McClancy’s Don Kent Represents Positives Of Coaching
33 years coaching. 23 years at one school. 336 wins in the ultra-competitive CHSAA.
A member of the Monsignor McClancy Hall Of Fame.
Don Kent is a New York City basketball legend.
No, he’s not. He’s so much more.
Sitting in the McClancy library, surrounded by legendary literature and trophies celebrating athletic accomplishments, Kent seems content in his role as teacher and coach. He’s a pleasant man, a reddish face with wispy gray hair combed to the left. He extends his hand for a shake and you find yourself thinking about your favorite uncle.
He begins to talk and you find yourself transfixed for the next hour, just listening to a basketball lifer who sharing his life’s story and opines on the state of the sport.
He grew up one of seven children, six boys and one girl, splitting time between houses in Brooklyn and Breezy Point. It’s at Breezy Point where Kent’s lifelong love affair with basketball began.
After graduating from St. Francis Prep, Kent decided to St. Mary’s of the Plains, in Dodge City, Kansas for his higher education. It’s also where he had his first brush with death.
He was playing a school in New Mexico and felt tightness in his lungs. He thought it was his dinner. It turned out to be his blood. He was rushed off the court and into a hospital. It was a scare to be sure. But it was not as bad as the one that nearly killed later on in his life.
25 years ago, Kent was rushed to a local hospital with a hydatid cyst.
According to emedicine.com, a hydatid cyst is: “A parasitic infestation by a tapeworm of the genus Echinococcus. It is not endemic in the United States, (only) one case per one million inhabitants.
Exposure to the parasite (comes) through the ingestion of foods or water contaminated by the feces of a definitive host."
Kent believes that he was infected while taking a team to Italy and Switzerland. He was rushed to the hospital where he underwent surgery. To this day, he has no muscles or nerves on the right side of his torso.
After graduating from St. Mary’s, he returned to Brooklyn and began his coaching career at Bishop Riley, which is today St. Francis Prep. After a year long stint there, he was offered the head coaching position at Christ The King. For seven years (1974-1981), all was well. Until a teachers’ strike changed everything.
In November of 1981, CTK’s teachers were striking, and Kent was one of them. CTK administrators had repeatedly contacted Kent, asking him to cross the line. Standing firm, he said no. CTK offered him an ultimatum: Cross the line or resign. Kent replied that he would do neither. CTK decided to replace their coach.
“I stood up for my principles,” said Kent. “They were union-busting. They were getting rid of close to 100 teachers. I belonged to the same union and did not cross the line”.
He was not unemployed for long. Monsignor McClancy High School officials contacted Kent in the spring of 1982 and asked if he was interested in a teaching and coaching position. Kent agreed and has been employed at the small school in East Elmhurst for the last 23 years.
And this season may be the best to date. McClancy is 12-5 overall, and 8-3 in the ‘A’ South Division, behind only St. John’s Prep and LaSalle Academy. With six games remaining, a playoff berth seems certain.
That wasn’t always the case in the past. Before this season, the CHSAA split into two divisions: The ‘A’ and the ‘AA.’ The reason was quite simple. ‘A’ division teams were tired of struggling with ‘AA’ schools such as St. Raymond’s, Archbishop Molloy, Chirst the King, Rice, All Hallows, and Xaverian.
“It was men against boys,” said Kent. “It was a positive move. It’s more competitive on all three levels. There’s more balance.”
This season, Kent’s star is sophomore Stephen Wood. St. Johns and Fordham are already recruiting Wood, who is leading the ‘A’ Division in scoring at 23.6 points per game.
In his spare time, Kent is the New York State Catholic High School representative for the NY State Basketball Coaches’ Association. He also coaches the Empire State team and coached at the Nike and ABCD camps.
He taught future NCAA and NBA stars Chris Webber, Kevin Garnett, Bobby Hurley, Eric Montross, Lawrence Funderburke, Randolph Childress and Tim Duncan amongst others. He knew they were going to be good as soon as he laid eyes upon them.
“(A camp counselor) told me I was going to have a kid from Detroit’s Country Day High School,” reminisced Kent. When they shook hands, Kent noted that, “Webber’s hand was double the size of mine!
“Kevin Garnett would put his arm around me-he loved my Brooklyn accent,” Kent said with a laugh. “His mother was from Brooklyn and we would talk. Tim Duncan was very polite (when I had him) and I’m happy to see that he’s very successful with the San Antonio Spurs.”
As you leave McClancy, you catch yourself thinking about Kent and what he’s meant to hundreds of young men and then it hits you. The 33 years and 336 wins don’t mean a damn thing. The quality of lives touched does.
And, after all, isn’t that what a teacher is supposed to do?