False MI Prep Zone: DUNLAP: Keener never got the credit he deserved at Country Day
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DUNLAP: Keener never got the credit he deserved at Country Day

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Losing high school coaching legends within Oakland County is starting to get old already.

A month after Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes football coach Mike Boyd resigned following 46 incredible years on the job, news came Friday morning that Birmingham Detroit Country Day boys basketball coach Kurt Keener is stepping down to take a high school job in Arizona, where his son lives.

At this point, there are many out there that are laughing at the notion that Keener and the word “legend” should go together.

I can hear the snarling now.

“But anybody could’ve won with all the talent he had,” some will say.

“Please, he should’ve won way more than he did,” others will chime in.

“If (fill in the blank coach) were at Country Day, at least 15 state titles would’ve been won,” is the mantra of others.

Yes, it was true Keener had a lot of talent to work with in his 35-year coaching career at Country Day.

He coached NBA stars Chris Webber and Shane Battier, and seemingly dozens of college players, many of whom went on to play for high-profile Division I programs.

But to say he shouldn’t still go down as one of the all-time great basketball coaches in the state of Michigan is ludicrous.

For starters, he is second on the state’s all-time win list with 677 wins and won nine state championships as coach of Country Day. Again, people will point out to all the talent and the fact seven of those titles were because of Webber, Battier and point guard Ray McCallum, who recently declared for the NBA Draft after three seasons at Detroit Mercy.

Well, how many titles did Country Day win before Keener arrived? That’s right, none.

Often times, coaches know something that the general public doesn’t, that having teams with lots of talent can be poisonous.

There are ego, entitlement and attitude issues that have to be melted down and molded into a team concept, and Keener managed to do that more often than not.

Some also don’t realize that there weren’t any big-time Division I college players or McDonald’s All-Americans on the 2007 team, but Keener led that squad to the state championship in Class B.

Roughly six weeks ago, Keener guided Country Day to its ninth state championship in Class B on a team that wasn’t the most star-studded team he has had.

Other than junior point guard Edmond Sumner, there might not have been a player on the roster that’ll will play in the future at a high-profile college program.

While it was an unusually weak year in Class B that helped out Country Day, Keener still made the decision at the beginning of the year to transition from a more half-court style of offense to an up-tempo style of play to take advantage of all the perimeter athletes he had.

That was a coaching investment that ended up in a championship, and thus he deserved credit for it.

If only the wins and the titles were the only things Keener deserves credit for.

Former North Farmington head coach Tom Negoshian has been friends with Keener for a long time, so much so that he knew about four or five years ago that Keener was talking about moving to Arizona to spend more time with his son, who happened to be a ball boy for an AAU team in the late 90’s that had Shane Battier, Dane Fife and Tom’s son and current North Farmington head coach Todd on it.

Tom Negoshian said there were endless good deeds Keener did for basketball players around the state and county that largely went unnoticed.

“People just don’t understand,” Negoshian said.

There was never really an off-season for Keener, who opened up the Country Day gym for youth programs and AAU practices and tournaments when the high school season wasn’t going on.

Keener also helped organize and host regular season tournaments such as the five-day, Motor City Roundball Classic held after Christmas.

“His team was playing in it, but what about the other teams and days?” Negoshian said. “Kurt Keener was there.”

Keener was also as professional as can be talking about adverse situations. When his teams suffered crushing playoff losses, he would immediate take questions from reporters calmly and in control. He never made excuses or publicly lashed out at anybody, particularly officials like some coaches do.

I still remember in 2008 when Country Day suffered a close home loss to rival Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, and thus Keener had to award the Voorhees Trophy the teams annually play for to the Eaglets. The teams were barely out of the handshake line when Keener grabbed the microphone and trophy, made it a point to say congratulations to St. Mary’s in front of the whole gym, wished them luck the rest of the year and handed them the hardware.

In 2004 when the Michigan High School Athletic Association recommended that Country Day forfeit its state titles won under Webber for evidence he took money while at Country Day from booster Ed Martin, Keener didn’t hide from the media.

He stood up, and answered why he felt the school didn’t need to do that. Some might have disagreed with the answers and still do so, but he never hid from the situation.

“People look at the talent and say that was an easy job,” Negoshian said. “That was not an easy job and Kurt made it look easy and made it look effortless.”

Now, he takes his professionalism, class and underrated work ethic to the Arizona desert.

He’ll likely leave a void that nobody will come close to filling, which in one way would be a great thing.

It would prove just how much of a coaching legend Kurt Keener really was for this county and state.

Keith Dunlap is the high school sports coordinator at the Oakland Press. E-mail Keith Dunlap at keith.dunlap@oakpress.com; Twitter @kd2578.

Last Updated: 5/3/2013 1:56:48 PM EST

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