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A MONARCH ONCE MORE

Courtesy: ODU Athletics
         
Release: January 29, 2002
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Jan. 29, 2002

By Brian Hendrickson Staff Writer, Wilmington Morning Star

A Monarch once more Ex-N. Hanover star Gattison back at ODU By Brian Hendrickson Staff Writer

Twenty years after leaving Wilmington, Kenny Gattison still has the fire for basketball- even if, at times, the sport hasn't been good to him.

As a player, he's been a star at New Hanover High School - where he faced off against future NBA Hall of Famer and former Laney High School star Michael Jordan -a two-time honorable mention All-American at Old Dominion University and an NBA veteran.

He also had that career end abruptly due to a pinched nerve in his neck suffered in a collision on the court. So he switched to coaching, where he landed a job as an assistant coach with the New Jersey Nets. That, too, ended abruptly when the staff was fired in 1999.

Afterwards, Gattison questioned whether he wanted to stay in basketball or run a business in which he is a majority owner: Bernard Sands Credit Consulting in New York.

When Gattison had the chance to join first-year Old Dominion coach Blaine Taylor's staff last spring, however, the fire for basketball came roaring back.

"I can walk around, stick another feather in my cap, because as a player, I helped get that program to a level where... when you played Old Dominion, it was a battle," said Gattison, who will return to the Port City tonight when the Monarchs take on UNC-Wilmington at Trask Coliseum.

Indeed, Gattison was the best player on some of Old Dominion's greatest teams. His 963 career rebounds remains the Sun Belt Conference record and is fourth all-time at ODU, while his 1,623 points ranks 10th.

He twice earned first-team all-conference honors and was named Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year in 1986, when he led the Monarchs to their eight consecutive post season appearance and a first-round upset of West Virginia in the NCAA East Regional.

That led to a solid nine-year NBA career in which he was never a star, but always a solid player, averaging 8.0 points and 4.7 rebounds in his career.

But starting in 1994, basketball began developing a sour taste. His playing career ended after former Cleveland Cavaliers forward Michael Cage inadvertently struck Gattison in the head during a game. The collision hyper extended Gattison's neck and led to a pinched nerve.

Almost two years after the injury, Gattison turned to coaching, and in 1996 he was hired by new Nets coach John Calipari, who'd just left the University of Massachusetts after a run to the Final Four.

But despite getting New Jersey into the playoff, Calipari was fired after only three years. "Those three years felt let about seven," Gattison said. "It was a lot of stuff going on, and it ultimately led to Cal's firing. When that happens in those organizations, ultimately there's a loyalty check. In my mind, Cal's doing a great job, if you can bring some players in who'll play night in and night out."

The situation led Gattison to consider his options. He did some work with Bernard Sands during a "soul searching time." After 13 years in the NBA, Gattison said he was unsure whether he wanted to put in the long hours of a grueling 82 game NBA schedule.

"I really took a year trying to get those fires going back," Gattison said. "Once you get away from something, you can focus on what you want to do. Do I want to run a company or coach?" The decision was made when Taylor accepted the Old Dominion job after Jeff Capel resigned last spring.

Taylor had been an assistant coach at Stanford for three years, helping build the Cardinal's Pac-10 powers that went 84-14 during his tenure. He'd also led Montana to a 142-65 record and three NCAA tournament berths in seven years before joining Stanford.

Taylor was brought in to restore a lost legacy at Old Dominion, which had posted a 24-37 record over the past two years, ODU's first back-to-back losing seasons in 35 years.

Gattison's previous success at ODU is an instant and constant reminder of that goal. "Kenny's very experienced, very respected," Taylor said. "And it was a time in his life when he wanted to make the switch for being in the position to take the next step."

Old Dominion hasn't taken the next step yet, but the Monarchs have been more competitive this year tahn in the past two. Plus, things are happening which shed a positive light on the future.

Next year, the Ted Constant Convocation Center will open, giving the Monarchs an 8,600 seat facility that could lend a big boost for recruiting.

And, Gattison says, they have a staff and administration committed to returning the program to the way it was when Gattison left it the first time.

"That's the whwole beauty and the reason why I coach," Gattison said. "That's the reason I'm at Old Dominion, and why Blaine Taylor moved his entire family across country from Stanford - to be part of something special."

Brian.hendrickson@wilmingtonstar.com

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