting right there in front of you.

[00:36:43] Kent Dernbach: Yeah. And, and and it doesn’t mean like you show that to like your players, right. Or it’s not like you show that to like the fans or anything because you played at a high level. So, I mean, it’s, it’s. You know you had to answer some questions for that, right? It doesn’t mean you did that, but internally that’s just how you feel like, I, I honestly you can’t sleep and, and after the, the win, the euphoria and after a big win, the, oh, I don’t know.

It’s addicting. Right. It’s addicting.

[00:37:18] Mike Klinzing: It really is. All right. So let’s jump from your experience at Marymount, where you’re bringing little to no value to your job. And now suddenly you’re going to get another job and you’re going to go to George Mason at the division one level. How does that happen?

[00:37:32] Kent Dernbach: Yeah, well Glen Farrell, who’s the head coach at Paul. The six thinks it’s so funny because nearly every job I’ve gotten, I’ve never actually been offered the position. Right? When I went to Marymount, I ended up just starting working their camp. You know, Scott McQuay said, come down and work our camp.

And all of a sudden I was his his big time $2,000 paid assistant coach. right. You know, bartending at Bobos. And, and then when I went to George Mason, I’ll never forget, Joe. The position was open. Joe Bearer was leaving Joe bear. Who’s now the head coach for the Lakeville magic, great coach.

Really, really good coach. And. He, I just kind of got to, I got to know him a little bit through Eric conk and then ended up moving with him and Chris Caputo. Who’s the head coach at George Washington right now. Okay. So when I moved out east, I had no place to live and Eric Conel got me in touch with these guys and I lived in their dining room.

I put up a curtain and I lived in their dining room and they were at George Mason and I was at Marymount. So then Joe Bear decided to leave. He wanted to go learn a different system. So he was going to go up and work at brother rice height school in, in Chicago. And so I put my name in there, right. And the, the entire time Paul DeStefano, who is the head coach at St.

John’s in that, in that in the Washington Catholic league, he had a son who was going to get the job. He was just going to, he was going to move into the ops role over over there. And then all of a sudden at the last second Tommy Amer I believe went to Harvard. Right. And he’s a Duke guy, so then he ends up bringing the other guy with him.

And so Joe Bear’s like, Hey, why don’t you just come over here and start working? Why don’t you just come over here? So I just started showing up. I just started showing up at George Mason and just started doing the job, started doing the job. And then before you know it, I got a check.

I got paid for it to this day. Nice, nice coach, coach Larranaga has never told me that I’m his guy that he’s hiring me. No. Now he’s he now we had like an interview process and things like that, where he got to know me more. But to this day it’s just, it’s, it’s just kind of how it worked out. You just start working the job and then hopefully you’re good enough.

And, and they don’t want you to leave. And I remember, I still remember Chris Caputo telling me though, he goes, you’re ambitious. You got some initiative, but you don’t know what the hell you’re. You don’t know what the hell you’re doing. And you don’t even know that you don’t know what the hell you’re doing, you’re just doing it.

[00:39:59] Mike Klinzing:  Talk about, so how do you go about about learning? Like as you’re, as you’re going through this. Yeah. You’re obviously learning from the guys on your staff, but what are you doing outside of your hours on the job? Are you reading, are you watching film?

Are you trying to get, talk to mentors outside of the staff? How are you trying to improve your craft so that you’re more prepared for the next opportunity and that, and that you’re continuing to, to just grow in the position that you’re in?

[00:40:28] Kent Dernbach: Yeah. Well, I was the director of ops there and and it was very clear that that was my role as the director of ops and coach doesn’t cheat. He just doesn’t cheat. It’s like when the whole whole thing came out a couple years back, like, and like Miami was into it. He doesn’t cheat. and I know he doesn’t cheat because I was with him and I worked with him. He wouldn’t let me touch a basketball because director of ops going to touch a basketball that was illegal, right.

To be able to do that. And so it’s like, okay, if, if my impact’s not going to come on the floor with it, then how, how good can I be at running an operation at team travel and things like that. So to your question, it wasn’t basketball stuff that I learned. I tr I just learned from secretaries I learned from, from travel agents and things like that, how to do it really, really well, how to do, how to do that part of the job really, really well.

So I was helping the staff out, so they never had to worry about anything. Administrative-wise never had to worry about it. And then when I felt comfortable enough doing that, then you gain the respect of getting basketball knowledge with it. And I think that’s so important is it’s easy to not be pleased in the role that you’re in.

But you can’t expand your role until you’re great in the job that you were hired for in what you’re supposed to be doing currently. And that’s, that’s what I tried to do. And with that, then I brought value. Then I could, then, then I could expand my game a little bit more from there.

So to say or so to speak is I, but you have to do a great job in what the heck role you’re supposed to be in. And if you don’t enjoy that role that you’re supposed to be in, that you’re hired to do, then get the hell out. It’s it’s not, it’s nobody else’s fault, right? If you go into a situation or you go into a job and you know, the head coach is this way, or they do things this way, or this is what the job is going to be.

Well, then don’t complain when that’s what the job is. Don’t complain. Find out what the job is and understand if you like it or not. And then can you deal with it? And can you try to be great at it? And I’m not saying I was great at it, Mike, I’m just saying that was my approach to it.

And I got that approach from farming. I got that approach from growing up, farming, picking rock. I, you walk up and down a field and you pick rock, you see a rock, you pick it up, you put it in a wagon. I mean, that’s what I did growing up. There’s no enjoyment in that, but you better do it. You better do it well.

Or when the bean picker comes across and there’s a rock and it goes over that rock. Well, it misses that role and the other seven rolls right next to it. So those beans don’t get picked and you don’t get paid for it. Right. It’s just simple things that you have to be able to do. And that’s where my foundation comes from.

Again, it is from my time growing up

[00:43:21] Mike Klinzing: At this stage in your career. So you’ve gone from Marymount, then you’re at George Mason. Then you get an opportunity at Northern Illinois. Where are you in terms of. Your thoughts long term for, for your career, or are you thinking about just what you just described, which is I’m just trying to be great at what I do.

And if another opportunity comes my way great. Or are you starting to think, Hey, what level do I want to be at? Or is it more just opportunities kind of come across your, across your desk?

[00:43:51] Kent Dernbach: No, it’s, that’s a great question. It was really during that time during my second year where I realized, am I going to be an east coast guy, or am I going to get back to the Midwest?

You know? Because if I, because I could have stayed at George at George Mason and then who knows hopefully coach Larranaga, would’ve taken me to with, with him to Miami. Right. I don’t know, but, but I could have done that, but all my connections then would’ve been on the east. And that’s where you’re probably going to have your life then is on the east coast.

And that’s fine. But I had a girlfriend at the time that was my high school sweetheart. I knew I wanted to get back to the Midwest. I happened to observe the best division three league in the country and the WIAC, I mean, there’s other good leagues out there, but nobody’s going to argue that the WIAC is not the best.

It’s just what it is. And so I observed that growing up, watching, watching great players, you know growing up out of this league is like, I knew I wanted to get back this way. And so I took a chance that was for like the first time where I kind of like took control of like, Hey, I’m leaving something.

That’s good. Really, really good to go to a situation that might not be good, but but it’s getting me closer to where I want to be and where, where I see myself spending the rest of my career and that’s somewhere in the Midwest.

[00:45:06] Mike Klinzing: So at that point it was more of a geographic decision than it was necessarily a level decision.

[00:45:11] Kent Dernbach: Yep, exactly. And, and I loved my time at Mason. I just kind of thought I was on the east coast enough. I wanted to get back to the Midwest and the opportunity, and I didn’t know, Ricardo Patton. I had no connection to that staff at all. And I just give him a heck of a lot of credit for, for taking a chance on me and, and I wanted to get back over there.

And I also felt like I was probably going to have a little bit more of a, not, maybe not a voice, but just a little bit more involved in some basketball things there, and that turned out to be true. So it was just the right move. It was just the right move for me. And, we ended up getting fired two years later from that position.

And then, and then got hired back on by Mark Montgomery. I just who did a great job at Northern Illinois and now is at Michigan state and it just kind of went from there. So at that point it was it was a geographical decision.

[00:46:08] Mike Klinzing: How much did you miss being on the court or how much did not being able to be on the court when you were in the ops positions?

How much did, how hard was that to just kind of again, do the behind the scenes thing. And I know you described how, Hey, you have to do what you have to do and you understood that going in, but just how much when you would walk by the practice floor and you’d see your fellow staff mates out there actually getting a coach and you have to go in and mail some envelopes or run some copies.  How did you handle that?

[00:46:37] Kent Dernbach: t Yeah, and it wasn’t quite that extreme. I was always that practice and things like that, but still it was that feeling and it, and it’s why I ended up making, probably ended up making the move right where I just couldn’t do that anymore. With it, I needed to get back on the floor.

And even though I went to Northern Illinois, it was going to be more of a, a coaching type role there and learning from a different staff, you know as well with Ricardo Patton and Sundance Ws who, and, and Todd Townson will. Yeah, it was just, it was just, it was the right move for me. So it did bother me.

And because I know sometimes I would get concerned with, if you’re too good at that role, then can you ever get out of that role? Right. Right. You know, you, you start talking to people like that. Well, you Don know you don’t want to be too good in that role because then that’s all you’re ever going to be too.

So that was the other reason that I, that I took a chance with, with Northern Illinois and, and a Ricardo Patton. And it was a great experience for me, it’s growing up in central Wisconsin and a lack of diversity, right. Really a lack of diversity. And then more different backgrounds.

When I was at Carthage, then Ohio state, when I was a freshman coach at west west stone high school, that was really good, a diverse background in the moving out east, but then being able to work for, for Ricardo Patton in the dynamic that, that brought up of, of working for a minority man. Right.

And what he had to deal with and things that it, it was just so eye opening to me to, to experience that with him, because I was tied to him. Right. I was tied to Ricardo. And what was Ricardo was dealing with, which coach Patton was dealing with. And it was, it was for the first time, like. Well, this, this really is, this really is something, this is, this is real.

There, there is, there is a difference here. And I don’t know, that’s, I don’t know where that kind of came out of. I really haven’t explained that to too many people, Mike, but, but it was just a great experience for me and Ricardo Patton. Coach Patton is a great man. He’s a great man and a really good basketball coach.

I mean, he had to be, he was at Colorado for 10 years with John Phillips, but that it was a really, really good time in my life. And I learned a ton.

[00:49:09] Mike Klinzing: How does the opportunity at Steven’s Point come to you and then what made you go for that opportunity?

[00:49:18] Kent Dernbach: Yeah, so Coach Patton got let go. And then Mark Montgomery came in.

I met with him. I remember I met with him at 11:45 PM and a, and a suit and tie. And I walk into the office and he tells me he’s like, Ken, I don’t have a position for you. Right. I don’t have a position for you. And you know, who would, I don’t know him. He’s got his own guy he’s coming in. Right.

He’s coming from Michigan State. He’s got his own guys and all that tree. So and I said, well, coach, I’m going to, I’m going to show up every single day until you tell me not to. And it was, it was about. Two and a half months. I mean, I, I showed guys around campus that were interviewing for my job. I had to show them around campus and soon enough I was giving him a ride to the airport one time and he, and he, he told the guy, yeah, I’m going to, I’m going to go with, I’m going to go with the guy that’s been here, Kent.

He’s he’s, he’s going to be our ops guy. And that’s how I found out that I got the job. So it was just another one of those situations. Like you just start working the job and hopefully nobody tells you to go anywhere.

[00:50:17] Mike Klinzing: 90% of the battle is just showing up. Right? Yeah. Just showing up,

[00:50:21] Kent Dernbach: Just showing up and not being an a-hole being somebody that’s enjoyable to be around hopefully.

Right. Most of the time. But then I was with him for six months and then the opportunity came up at Steven’s point. And,  I took it to get back on the floor. I had the taste of being on the floor as an assistant coach, my last year at Northern. And then going back to the ops and I wanted to get back really to where a place where I thought basketball was really important and where you can compete at a national level.

And that’s what’s different than in our league and division three, where if you’re one of the best teams in our league, you’re going to be able to compete at a national level where there’s so many low major schools out there that can’t say that, right. They can’t say that. And that, and no offense to them.

It’s just not what I was looking for. I wanted to get back to a place where I could get on the court. And I were into a league that is the sec of college football, where basketball is important.

[00:51:24] Mike Klinzing: What’s the adjustment like going from the division one level to the division three level. And you can take that in whatever direction you want to go in terms of.

Players on the floor in terms of the resources, in terms of the size of the staff. We know there’s a lot of differences, but just what were some of the things that you had to adjust to going from the division one back to the division three level

[00:51:46] Kent Dernbach: It’s coach assembling experience division one.

And then I did, and we wanted to run a division one program at a division three level, but just doing it with two guys. So you had to do everything right. You just, the what, what division ones have 2, 3, 4 guys be able to do. You’re going to do that with one person, but to give the players that experience, right?

That first class experience of, of scouting reports and travel and meals and things like that. Now the difference is rather than eating in a hotel and spending $38 for for chicken and pasta. And instead you’re going to get Jersey mikes and, and  talk about how great that Chipotle cheese steak is afterwards. right. But, but it’s that same thing. You’re just doing it a little bit different way, but you can give rather than giving a Nike t-shirt you give them a Gilden t-shirt, but that Gilden t-shirt the look on somebody’s face was exactly the same as it was even better than at division one.

Because they’re just, they’re just a little bit more thankful for it. But I think the love for the game, the passion for the game is there there’s certainly not less. I can tell you that it’s certainly not less, Dick Bennett would say good basketball knows no level, right?

If, and it’s the same thing, good players. The players at our, at our level love the game, right? They love the game and, and I would argue sometimes they love the game even more because they’re getting into the gym. When a coach isn’t allowed to get in the gym with them. Right. Where we’ll have guys, we have nine guys up here this summer and they’re in the gym.

Every single. And it has, I can’t be in the gym with them. Right. I can’t be in there with them, but that’s how much they love the game they want to be in there. Right. They want to be in the, they want to get better and they want to push themselves to get better. Not everybody. Right. Not everybody’s like that. And so I don’t want to like, talk about how it’s all perfect in this it’s Pleasantville and we never miss a shot, but, but just overall it’s, it’s just, it’s pure and it’s genuine and it’s just good stuff.

Right. It’s just really, really good stuff. So I kind of went two different directions there with it, but, but I think there’s more similarities than there are differences, to be honest with you. I really do

[00:54:09] Mike Klinzing: At the end of your tenure there, you got an opportunity to take over as the interim head coach.

Yeah. Yeah. Which that’s always been a situation that I feel like could go very, very well, but it could also go south. Really fast if it’s not handled correctly, both by the coach, the players, the administration, that’s putting that interim coach in place. So just describe a little bit about what your experience is like going from being an assistant.

Obviously you already have a relationship with the players, but now that relationship changes when you become the head coach, tell us a little bit about that experience and just what you remember from those last 13 games that you coached as the interim.

[00:54:50] Kent Dernbach: Yeah, well, it was the hardest time of my life.

We lost to Oshkosh on a Wednesday and then we got brought into the office on a Thursday and, and, and, and coach SIM was told that he was going to be suspended for the rest of the season and that I was going to be the interim coach and that we were going to be on a post-season ban for some NCAA violations that  I could get into that and it just wasn’t good.

Right, right. It just wasn’t right. And, and so to sit into that room and tell young men that they’re not allowed to compete in the post season and that their head coach couldn’t even say bye to them was the most emotion. I mean, I get, I get emotional talking about it, because it just wasn’t right. How it was handled and those young men had were, the post season was stripped from them, right.

We just were, oh, and one in league play and, and I’m going to be elevated now to try to direct them into their senior year and juniors and things like that. And, and the character that they showed, the character that they showed and the belief that they had in, in that program and in our system. And then And I got to benefit from that, because I don’t want to say they believed in me.

I was just the benefactor of them believing in the program and the system for us to, to finish eight and five and be the hottest team in the league. You know, down the stretch, winning five hour last six games. It just, it it’s again, the beauty of division three where I remember we’re playing Plattville in the last game of the year and they can’t Plattville was out of the playoff hunt.

I think they were one in 13 that year or something like that. It was like one of the last, one of the, one of the last years coach guard hasn’t been incredible. Right. And he has been incredible. I’m just saying like he just had a bad season at Plattville and, and then we weren’t able to go. So this is like on a Saturday night, two teams, their season is done and it was the most competitive game that maybe I was.

One of the most competitive games that I’ve been a part of and it, and some people would be like, it was for nothing. It was for nothing, but it was for something, it was for pride and love of the game. Right. Just love of the game. And that’s when it was just during that time that I felt comfortable in my own voice, right.

In my own voice of directing, that was a challenge. I mean, ironically, we were told that on a Thursday and on, on Saturday we had to travel to La Crosse who was ranked 20th in the country. And we end up beating them by 25. Because it could have went either way, right. Either we were going to get, we were going to get pumped or our guys were going to rise up.

We’re going to rise up through those circumstances and play really well. And they played great. Right. They played great. And, and then we were able to ride that the, the rest of the year, but  I’m so thankful to those guys, those seniors, those juniors who. Just relied on their passion and their love for the game to give me a good experience, because if we fell on our face, right.

If we would’ve fell on our face, I don’t know if I could’ve recovered from that. Right. I’m not sure if I would’ve recovered from that. And how fragile coaching confidence is and coaching is, but because of they, because of their foundation through their parents and the foundation that coach SIM had, we were able to rise up and be the hottest team down the stretch.

And that gave, that gave me great confidence. I was able to be, again, the benefactor from everything that was put into place prior to me taking over as the interim coach,

[00:58:43] Mike Klinzing: what did you learn? If you could boil it down to one or two key lessons that you learned in that time that have carried over to your time as the head coach at La Crosse.

[00:58:55] Kent Dernbach: That if you get the right people, right, it’s the, the saying, you don’t know who you can win with until you lose with them or something like that. I am so bad at sayings.

[00:59:05] Mike Klinzing: We get what you’re saying.

[00:59:09] Kent Dernbach: It’s like you just the character, like recruit character, right?

Recruit character guys, recruit guys that are, that are about the right things. Because they can get you through all those tough situations.

[00:59:22] Mike Klinzing: I think that’s a hundred percent. Right. And when you talk about college coaching in particular, the idea that a lot of what you do, a lot of your job entails, Hey, you have to get the right people in the door to begin with that have the right type of character and are the right type of players.

And then once you have those kinds of guys on campus, then you can start to mold those guys into the type of team that you want. If you get, if you bring in. Guys who are bad apples or guys who don’t have the kind of character that you want. It’s really easy for things to go in a direction that you, as the head coach don’t want it to do.

And so certainly building a quality program and building a winning team starts with the recruiting process and how you go about making sure that you get the right guys in the door. So let’s, let’s go there right now. And just talk a little bit about recruiting when you’re out there and you’re on the recruiting trail, and we’ve talked to a lot of division three coaches about just the challenge that you face as a division three coach, because clearly a lot of the guys that you’re recruiting, if you’re going to be successful and compete on the national level, like you’ve talked about, then the type of players that you want to bring and that you need to bring in are probably guys that can play at a higher level and maybe even have offers to play at a higher level where guys might turn down a D two scholarship to come and play for you at Wisconsin La Crosse to play division three basketball because of the type of program that you’re building.

So how do you go about. First of all identifying the players that are on your initial list of guys, you’re going to consider. And then as you start to narrow that down and obviously guys have to show a mutual interest, but what do you, how do you go about narrowing down that initial list of whatever 50, 75 guys or, or however many you have on that initial list that you get from high school contacts and AAU contacts, and just putting together that, that first group of however many you put together, how do you, how do you narrow that down?

[01:01:18] Kent Dernbach: Well, it starts with you have to get an eye on everybody, right? And, and that’s, it sounds pretty basic, but at our level you really do have to get an eye on, on every single player in Wisconsin, in Minnesota and Chicago or Northern Illinois, if we’re going to recruit there to be able to evaluate them, it, it doesn’t mean that you have to do like a great evaluation on them, but you have to have an idea of who they are. And is it something that you want to continue to, somebody that you want to continue to pursue? Because at our level it’s, you’re feeling out, can they help you win? Are they a division three player? Are they a division two player? Are they a division one? Are they division one?

But they have some parents that really love division three are they division three, but their, their parents and their AAU coach thinks they’re division two. So then they end up doing something else. Like they’re those are like, those are, I think are some of the most important questions as trying to figure out of like who who’s excited, who can you get involved with and who are you wasting time on?

And where can you actually get some bang for your buck with it now, how do you get to that list of like the guys that you’re really excited about? Well for us it’s guys that I believe that can guard. When I came to La Crosse, it’s the success that we had at Steven’s Point winning a national title.

Bringing that to La Crosse where we are going to guard we’re, we’re going to defend. And is it guys that I feel have the potential to be able to do that. And then in addition that can they make a shot and all that other good stuff, but rarely do we bring somebody in here that I, that that I’m really concerned, like, will they ever be able to defend at a high level?

Cause. We’re going to pride ourselves on that side of the basketball we’re motion, offense, and man to man defense. So and, and that’s going to be the foundation to our program. And then from there, once you identify that list, a lot of times it’s just having the dust settle a little bit, Mike, right, where it gets into August and September.

Okay, well, these guys haven’t been off yet from a division two. So now let’s get them on campus. We don’t get a whole lot of kids on campus during the summer, unless they’re like traveling up to the cities or something like that. Maybe they want to swing through. But I just don’t like yet guys on campus during the summer, I’d rather have the dust settle a little bit.

And then we just kind of go after them and, and what we try to do here at La Crosse is specifically target guys like, Hey, we can’t offer a scholarship, but we can offer a roster spot and, and go at it that way. We’re not going to have a huge roster size. Now with that being said, COVID has, has increased our roster size because no, because we’ve had guys that that want to stay in user their COVID year.

But, but we went from like having 40, 45 kids trying out each year. You know, that’s what I walked into my first day of practice to by year three, we had 15 on our roster. So just being really selective with them and, and, and going after that player. And that means you’re, it, it gets a little a little scary down the stretch into March and April.

Especially later in April because those kids haven’t committed yet. Those kids are always going to take longer. Right. But thankfully, thankfully, because of our university, our academic standard, and hopefully our program a little bit, we’ve been able to get right around 40 to 45% of our top recruits. And if you’re able to do that, then I think you, if you’re recruiting the right kids, you probably got a chance to be all right.

[01:05:04] Mike Klinzing: When you’re doing your evaluation, how do you weigh. their performance with their high school team versus what you see when you watch them play AAU basketball

[01:05:12] Kent Dernbach: Yeah. It’s a great question.  I think you have to watch both. You have to watch both. The Ethan Anderson for us is, is going to be an all American this next year.

He was a third team, all American, this past year and he’s coming back and he was terrible with his high school team. Couldn’t get anything done. In fact, down the stretch, his high school, I mean, excuse me, his AAU team. They, they want to play him. Right. They, they just want to play him and his high school team his average 27 a game and just could get a lot of things done out there.

You have to watch both. So if, if there’s things that are concerning you on the AAU side, and then you see it on the high school side, then it’s like then that’s probably not your guy, but if it’s something that’s outside of bad attitude and. Are they a pig on offense and things like that.

But if it’s just some things like, oh, he just does an attack here, but then he comes in with this high school team and he attacks, well, that’s probably what you can get him to do. Right. So I really do kind of evaluate each, each thing equally. Right. I mean, I, I love watching kids with their high school team and, and the, the structure that comes with it.

But I also think you have to evaluate, evaluate them in AAU because maybe their high school team scores, 40 or 45 a game. And they sit in a two, three zone or a 1, 3, 1, and, and we don’t have a shot clock in Wisconsin. So that’s a little bit harder to evaluate.

[01:06:42] Mike Klinzing: That makes a lot of sense.  I think both environments clearly have advantages and disadvantages. When you think about how does that translate to. Your level. Cause ultimately that’s what you’re trying to figure out is which kids yeah. Do you think can come in and play at your level? And then when you talk about again at the division three at the division three level, you just have that, that constant battle when you’re recruiting of kids who probably think, Hey, I can play at that at that next level above.

And, and you’re trying to convince them that it’s about the fit and it’s about being in the right program. And it’s it’s, it’s constantly, I think it’s constantly a challenge and one of the things that’s also interesting and I’m sure this is probably your experience as well, that we’ve talked to a lot of division three coaches that.

You know, tell us that when they’re sitting now with their recruited, a lot of times, and Wisconsin may be a little bit of a different situation because of just again, how good the, the we act is just the familiarity that players probably have with the league. But in a lot of places, you have players being recruited by division three schools, and they’ve never even sat in a gym and watched the division three games.

They really have no idea how good the level of play. I think the average high school player, if you were to go to an AAU tournament, you’d walk up to high school players and parents. And how many of them have familiarity with really how good the division three game is? I think a lot of them are completely clueless, clueless as to how good the players really are.

[01:08:05] Kent Dernbach: Yeah, it is a great point. I mean, it, you it’s like. Coaching you need to, I believe you should try to get to the level that you want to be at. If you want to be a division three coach, then the coach in division three. I think if you want to be high school, then you have to coach in high school. I think things have tightened up more within divisions where you want to be, and I’m making the comparison.

Then if, if you want to coach or play at division two, then you have to watch a division two game. You have to watch a division three game to, to see the level of competition because it, and because there really is no convincing. If somebody, if somebody thinks they’re a higher level, you might end up getting them.

You might end up getting them, but rarely do they actually work out because, because they’re going to fail, they’re going to come in. They’re going to come in and they’re not going to be one of your best players out there. And then it’s like, oh, I thought I was division two or division one or something, and I can’t even play here.

And it is usually such a shot to their ego that they end up not working out. And a lot of times, you know what I mean? Does that make sense? Yeah, no, it total sense if you’re just going off rankings for the disservice, I think I know rankings have to be out there, but the disservice that they do to so many kids were there.

There’s so many kids like where, Hey, this year in the state of Wisconsin the 15th best player was a clearly a division one player. But then two years after that, the 15th best player was, was at best a division three player. And, and then, but they don’t, they might not understand it. And then the parents always want, might want something more and then it’s like, Well, if their son comes here, then he’s a failure, right?

He’s a failure. And they don’t say that, but their actions say that. And, and so then rather than doing that, let’s just quit, don’t play. And the amount of times that, that we’ve just come across really, really good players that end up not playing anywhere or having memorable careers, which you think they should have it just, it just happens.

It just happens. And, and some of that I believe is, is the, is, is they didn’t live up the expectation with division three and it’s put on them by not themselves, it’s put on them by those around them.

[01:10:45] Mike Klinzing: Having the right expectations is so critical when you think about the recruiting process. But even when you think about, Hey, what kind of career are you going to have?

Or what kind of season are you going to have? And if, if you’ve got a player who. Let’s say he’s already in your program and he didn’t play very much as a freshman. And he comes in as a sophomore and he’s behind a guy at his position. Who’s a senior that’s played for four years. If that kid comes in with the expectation that, Hey, this is my year, I’m going to, I’m going to get 32 minutes a game.

Well, they’re probably going to be disappointed because their expectations just aren’t calibrated correctly. Whereas that kid comes in and says, Hey, maybe I can get four minutes, a game as player X’s backup. And next year is going to be my year. And I work at it and I do those things by setting the correct expectations, you can have the exact same experience, but it can go completely differently just because of how you frame going into what that’s going to look like.

And I think so much of that we talked about earlier. I think so much of that comes from the people around the player as opposed to the player themselves.

[01:11:56] Kent Dernbach: Yeah. And it’s you, you, we talked about this earlier is the trust, right? And the recruiting process, the trust for sure. And being honest, being honest with them where our first recruiting class here at UW La Crosse we were, it was an interim coach.

I was interim coach the first year, right. It, the job got posted the previous head coach, Ken Cable left right before the season started. So, so we’re recruiting and we’re like, Hey, you just have to wait, you have to wait till the end. You have to wait till the end to see if I can get the job. What it is. And I remember this kid named Seth Anderson from us where he’s like, well, coach, these two other schools are telling me that they can go there and I can probably start and play.

And I said, well, Seth, you’re not going to do that. Here. We have Brendan Manning. And it was the year that we made the NCAA tournament the, the next year, his freshman year. And you’re, you’re probably not going to play. And, and if we didn’t have that conversation, Seth would’ve transferred after his freshman year.

There’s no doubt about it. We, I mean, and the list goes on and on like that, where if, if you, if you let them know early on, then they realize it. And mom and dad realize it. And, and that’s why they have to be on there on the recruiting visit. And we sit on the couch and I talk to the parents about this Austin Wester for us.

Who’s going to be a really, really good player next year. And if we’re, and if we’re good, it’s, he’s going to have a huge part in that. I remember his freshman year, we won at, at a tournament at Loris. We beat Concordia out of Wisconsin and he’s crying after the game. And he doesn’t know why he’s crying. He doesn’t he’s like coach, I don’t know why I’m crying.

Well, it was for the first time in his career, mom and dad were there. Grandma and grandpa were there. His girlfriend was there and he never played a. right. He never played a minute and he didn’t know how to handle that. The emotion that he had, six foot, six, beautiful. I mean, just a specimen, right? You look at him.

You’re like that guy, that guy he’s going to he’s somebody he he’s emotional afterwards and he wasn’t being selfish about it. Mike, he just didn’t know how to, that was. He just didn’t ever feel that before. And thankfully we had those conversations and his parents were knew what was going to happen and were there for him and got him through it.

And you know, he, he let us and plus minus last year as a junior and is the reason why, one of the reasons why we won our, our, an NCAA tournament game for the first time in program history is, is because he was able to get through those tough moments,

[01:14:33] Mike Klinzing: Being able to do that and have that perseverance.

When you look at where we are with the transfer portal, At the college level. And then you think about just how the trickle down of players transferring in high school. And then clearly when you think about players jumping programs in AAU, and just, it seems like there’s this trend of, if things get tough or things, don’t go the way that you want them to go, the way your family wants them to go, that you’re just going to pack your bags and go on to the next opportunity.

And I think people so often forget that no matter what situation you’re in, it’s rarely perfect. And there’s always going to be things that you have to fight through, and there’s always going to be adversity. And to me, when I walk, look at the college landscape, especially at the division one level, and you see so many kids that man, if they could just be a little bit patient and understand that their opportunity, yeah.

Maybe you’re not going to be a starter as a freshman, but guess what? Put in a year, put in two years and maybe you’re going to get an opportunity, but I think so many people, and this goes back to the very beginning of our conversation. When you think about being a parent and. why your kid plays sports and what you want from that experience for them, I feel like so many people are chasing the next thing that too often, they forget to focus on where they are.

Now, you talked about it in your coaching career, like be good at the job that you’re doing right now. And I feel like so many high school players are just worried about, well, where am I going to go to college instead about, instead of worrying about, Hey, let me have a great high school career, or I’m playing AAU basketball.

And I want to utilize that to be able to secure my position as a high school starter I’m in college and Hey, I have to be able to put up these stats because maybe I can transfer and go to a higher level, or I need to be able to have a pro career when I’m done. Instead of just trying to maximize the experience that you have in the moment.

I think that the story you just told is a great example of sometimes you just have to stick with it and keep working and keep working. And then. You’re going to have that moment that you’re looking for, but you have to be able to focus on the here and now and not always worry about that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

[01:16:45] Kent Dernbach: Yeah. And, and, and I think it’s not like I’m insulting kids that transfer or the portal or anything, anything like that. What I can just speak to is, is the division three level. And because kids were not giving them anything, right. We’re not giving them a scholarship. We’re telling them on the way in this is going to be the hardest thing you ever do in your life.

And you’re going to fail before you succeed there. We’re like on this common ground to fight through adversity compared to offering a scholarship, convincing them how great it’s going to be. You’re not in an environment that allows you to fight through a tough moment. And I don’t know how to fix that at division one or division two or whatever it is.

And, and again, I could have egg in my face next year, because three guys could leave our program or something like that. but I’m just saying like, like right now, you know what I mean? Like we’re just on the same, there’s a balance and there’s this harmony within division three where I make $70,000 a year.

Yeah. That’s probably about right for coaching basketball, in my opinion like I there’s a lot of other things that might pay a little bit more, but I make it more than some people out there. I mean, anybody can look up at Wisconsin state salary, so it’s not like it’s any secret out there.

That’s what I make a year, $70,000. And that’s kind of about right.  because I’m into it for the, for the right thing. We don’t, we don’t go to a hotel and, and have ice cream socials afterwards for $18 ahead because that’s what we have to do. You know? I mean, if we would give them, if we would give them go out for ice cream when during the NCAA tournament, our ad Kim bloom brought in crispy cream donuts and it was , it was the best thing in the world, man.

[01:18:50] Mike Klinzing:  That’s awesome. It was that’s awesome.

[01:18:53] Kent Dernbach: It was amazing because it’s genuine. It’s pure. I just feel like there’s this harmony and there’s this balance within division three and I’m not insulting any other level out there. The best coaches are in high school. Everybody knows that, right? I mean, anybody that doesn’t think that’s an idiot, that’s where the best coaches are, but there’s just this balance between player and coach.

I believe between player and program at the division three level. And it’s because of the makeup that, that they come into.

[01:19:24] Mike Klinzing: It’s so interesting when you talk about just what it’s like from a lifestyle standpoint, as division three, head coach versus what it’s like to be at the division one level.

And I’ve had this conversation now with a couple of different coaches at both levels, thinking about the way that division one runs their off season and just how much access coaching staffs now have the players. And I equate it back to my situation as a player. And I was so when our season would end, I just wanted to go play, pick up and work on my game and just get back and, and not have the coaches chirping at my ear every single second.

And if I would’ve had to turn around and a week after the season, go back and do individual workouts with the same coaching staff that had been on me all season. I don’t know that I don’t know that I would’ve survive. I don’t know that I would’ve survived. Yeah. Four years. I mean, I needed that. Away. And obviously at the division three level that’s what’s in place, you can’t have that contact on the floor with your players in the off season.

So I think there’s probably somewhere in between the two where I’m sure you’d like to have a little bit of access to your players in the off season, but yet I feel like the amount of access that they have at the division one level to me, that’s not good for players or coaches, because I just think you need to be able to get away from the scenario.

Cause it just seems like it would get stale over and over again, the same thing. So if you could wave a magic wand and just sort of design what a, what an off season, what would an ideal off season look like for you? If, if you could design it and have it be NCAA violation free

[01:21:07] Kent Dernbach: Yeah, I just, I wish we would go to days rather than weeks in division three and division three we’d do weeks.

So I don’t know how familiar you are with that or, but we, we get 19 weeks. From October, whatever you start in October, you can start as early as October 15th and you have to declare your week until the until your conference championship game. Yep. You get 19 weeks to do that. I wish that they would go to days.

That’s what we did during COVID and then you could break up. So if you wanted to start, if you would like to have like a random practice in September or October, then you can do that. If you wanted to save a couple days into April or the first week in May, right before finals, you can do that and you could get onto the court with you know, with your guys.

I wish they wouldn’t treat players so fragile. They can handle that. They want that actually, right. They want that they’re frustrated that they can’t get it, but to protect it give, they give us 114 days during COVID I wish they would give like right around 125 days that you can use throughout it.

Because then I also think it’s a better experience because on October 15th or the 16th that we’ll start this year we’re going to go. And then we’re going to go twice the next day, and then we’re going to go twice the next day, because a week and a half later, we’re scrimmaging a division two, and then we’re going to scrimmage another division two, and then we play five straight NCAA tournament teams.

So that’s what you do, right. And how is that a really good experience for the student athletes when you, when you have to make up and you have to go twice why not break it up a little bit more? And then I would say during the summer if they’re up there to work camp, then they could be around and you can work them out during camp.

You know, if they’re up there, I am fine with guys getting away. I think they need that time, Mike to, to do that. And in fact, I think our guys get better. I think they get there’s so much growth into April and May and June and July when they’re in the gym with one another, getting, getting each other better.

Like, I wouldn’t want to be able to be with them all the time in September and October, because that’s our time for our seniors to get guys together, to organize it and, and work with. And work with them and try to teach a little bit and hear their voice and grow all the time in the recruiting process.

You know, we’ll always hear like, oh, Jimmy’s got a trainer. He loves the game, works out with his trainer three times a week, four times a week. Well, that’s great. That’s great. But does Jimmy get into the gym without his trainer? Because that’s what division three is. And does Jimmy get into his, into the gym without his trainer?

Because that’s what it takes to be a good player or is Jimmy only getting into the gym with his. And that’s what I think you end up seeing so much, and that’s a little bit more comparable to the scholarship level where they’re getting into the gym, always with a coach rather than on their own.

And the game is, I mean, it’s meant to be played and it’s meant to be fun. And, and you can, you can just get better that way. Like I just think, we recruit Ethan Anderson that the, the good player I was telling you about and his dad questioned me on that. I remember him, well, how, how can that be? And I said, there’s just something about the system.

Putting, having, having a gym available to them, having teammates around them that love the game and having a culture where guys want to get into the. I believe you can get better. That doesn’t mean that trainers. And I wouldn’t want to be in there with them or they, they couldn’t get a, a little more direction in there, but they can get better on their own with a teammate.

It’s like, why? It’s like another, it’s like, I love the gun, but I hate the gun. I hate the gun, because I’d rather get, have them get into the gym with a teammate to rebound to go two on, oh, let’s go some, let’s go circle behind. I’m going to rip it. I’m going to drive it at you. You’re going to circle behind. And can we go two in a row?

That’s where you get better, right? Oh Mike, I, sorry, I just go off on this.

[01:24:57] Mike Klinzing: No, you’re a hundred percent, right? I think what’s interesting. When you think about getting out and getting shots up and being able to do that on your own or with a teammate. So as a player, when I was playing, I had two workouts.

I had a workout that I did by myself and I had a workout that I did if I had somebody to partner up with me and that wasn’t a very creative guy. So you’re talking about like probably seven years of doing the. To the same two workouts, but to your point about, about the gun, like I would’ve loved having the gun and been able to shoot and be able to, to, to use a machine, to be able to get up reps.

And that would’ve been something I would’ve loved to do. And at the same time, I think about how much I learned being in the gym by myself and shooting and being able to sense, okay, where’s my shot. Going to go and looking at it off the rim and knowing where it’s going to go. And then just working on moving without the ball, which is way easier to do when you’re with yourself than you are when you’re doing that with a machine where it’s much easier to just kind of stand still.

And then when you’re rebounded for somebody, I think about the amount of times from the, again, back when I was in elementary school, how many times I’m rebounding for somebody and the number of shots that I watch fly towards the rim and being able to read in the air where that ball’s going to go and kids today, they don’t really rebound for anybody.

So I think like that knack of knowing, Hey, where the ball’s going to come off the rim, those are things that are just kind of missing. it’s interesting. We can circle all the way back to the beginning of our conversation about being a sports parent. And this conversation is almost identical to that one, where it’s like, if you want to get better, the only way you’re going to get better is if you want to be in the gym and you want to work hard and you’re the one that’s investing in it versus look, I, as you said, trainers can certainly help.

And being with coaches for a workout can certainly help. But man, you can’t tell me that you can’t achieve 99% of the efficiency that you can with a coach or a trainer, just because you love it. And you have things that you want to get better on and, and work at. And so it’s just, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

But I, I just think that whew, if you can get in the gym and you can get kids to your program that want to get in the gym by themselves and work at it, you’re, I mean, you’re, you’re almost there in terms of what you want to do and what the kind of program you want to build.

[01:27:19] Kent Dernbach: They’re just more skin in the game, right?

There’s more skin in the game. Like, Hey, they had to go online and look up a program. Right. They had to go online and they watch Steph shoot, Steph Curry shooting it, or they got Tim Duncan’s video and, and worked on his 20 minute thing. Or Steve Nash’s you know work out or something like that.

Right. They just have more skin in the game where they’re taking the time to do it. Because, because the, the guys that end the people that end up being good players, they’ll do that anyways. Even without a trainer. Right. If you have that personality and you’re willing to look something up and go the, a little bit more.

to get a workout in and being efficient. Well, you’re going to get that done. Or you could have been with a trainer and have been the same thing, right? It’d been the same thing or you’re somebody that has no interest in doing that. Never wants to do that. And you could get with a trainer, but you’re going to end up being the same damn player you’re going to end up being the same player.

It, it just, it has nothing to do. I shouldn’t say that because there’s great trainers out there. God, I don’t want to like pissing. It depends on what

[01:28:34] Mike Klinzing:  The player has to bring enthusiasm to it. Right. That’s ultimately what it comes down to. If the player, yeah. If you’re working with a trainer and the player brings enthusiasm to it and.

they’re putting their best into it. Yeah. And Hey, you can get a ton out of it. Same way.

[01:28:47] Kent Dernbach: You’re there by yourself. They don’t have to like, yeah. Yep. Because then they don’t have to go to YouTube. They have an expert telling them what to do. Right, right. And then, so they, they can break through this glass ceiling that they, maybe they never could if they had a trainer, but I think we’re both on the same page.

[01:29:03] Mike Klinzing: I think it’s just, it’s what you, as the player bring to the table. And then when you think about yourself and your role as a coach, hopefully what you’ve done is you’ve developed a program that inspires kids to want to work hard. So you bring in guys who already have that proclivity to be a hard worker and somebody that you want to have in your program.

But then in the course of you having influence on them over their four years, those are kids that hopefully. Want to get in the gym, want to get better, want to continue to improve, because they want to have an opportunity to get out on the floor, which is why anybody plays. Right? When you, when you think about what do basketball players want, they want to be in the game.

And then once they’re in the game, they want to be able to do something with the ball occasionally. And so the only way you can do that is by working on your game and getting better and improving. And if you develop the kind of culture that you want in your program, and I don’t care if it’s high school, I don’t care if it’s AAU, I don’t care.

It’s college basketball, whatever. Then you’re developing those kinds of kids that want to get better and improve because they want to be out on the floor. They want to be a part of it.

[01:30:06] Kent Dernbach:  Yeah. The game is meant to be played.

[01:30:09] Mike Klinzing: Exactly. The game is there’s no question. There’s no question about that. All right. I have two final questions for you.

So first one is as a head coach, where are you in your own development in terms of feeling confident in. your philosophy and just where you are in terms of believing in yourself as a head coach, because obviously as a rookie head coach, you come in and you’re trying to figure it out. You’ve watched a bunch of other guys coach, as you’ve been part of staffs and you’ve taken bits and pieces from them and you’re still trying to figure it out.

Where are you in terms of figuring yourself out as a head coach?

[01:30:49] Kent Dernbach: I’m 100% confident in that I believe in man to man defensive motion offense. What I struggle with on the motion side is when do you sprinkle and set plays and should you sprinkle and set plays? I probably battle with that nearly every day or every other day.

Just in my mind of like, because there’ll be times where you just want to get your best player, maybe a. So then you want to do a little something for him, but then I know, I know as soon as you do that, you take away from being a true motion offense team. And, and I, I saw that for five years, six years at UW Stevens Point, we never had a set play in our system and went to four NCAA tournaments, won a national title and another couple sweet sixteens, never running, never, never having a set play, having won one or two baseline out balance plays.

And I took that to La Crosse where we are going to be a man to man defense motion, offense team. And it was really to the extreme, my first two years where I refused to do anything else on the offensive end, refuse, like, and, and it might have been our downfall. Right. It’s I don’t know. I know our players were actually frustrated with it at times, because we are going to be a motion offense team and man to man defense and.

But I also know, I think we rose to a really good level there and we created a foundation in our program, but now since that point I’ve, I’ve tinkered with things where I’ve thrown in, I’ve thrown in one or two high ball screen, you know in a game. And, and then I look back and I’m like, well, maybe, maybe it got us a look for that possession, but did it cost us getting three looks later on in the game or the next game?

Because I just didn’t get our guys to feel comfortable moving when they were tired reading it, trusting it, going next pass all of that stuff in a tough moment. Right. You don’t know if you really can be a good motion offense team until when tough moments happened. And usually early on in the season, there’s a whole lot of tough moments when you’re just a strict motion offense team.

But like like all that stuff, like that’s where I struggle, you know? Quite often is can, can you do both things? Can you do both things? And, and I don’t know the answer to that, right. I really don’t. I think sometimes somebody could tell me, oh yeah, you could, you could sprinkle in this.

Yeah. And then I, I can come right back and I can give you a bunch of examples of telling you why you’re an idiot. And you’re like, yeah, you can say that you’re a motion, offense team, but you’re not, but you’re not this is what you go to in crunch time, because it’s just like anything. What are you when things are bad, what kind of character do you have when things aren’t going your way?

Well, what are you when the game is on the line? When the game is on the line, are you trusting your guys to make a play? Have you done a good enough job in practice that you got them comfortable, that where they can read and react off one another, that they can run five man motion, or you need control, right?

You need control to draw something up on that damn whiteboard to, to get somebody a. And I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that. I, I would like to think that I’m somebody that would trust our players out there. We’ve done that more often than not, but I also know we played an NCAA tournament and, and I drew something up.

So who am I? Right? Who am I?

[01:34:25] Mike Klinzing: it’s always a work in, it’s always a work in progress, right? It’s a work in progress. And I think there’s never, there’s not an end point, right? There’s not, I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule. It’s just a matter of you keep growing, you keep learning, you keep trying to figure it out.

And we all do that in whether it’s basketball coaches or in life. There’s just different things that you try to work on and continue to figure out and wrestle with your, in your own mind. And obviously when you watch something happen and then you take that and you process it and you come back and you try to do it better the next time, whatever it is.

And whichever, whichever decision you end up making. All right. Last two part question. Part one, when you look ahead, what’s the biggest challenge that you see ahead of you in the next year or two, and then part two, when you think about what you get to do every day, what brings you the most joy about being the head men’s basketball coach at UW La Crosse?

So your biggest challenge and then your biggest joy.

[01:35:23] Kent Dernbach: The challenge is right now, where we’re at with our program is can we take a step forward where we’ve had some really, really nice success over the last five years, we’ve made two NCAA tournaments. We’ve won a YAC west crown we’ve given our program.

Our guys have given, given this program, this first NCAA tournament win in, in program history, there’s back to back 21, win seasons tying the school record for that. There’s really, really good things with that, but we haven’t won anything. We haven’t, we haven’t, we haven’t won a, a conference tournament title.

We haven’t won a conference championship outright. We haven’t advanced to a sweet 16. And it’s that, it’s that next step that I know is the most challenging, right. Where I didn’t take over a bad program, Ken Cable before me won 200 games. He’s a great coach and a really, really good man. And so we certainly, but, but we have the program wasn’t making NCAA tournaments and wasn’t consistently finishing in the top two or three in the conference every single year.

So or so. We’ve gotten to that point, but then it’s that next step to there, Mike, like, and, and, and back to your previous question, this is, this is where you start to question yourself, am I the guy that can get us there? can, am I tough enough to get us there? Does our system good enough to get us there?

Right? Can I get, can I push the right buttons down the stretch to be able to, to win us one more game, to bring home a conference tournament type conference champ, regular season championship to, to win, not just advance to the conference championship game to, but to actually win the damn thing to win something.

Right. I think that’s where our, our program needs to go, but I know it’s not easy. I’m so humble. To understand the thin line between winning and losing and basketball specifically in men’s basketball. Because every team, every program, every high school, every pro every university, I think thinks that they can be good at men’s basketball because it takes five guys.

And it really just takes could you get a couple good players and you could beat anybody. Right? That’s, what’s just so unique. The parody and it’s why the NCAA tournament makes billions of dollars because of the parody that’s out there. Anybody can actually win. And am I the guy that can actually do that?

Right? Can I push the right button? And find the, the right matchups and all that stuff that comes with it. So I think that’s maybe like the biggest challenge that next step is I know is the toughest step to take. And I, some days I think we’re making steps forward, but, but then I, every time we think we’re taking a step forward, we take two steps back from that.

Right. Yep. You know, type of thing. And I think the joy is I get to do what I love. I just get to do what I love. And I the Jerry Sloan, I heard him say this one time like he thought he was the, one of the luckiest men, because he, he had the answer to the, to the two most important questions that he thinks are in life.

And who, who do you love? Who are you going to spend the rest of your time with? And you know, on this earth, is there somebody out there and then what do you love to do. and fortunately for me, like I married my high school sweetheart, where like I had that question answered and I’m fortunate enough to have the question answered of like, what do I want to do?

And I get to do it every single day you know, to go out, to see a team develop, be around young men that are passionate about it, to be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself, where alumni and fans and supporters are interested in what you do. Again, that’s like selfish that’s like, self-fulfilling like, why did I get into it?

I love the look that Steve D Kovich gave to me, coaching him. Well here. It’s like you know, people are interested in my job and that’s fun. Right. That’s, that’s interesting. And or that that’s enjoyable, but you know, I’ve been able and I’m fortunate enough to have the answer to those two questions.

And then addition to that, this kinda, it goes back to my parents and my dad stuttered. And he still stutters to this day and he always wanted to coach Mike, right. He just always wanted to coach and I get to do something that he was passionate about. Like I went home for Memorial day weekend, and I walk into the shed.

I walk into the shop where it just, it it’s. So it’s dirty, it’s old oil EV you know, it’s just a farm, it’s a farm office. And on the whiteboard, it has move without the ball. move without the ball. And then there’s a big line. And then it said, game speed. And then there’s another line where it says help move the ball.

I mean, this guy’s 84 years old. I haven’t been home and he hasn’t coached forever. He was never, he never had the official title of coach. And that’s, I keep that on my Twitter account because the best coaches out there often don’t have the official title of head coach ever in their career. Right? And I get to do what’s something that he was so passionate about.

But anyways, Mike you start talking about things that you love and you start, that’s just my personalities. You get emotional about it because it means something to you. And, and I just had really good people around my life with my family. And now my wife and kids really don’t get a choice in it.

You know, they don’t care. They just tell me what to do when I get home. And they don’t get a choice in it, but they get, they, they allow me to do what I love. Right. And this is what I love doing. And to be able to do it every day is. Sorry. It’s just really, it’s just really, really special stuff.

[01:41:47] Mike Klinzing: That’s a great answer.

And what I love about it is that it incorporates you get to do something that you love with the people that you love, and that’s your family with your players. And you get to use the game of basketball to be able to have an impact and to be able to have all those pieces of it come together. I don’t think there’s anything better than that.

When you think about how good the game has been to you. And we think about that when it comes to the podcast and all the things that the game of basketball has done for me. And in some small way, just this podcast represents to me a way to be able to give back to the game and to allow guys like yourself, to be able to share their story.

And then hopefully there’s some people out there in the audience that get to listen and find some value in what it is that we’re trying to do. And. that’s really when, when your passion meets with something that you get to do every day, there’s, there’s really nothing. There’s nothing better. There’s nothing that can top that.

[01:42:51] Kent Dernbach: No, I look back and my dad’s you know, I remember my mom when you put in a crop, right? You put in a crop, you’re a farmer, you put in a crop and then you work like hell right. To, to work the fields, to pick rock, to make, to make a really good yield, right. To make a really, really good yield.

But at any point, hail can come and wipe away your crop. It can wipe it away. There can be a drought. There can be anything, there can be a storm or tornado that comes in. It, it wipes it away with it. I don’t remember my mom one time. There’s like a, a bad storm coming. And she goes out and she’s praying, right.

She she’s out in the field praying like before tornado’s about ready to come. And, and I just. and basketball. Isn’t, isn’t, isn’t like life and death like that. And not that that’s life and death, but, but it is your, your wellbeing and what you make money doing. Right. And I just think, I, I think so many times that’s the same thing in this sport.

Coaching is like, you have to put all that time and effort and work in, right. Just like you have to do in farming all that time and effort and work to have the chance to have the chance to have a really good yield. And that’s what sports is. Like. There is no guarantee you go out and win, but did you earn the right to play well?

Did you earn the right to play well in practice did you have the, did you earn the right to have a really good season? Did you put the work in as a coach and as a player to have a really good season? Did you earn that? Right? It’s not guaranteed that you’re going to get it, but you’ve given yourself the opportunity to maybe have that.

And there was yours like that. We didn’t know how to make ends meet or anything like that on the farm, but all how to do is you go out and you work again, you just jump in the tractor, you just go out and you take a chance that it’s going to work for you and you do it again, and you do it again and you do it again.

And I think, I think sports and coaching is so much like that. It just builds so much resiliency and toughness. That the only chance you have to earn the right to get the reward at the end is that you put the work in. And I guess that’s probably maybe the foundation to sport. And again, it’s just something that I, learned through my, I was fortunate enough to learn through my parents,

[01:45:19] Mike Klinzing: Well said, put the work in, and not that you’re guaranteed success, but certainly, yeah, you have a much greater opportunity for success to find you.

If you’re willing to put in the work before we get done, I want to give you a chance to share how people can reach out to you, how they can find out more about your program, share social media, email website, whatever you feel comfortable, how people can get in touch with you. And then after you do that, I’ll jump back in and wrap things up.


[01:45:46] Kent Dernbach: So my email is It’s on the it’s on the website. You know, like anybody else that just goes to my phone now. Right? You can you. Twitter. @dernbach4 something like that.

[01:46:04] Mike Klinzing: We’ll put it in the show notes for you.

[01:46:05] Kent Dernbach: Yeah, anybody can reach out at, at any point because and none of it’s like anybody else that you’ve had, none of my ideas are original. Right? None of the stuff is, is original to me. It’s all stuff that I just hear and you regurgitate out and then hopefully, hopefully though that there’s some substance to it.

These are the things that I believe in. Right. And hopefully people can tell that this is the stuff that I believe in when we do it. But I, if anybody thinks I can be any kind of benefit, which I don’t know, just, I don’t know that I’m talking about, but I love talking the game. Obviously. I love talking the game.

You love talking the game and it’s love. It’s so awesome to talk with somebody like you that just gets it, that understands how awesome the sport is.

[01:46:52] Mike Klinzing: Well, thank you for your kind words, love talking hoops. And that’s why way back when we started this thing and why we’ve continued to stick with it and the opportunity to talk with coaches at all levels of the game, and be able to pick the brains of people who do this day in and day out and hopefully share with our audience is really what it’s all about.

So, Ken, again cannot thank you enough for taking the time outta your schedule to join us tonight. Really appreciate it. And to everyone out there. Thanks for listening. And we will catch you on our next episode. Thanks.

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