Keatts announced as UNCW’s new head coach

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University of Louisville Associate Head Coach Kevin Keatts will replace Buzz Peterson as the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s 10th men’s basketball coach.

Jimmy Bass, UNCW Director of Athletics, said the university looked for a replacement who could recruit and develop players as well as work with the community to boost morale and strengthen support.

“He’s good at all of those things. … He was very much a part of game preparation and development last year when [the University of Louisville]won the national championship. He has been hailed as a terrific communicator with student athletes,” Bass said on March 27.

The Seahawks finished the 2013-14 season with a 9–23 record under Peterson’s guidance. A March announcement revealed Peterson would not be returning for a fifth season.

Peterson’s contact promised more than $2 million throughout five years. He will be paid close to $1 million over the next two years, financed by a loan from the university’s trust fund.

Keatts will receive a base salary of $1.5 million throughout five years. Supplemental compensation could bump his salary up to $2 million. If Keatts faces the same fate as Peterson, he will receive base salary only for the remainder of his contract.

Keatts said during a March 27 press conference accepting the job at UNCW was a no-brainer. Growing up in Lynchburg, Va., Keatts was a Seahawks fan during the team’s glory days.

“I know this is one place that has had past success, and I know we can get back to that level,” Keatts said.

Keatts said he plans to bring the up-tempo style basketball fans expect from the Cardinals to UNCW’s program. But his top priority for the first year is improvement.

“With the record this year and with some tough situations, I thought they lost a lot of close games. My biggest thing is just to show improvement, to get more overall wins and the ability to win more games in the conference,” Keatts said.

By his second season, Keatts will up his expectations.

“I’m a competitor. Within my second year, I want to get in the top part of the league and have a chance to play for the NCAA tournament,” he said.

An acclaimed prep coach, Keatts has worked with nine players later found on NBA rosters.

Keatts started his career at Southwestern Michigan College in 1996 as an assistant coach. He moved to Hargrave Military Academy in 1997, where he advanced from assistant coach to head coach in 1999. He joined the Cardinals in 2011 as assistant coach under head coach Rick Pitino. He was promoted to associate head coach in January 2014.

Pitino supported Keatts’ decision to leave Louisville. Keatts said Pitino advised against past job offers but when UNCW came up, it was a no-brainer for him, too.

“I don’t know if he was trying to fire me,” Keatts said. “… It seemed like he was pushing me out the door to take the job.”

Keatts finished the season with Louisville at the NCAA tournament on March 28 when the Cardinals lost to the University of Kentucky in a Sweet Sixteen match.

“We’re looking forward to him getting here and hitting the ground running,” Bass said.

Keatts and his family came to Wilmington for an April 1 welcoming ceremony at the Trask Coliseum.

email miriah@luminanews.com

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