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King crowned top national college coach

By April 24, 2024No Comments
Lakeland College Rustlers women’s basketball coach, Chris King, not only led his team through an undefeated season but also recently received the CCAA’s Coaching Excellence Award. King was selected as the top coach across all college sports in the country, with roughly 100 teams in the selection pool. Taylor Weaver Meridian Source

 

If Chris King’s recent undefeated season and national women’s basketball title didn’t cause enough excitement, perhaps receiving the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association’s (CCAA) highest coaching honour will.

King, who recently wrapped his 16th season as the Lakeland College Rustlers women’s basketball team’s bench boss, was named the recipient of this year’s CCAA Coaching Excellence Award on April 17, the highest honour a college coach in Canada can receive. 

With roughly 100 teams competing in the CCAA, for King and the Rustlers’ athletic department, the award is ‘kind of a big deal.’

“My name is on it, but it’s about (Rustlers athletic director) Alan Rogan and the athletic department taking a chance on me as a really young coach, supporting me and sticking with me this whole time. I’m also very blessed I get to coach really good players,” said King on Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s always special winning an award, but this is a big one and it’s a very cool award to win.”

King began his coaching career at Lakeland at the age of 24. Now 41, the Kitscoty native continues to achieve what he set out to do when he first started, which was to grow the local game of basketball.

“My thing has always been to grow basketball here,” he said. 

“Lloyd is a hockey town, and it will always be a hockey town, but our goal is to continue to spread the game. You can even see the impact the school is having in the community with more people showing support wearing Rustlers shirts etc. It’s growing, and the community pride for the school is growing.”

The CCAA coaching excellence award acknowledges coaches who have significantly impacted their teams and athletes over five or more years, with King being a shining example of success.

“Throughout the last four years, Chris has won three conference championships, qualified to go to nationals three of the four years, and probably would have won a medal that first year had the tournament not been cancelled due to COVID,” said Rogan. 

“They won a bronze at their next nationals showing, then came back to win everything this year. Looking at the last five years, that’s a pretty solid resume.”

 The award is also special for Rogan as he was the one who took a chance on the young coach. A risk that’s paid off in spades.

“There are shirts that say ‘Basketball is Life,’ and that’s pretty much Chris,” said Rogan. 

“He loves the sport of basketball, and when he was a student-athlete here, he wasn’t the star athlete, he was the guy you could do rely on to be a grinder. If you needed someone to get a foul, whatever it may be, he was the guy, and he accepted that role.

“I think being that type of a student athlete made him a really good coach. I think some of the best coaches in sport are not the all-stars, they’re the ones that have to sit on the bench behind the all-star and analyze everything that’s happening,” said Rogan. 

“They become the best coaches, and that’s Chris.”

For King, having someone take the chance and believe in his abilities went a long way.

“Rogan and the Lakeland Rustlers took a huge risk hiring myself, Austin and Taylor Dyer, and Kevin Wagner,” explained King. “We were all very young coaches and for the most part, had very little coaching experience, but Alan took the chance and helped mentor us to where we are today.

“It was risky, but it was also smart as we all now have families in town; I call it entrapment, really,” he said with a laugh. 

“ For me, coaching was an obsession and I spend all day thinking about basketball to become a better coach, but you have to learn on the fly. It takes years of gameplay and practises to figure that out, while also figuring out how to coach players.”

As for the future of Lakeland basketball, King would love nothing more than to see the Rustlers be hottest ticket in town, but looking back to the recent CCAA women’s basketball finals, they’re already attracting that kind of attention. 

“I was at Monday night’s Oilers’ game and it got to 109 decibels in Rogers Place … Cody Maz from Maz Entertainment told me it also got to 109 decibels during nationals,” said King.

At 41-years-old, King isn’t sure how many seasons he’s got left, and when that day comes, he knows the team will be well looked after by his current assistant coaches, Marissa Linquist and Tori Dugan.

“Having two former players who played for me now coaching with me was a special experience,” he said.

“Getting into coaching is really tough, but now these two are getting job offers off of assistant coaching college basketball, which has never happened in the past … an assistant coach in college would never get an offer to go to assistant coach at a university, but I’m thrilled these guys are getting these opportunities.

“This program now feels like my baby, so when it does get passed over, it’ll be to a former player of mine. I can tell you that, if I have anything to do with it.”

Having grown up in Kitscoty, the success of this season and everything that came with it hit close to home.

“It means so much more to me winning awards and winning nationals here than it would somewhere else. It’s a special place and it has a hold on me,” he said. “I’ve been involved in this program since day one. The very first day of practise, I was there, which will make it even harder to pass over.

“It’s been a fun ride,” he said, noting there will likely never be another season or group as special as this one.

“The day after we won the national title I was already looking at recruits for next season,” said King.