When Ken Shields walked off the Regents Hall court Saturday, for the final time in his coaching career, he walked out on top.
He wasn’t on top because his team had just won a triple-overtime thriller against the first-place team in the conference. Yes that mattered; however, Shields would have walked off the court on top regardless.
He was on top because he was able to see the results of a foundation he started building sixteen years ago when he took the head coach position at NKU. A foundation that included hundreds of former players and coaches who were in attendance to witness Shields’ last home game of his career. A foundation that included a sold-out Regents Hall crowd, many of whose lives Shields had positively affected.
The loyal Norse/Shields fans packed the gym for him. It was his night one last time. And of course, the last time wouldn’t be easy.
With the game stretching into three overtimes, it was almost like this school, and that gym, didn’t want to say good-bye to the man that has built a program of prominence on its floor; it wouldn’t have been right if they had lost.
“I told my guys that I didn’t want to go out as a loser here,” Shields said, and of course they wouldn’t disappoint.
NKU, playing without leading scorer Mike Kelsey, who is sidelined due to injury, gutted out the three overtimes and sent its coach home happy.
“The high of winning really kept me from breaking down emotionally,” Shields said. “It’s really a tribute to these young men and my coaches that we were able to pull that win out.”
Shields, a man of high emotion, regardless of the situation, was treated to a great event after the victory. Former players such as Paul Cluxton, Shaft Stevenson, Derek Fields, Patrick Holt and so on and so on and so on, came out to get together with their former coach and their current friend.
It allowed Shields to see some of the impact he has made on his former players’ and coaches’ lives. It allowed him to catch up on old memories, from his high school to college coaching careers. It allowed him to be on center stage, not only for his career as a coach, but for his lifetime of being a class act.
Coach Shields still has four “very big” games before he concludes his final regular season schedule, but it would be hard for those games to compare with the importance of Saturday night’s thriller. A trip to the GLVC postseason tournament is expected, an invitation to the NCAA tournament would be outstanding, and beyond that you would like to think that anything is possible.
Especially in this situation, with this man at the helm. Something like that would just be the perfect ending to a near perfect career.
So for one last night, Ken Shields owned the court in Regents Hall. For one last night he coached his way to an important victory on his home court.
But he has built a strong, lasting foundation for this school, its basketball program, and the people he has come in contact with.