By Josh Brody in Sports
Since it’s inception in 1946, Clark’s men’s basketball program has cemented its place among the Northwest Athletic Conference elite. The Penguins won the championship their first year and have since brought home four more titles.
Current head coach Alex Kirk was hired in 2012 and has since achieved an overall record of 56-20, finishing 27-2 last year and leading the Penguins to fifth place in the NWAC tournament. This year, Kirk is poised to repeat an appearance in the March 7-10 tournament with a 15-7 record and a second place seed in the West Region as of Feb. 12.
When introduced as head coach, Kirk didn’t try to emulate his style off of previous Clark coaches. Instead he saw the opportunity to continue the success through his own strategies and style of play.
“We didn’t necessarily concentrate on changing things so much as concentrating on doing things the best way we knew how from the moment we got here,” Kirk said.
When recruiting players, Kirk said he looks to build trust between players and coaches. Players have to buy into his system to be successful, according to multiple players.
“Our honesty and trust are what separate us from other teams. And that’s where we build the foundation for our system,” Kirk said.
The Penguin’s roster has proven its depth this year with nine of the 14 players averaging over five points per game. The team is averaging 86.3 points per game. Kendal Brown scored 22 points coming off the bench in a game Jan. 21 against Centralia College.
Kirk’s success is impressive, especially to coaches who have more experience.
Highline’s Head Coach Jim Roffler has coached in the NWAC for 26 years. Winning consistently is harder than starting from the ground up, he said.
“To continue the success of a program brings a huge amount of responsibility to the coach stepping in,” Roffler said. “I have been in the league for about 20 years and I have seen repeated success from [Clark’s] basketball club. Coach Alex is doing a great job.”
However, Kirk attributed his accomplishments to the people involved in the program.
“My job is to get the ship moving in a good direction, and get out of the way,” Kirk said. “We bring student athletes and coaches here because they have unique talents and abilities that are greater than my own. You get them all pulling in the same direction, and then allow them to use those talents and abilities to shine through.”
One of the most difficult parts of coaching at a community college level is the recruitment process. When there is so much turnover year-to-year, recruiting the right players for the future is crucial.
“Each season is a new season,” Roffler said. “The way you coach last season’s team may have worked against last year’s competitors, but whether you keep 15 players or none, you have no idea what your competitors will bring to the court next season.”
Fortunately for Clark, Kirk and Assistant Coach Tim Marrion have 14 combined years of Division I experience to pass on to players and use to bring key recruits in.
“Coach Marrion and Coach Sterkel both provide each player with a level of care and basketball knowledge that we just haven’t had in the past,” Kirk said.
The two coaches helped Kirk fill in the pieces of a depleted Penguin team. The only returning player from last year’s team is sophomore Hayden Hall.
“What we are doing this year is a 180-degree flip from what we did last year,” he said.
Kirk said he discarded over 50 hours of preseason prep work.
“Ultimately, when you get into it, sometimes the original idea that you had for the team doesn’t fit. It doesn’t fit the players that you have, it doesn’t fit the team that you are playing against,” Kirk said. “Our job as coaches is to adapt to that and bring out the best of each player.”
Center Miles Martin said, “I would say that this is the closest I have ever been with a basketball team. We all go into the game knowing what jobs each of us need to complete, and we all trust each other completely to do that job.”
Kirk prides himself on the amount of work his staff puts into each player. From creating online portfolios to emailing hundreds of coaches, Kirk said that he does his best to market each player so that they can continue their basketball careers.
Team captain and point guard Evan Garrison spoke highly of Kirk and his staff.
“I think we have the best coaches in the NWAC. They put us in the positions we need to be in to be as good as possible.”