by Andrew Marchev, staff writer
Kevin Walden, the head coach for the Warren Wilson Men’s Basketball team, completed his last day of work here on Friday, Aug. 31. He leaves, after four years of coaching the men’s team, to take the head coach position for men’s basketball at Knox college, his alma mater.
This news came as a shock to many.
“I was floored when I got the text on Sunday,” says Andrew Pulsifer, coach of the swim team and Walden’s co-worker.
Walden came to coach at Warren Wilson in 2008, after having been assistant coach at St. Ambrose University in Iowa for the men’s varsity team. Walden says that that first season was “a wonderful experience” for him.
A particularly fond moment from that season for Walden was the victory over Piedmont College Feb. 24, 2009. It was the last game for the Nelson brothers, John and Chris, who had been with the team for most of their time at Wilson, and helped introduce Walden to Wilson culture. Walden said that they did “outstanding work” in that game.
According to Walden, overall the team worked hard, “really came together” and accomplished great things that year . The record was 10-15 for that season, more wins than the team had in the previous five season.
The next two seasons followed a similar pattern, with a 10-13 record for the 2009-2010 season and a 7-17 record for the 2010-2011 season.
Last year’s season however, with a 16-9 record, Walden feels was the highlight of his experience here. This is in part because it was a winning season, but also because of the “remarkable players” says Walden. The 2011-2012 season was also a highlight of recent Wilson athletic history, as it was the first winning season our college has had in nearly 30 years.
Coach Walden’s impact was not limited to the court however.
Walden has always felt that academics come first. When interviewed by the Echo when Walden first got the position in 2008, basketball player Antonio Wilburn said that Walden “is all about staying strong academically, so players can stay working harder on the court“.
Walden has from the beginning expected his players to complete 25 service hours, and for the team to have an average GPA of 3.0. Last year the team went above and beyond these expectations, with the team average being over 30 hours of community service for each player, and an average GPA that exceeded 3.0.
Walden demanded a lot from the players, but he demanded a lot from himself, and has for a long time now. At St. Ambrose University, Walden studied to get his Masters in organizational leadership as well as coaching and assistant coaching. There he crystallized what was to be his philosophy.
According to Walden, “at many schools, coaches and professors are encouraged to take it easy on the players, because they’re tackling a full course load on top of being in a team. The idea is that you have to sacrifice one thing for another, but I feel that you can be successful at all these things”.
When Walden came to Warren Wilson, he found that our college’s philosophy matched his own.
“Here we can challenge our students,” Walden said.
Walden admits that it isn’t always easy being a student here
“At Wilson it’s tough,” Walden said. “But it pays off. More challenge means more development [as a person]”.
Walden also sees the Triad, as well as other things going on at Wilson, as a great opportunity: “That’s what’s great about this place, you can do a lot here”.
Another way Walden fit in at Wilson was due to his appreciation of nature.
“He’d always be pointing out beautiful views of mountains, and say ‘you can’t find that in the midwest’” says senior, and point guard on the team, Dan Jackson.
Walden has a lot of praise for our college, but others had much to praise him for as well.
According to Jackson, Walden is “a great man”.
Coach Pulsifer arrived in the same year as Walden. Both played and coached at bigger schools, so coming here required a little calibrating of expectations. When it came to perspective, Pulsifer feels that Walden was “always a good sounding board” and that he always had a “steady, calm demeanor”.
Pulsifer observes that, among other things, Walden brought the men’s basketball team to a “higher level of professionalism and respect” than it had enjoyed previously.
As a coach, Walden was always very professional, and took a motivational tone with his players.
As Jackson sums up “coach was always a bit of a Buzz Lightyear type”.
But he also always had a sense of humor about things, “a weird, but funny one” as Jackson explains. “He was always making little jokes”.
Personally, Walden was very friendly and kind to his co-workers, Pulsifer adding that “Kevin’s a big hugger”.
Jackson added to this, saying that what set Walden apart was that “he had a genuine authentic feel… he cared about us”.
Walden also has received praise for his performance in his other job as sports information director, a position with much less glory, but that was no less important. Pulsifer said that Walden vastly improved the athletics programs website, and feels that its professional and appealing set up has led to increased enrollment in athletic programs.
Pulsifer also praised Coach Walden as a recruiter, even admitting to being a little envious of his skills in that regard.
Dan Jackson also talked about Walden’s positive perspective. Jackson, stated that “one of the things I’ve taken away from my experience [with Walden] is about keeping a positive attitude. He always encouraged us to look at life in a more positive manner, and doing that has helped me alot”.
Jackson continued, saying that “Coming from Chicago, basketball was always more competitive, and guys would get mean and put people down for mistakes they made… Coach always stayed positive”.
The benefit our school has had from Coach Walden’s presence has extended well beyond the court. As Michael Carter recorded for the Echo February of this year, the victory against Montreat was not just historic, but also witnessed a huge surge in school pride and enthusiasm for our sports teams.
For these reasons and others, Walden admits that “now is not the best time to leave”.
However, as he and others will point out, the basketball program is in the best shape it has been in for a very long time. Walden emphasizes the role of players.
“We have good guys right now, guys willing to sacrifice,” Walden said. “We have very experienced players, as well as very talented group of new guys. The program is on a good footing. If the team could change like this, now is the time.”