Chad and Alec Kessler dominated Georgia basketball in the middle and late 1980s. The brothers contributed to one of the better stretches in Georgia basketball history: a 129-88 record during a seven-year stretch, with the three NCAA Tournament appearances and an SEC championship.
Chad, the older brother, arrived in Athens first and played from 1983-87, setting a standard of Kessler excellence. When Alec arrived in 1987, he built on what Chad had done. The younger of the two Kesslers went on to set Georgia’s career-scoring mark in 1990.
Now 17 years later, the Kessler brothers impact is extending beyond Stegeman Coliseum, making the 600-mile trip to St. Louis for the SEC basketball tournament. During halftime of Georgia’s opening-round game Wednesday, Chad will join his late brother among the ranks of SEC basketball legends as a member of its 2018 class. Alex was chosen an SEC legend in 2001.
“It’s a big honor,” Kessler said. “I told (Georgia) they needed to honor my brother, and they said he had already been a legend. Apparently I didn’t remember.”
Kessler was notified he was going to be honored a couple of months ago by Georgia assistant athletic director of marketing John Bateman, who was a manager for the men’s basketball team during Kessler’s senior season. Kessler said he thought the school would choose someone who had more success on a basketball court than he did.
“I was a little surprised because there have certainly been better players at the University of Georgia, including some that I played with, but they kind of convinced me that it was more than your statistics that matter,” Kessler said.
It took until his junior season before Kessler averaged over 15 minutes played per game. As a senior, he finally broke out as a dominant forward under Hall of Fame coach Hugh Durham. He averaged 12.0 points per game and led the team in rebounding and field-goal percentage.
When Kessler arrived at Georgia, his goal was to be accepted into medical school. When he received a second-team Academic All-American honor in 1987, it was an affirmation that his time at Georgia was well-spent.
Kessler received his bachelor's degree in microbiology in 1987 and was accepted into the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. That same year, he was drafted in the fifth round of the NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Clippers, but was one of the final two players cut from the team in the preseason. He decided to move overseas and played basketball in Australia for one season, before returning home to go to medical school.
“I gave it a try, and I certainly don’t regret that year because I had already been accepted to medical school, and I deferred because they said they would hold my position if I wanted to play basketball for a year,” Kessler said.
After finishing his orthopedic training, Kessler developed an interest in spine surgery from Dr. Allan Goodrich, who was the Chief of Spine Surgery during Kessler’s residency and an avid Georgia fan.
Kessler has practice medicine in Newnan for around 20 years, with no plans of slowing, although he is excited to take a little vacation to St. Louis to watch some basketball.
Kessler said he still finds time to watch every Georgia basketball game, even this season with its ups and downs. Despite a tough season for the Bulldogs, Kessler said he still has faith they can win the tournament.
“The way the SEC is laid out this year, it is a very good league top to bottom, but I believe Georgia can beat anyone in that tournament. And I don’t think anyone right now can really predict who is going to win it,” Kessler said.
“The tough part for us is the fact that we are playing on that first night. That is very difficult to win back-to-back-to-back-to-back-games to get to that championship game. But like I said it can be down.”
In his free time -- “what free time?” he jokes -- Kessler relaxes with wife, Andrea, at their summer lake house, along with keeping up with his three children. His younger son Walker is a sophomore basketball player at Woodward Academy and is being recruited by Georgia. His older son Houston was a Bulldogs basketball player from 2013-17, and is now a student in the Georgia law school. And Kessler’s daughter, Lilly, is a beach volleyball player at LSU.
The former Georgia standout added he is happy his SEC legend award has a family fanfare to it. Alec died of a heart attack in 2007 at the age of 40, but his legacy has never been forgotten, especially not by Georgia basketball fans.
“I swear most people that remember me, are really remembering my brother,” Kessler said. “I think part of me being honored is about my brother’s success.”
Both had memorable Georgia careers. Both were drafted by an NBA team. Both were named Academic All-Americans. And both became orthopedic surgeons. On Wednesday, Alec and Chad will officially both have the title of SEC Basketball Legend.
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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC