It was the spring of 1979, a new basketball coach was being introduced at The College of Charleston. He walked a little faster and talked a little faster than the rest of us.
I would wonder later if that pace was fueled by the multiple cups of coffee he constantly consumed?
I would also learn later that his passion and intensity was genuine and driven by a love of the game of basketball.
I was a young sportscaster at that introductory news conference. John Kresse, now 76, still recalls that a certain person (that would be me) at that gathering wanted to know why he’d want to give up flying to games against some of the country’s elite programs in exchange for riding a school bus up Interstate 26 to Due West and Clinton.
Kresse was the top assistant at St. John’s and their home games were played at Madison Square Garden. The Cougs played in the Silcox gym on George St., at the time. It featured a track that circled the perimeter of the 2nd floor and a worn, rubberized, tartan playing surface.
Why would he leave what he had? His answer was clear and simple — he wanted to be a head coach.
Miles and milestones
As the miles piled up on the team bus odometer, so did the victories.
“We played hard and we played smart,” Kresse recently revealed. His teams mirrored the coach’s penchant for preparation.
In 1983, Kresse’s Cougars won the NAIA National Championship in Kansas City. When the program moved to Division I competition, they were soon known as ‘Giant Killers’. There were regular season victims such as North Carolina and Georgia Tech. In the post season, there were NIT wins over Tennessee and March Madness upsets over Maryland and Stanford.
At the end of 23 years, the boy from Brooklyn had 560 wins. He won 79 percent of all the games he coached and he did it with players the bigger schools didn’t want.
When Kresse was pursuing a player, he often recruited the parents and sold Charleston. The idea was that if the family liked visiting the city, they would just love to come all the time to see their child play ball.
When Kresse first arrived on campus, he visited the fraternity houses and infused various other campus organizations with his enthusiasm. Their support would be key to a successful home court environment.
His wife, Sue, was director of admissions. Did she lend a helping hand? “She was tough. I had a 7-footer all lined-up,” he likes to tell this story with a wry smile, “...but the tall player was a little short on his SAT score. She wouldn’t let him in — I didn’t talk to her for awhile.”
In just a couple months, Kresse will wrap-up a 40-year career at C of C. Added to his 23-year coaching career are the last 17 years as a teacher, fundraiser and assistant to the president.
A Cougar benefactor recently asked me to sit down with the coach and conduct a video interview. It will eventually be placed in the archives of the school library and available for future students and citizens to hear the coach’s story in his own words.
It was an honor to visit with him this way. When my TV days and his coaching days ended, we both joined up as broadcasting teammates doing Cougar basketball games. It allowed a friendship and mutual professional respect to continue well beyond that news conference 40 years ago.
Next week, Coach Kresse will be honored with a lifetime achievement honor at the Charley Awards.
Upon retirement, he and Sue plan to travel and see their sons and their families in NYC and Arizona.
That fast-paced walk and Brooklyn-accented talk are not quite as frenetic they once were. The coach will soon box up all the awards and framed newspaper headlines that have hung on his Meeting Street office walls for nearly two decades.
As much as he loves basketball, he also loves people. If you see him walking along George Street with his cup of coffee in hand, roll down the window, give him a shout, tell him how much you appreciate what he’s done for the school and the city.
We’ll never see another like him.