Hired last March, Kelvin Starr, the new men’s basketball coach, has turned last year’s 4-20 record around to 18-3 with almost half of his team being newcomers. To make this turn-around in one season is monumental and has earned him a growing respect around campus and further strengthened his reputation in the GSAC community.
However, as major as this reversal is, there is so much more behind it than a stellar strategy — something his players know intimately and something anyone who has interacted with him can easily sense.
He is a man who combines his passion for and competitive nature in basketball with his love for Christ, and lets the latter be the driving force behind all he does. He is not merely a basketball coach but a life coach.
Understanding the unique ministry with coaching university ball, Kelvin explained, “These guys [on the team] are 18, 20 years old and are still trying to figure out what it looks like to be an adult, grow up and make their own decisions, not decisions their parents have made for them.” To him it is a synergetic approach — develop strong independent Christian men and a strong competitive team.
This starts from the ground up. From the beginning to the end of his relationship with the players, he has one focus. “When I recruit someone, their relationship with Jesus Christ is the first thing I talk about. Master’s U is a Christian institution. If they don’t want to grow spiritually, [Master’s] is not a good place for them . . . at the end of the day, they need a heart change. That is what true ministry is about, that’s my heart — that they desire to fully know who Jesus is by the time they graduate.”
To Starr this job is “a ministry as much as it is basketball” and this is what attracted our president, Dr. John MacArthur, to recommend him. “Kelvin Starr was on a short list of one name,” MacArthur expressed without hesitation, “I knew his rep as a player and as a coach. He’s been Coach of the Year (2005- 2006) in our conference, won a conference championship (2006-2007) and understands basketball at this level. He’s been a successful coach but beyond that, he had been serving as a pastor alongside a friend who had planted a church in San Diego. That was a perfect combination for us.”
This desire for his players to become adults and strong Christian men however cannot develop in a vacuum. Starr knows this. In explaining leadership, he used Dr. MacArthur as an example, “How can you not follow a leader who is successful and exhibits what he preaches? He lives it out constantly. ” He wants to exhibit that same leadership.
Reid Shackelford, student in the MBA program and guard for the Mustangs, shared, “Coach is a leader on and off the court . . . which I think has raised the level of spiritual growth and success based on his example. Personally, he has invested in me as a leader on the team and pushed me to grow as a godly man so I can continue to develop as a follower of Christ after basketball is over.”
This heart for people and holistic leadership is consistently affirmed by his players. “If I am being honest it’s been a battle. I came into the season thinking all about myself and still struggle with that from time to time,” Evan Jenkins, another guard and a current student in the MABS program, admitted “but he’s helped me grow as a player and person, to become more selfless on and off the court. Now I try to focus more on the team and winning games for the team.” Jenkins continued, “Coach is a fighter and his work ethic is second to none, and I think what you’ve been seeing from us is a direct reflection of his leadership. He’s never taken a day off and he’s constantly thinking of ways to make us better. As a team when your coach is working as hard as he works, it’s almost impossible not to follow his lead.”
A common phrase used in reference to Starr from these two players is “on and off the court” and the fact this holistic example of his life that the players see — this leadership — is a direct influence on the success of a team.
Starr attributes much his coaching/leadership style to two men: his father and Art Wilmore, the head coach he served under as the assistant coach (1996-2002) and eventually stepped in for (2002-2007). As Kelvin grew older, his father became less of a parent and more of a friend and mentor, “less and less questioning [his] decisions but more working them through with [him].” Of Art Wilmore, “he’s a phenomenal man, a godly man and a good coach. A lot, if not all my success as a coach, comes from him.” They are men who love the Lord and love people, who get straight to the point and talk about the issues, who approached Kelvin in love while holding him accountable.
Starr talks strategy and how to be the best basketball player and team but that — through time in the locker room, on the court, over a meal or on a six-hour bus ride — is not exclusive of the standard by which he holds his players to as men. Like his father and Art were to him, he hopes he can “be the mentor that I got, for someone else” understanding that “we are a product of all God has put in our lives. That’s why I want to do what I do. I want to have the same story [as Art and his father] with other people.”
It is a common myth Christian athletes, business men, entertainers or writers, cannot be as successful or as good or competitive as the next person in line at Starbucks — that being a Christian means you have to sacrifice competition and success from a worldly standard. However, the fact this man — this coach — in less than one year has garnered not only a winning team, but also a team of men striving for and learning about the Lord debunks that.
There must be a balance, but having a balance between excellence, competition and Christ are not all mutually exclusive. Starr exhibits a holistic life and those who know him most closely on this campus see that. He is the leader he had. He is in a line of godly leaders and through his example is encouraging a legacy of leadership.
Join us this Saturday, February 4th, at 7:30 in Bross Court to see the Men’s Basketball team play against Master’s U rival, Biola University.