Lewis Preston hired as Kennesaw State coach

Kennesaw State men’s basketball coach Lewis Preston said part of the reason he coaches the way he does is because he knows the other side of athletics.

He was cut from his high school team as a freshman in Boones Mill, Va., and was never told why. He exchanged wins for wind instruments, taking up alto sax and the marching band.

The coach who cut him left and another was hired. He soon noticed the 6-foot-8 Preston walking the hallways and made him try out for the team. The rest, as they say, is why he has worked hard to build trust, accountability and maintain communication with his players and those whom he has worked with at Penn State, his most recent job, Florida, Notre Dame and Coastal Carolina, as well as during an all-conference career at Virginia Military Institute.

On Wednesday, Kennesaw State announced the hiring of Preston to replace Tony Ingle. A news conference is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday to introduce him.

“What I try to do is listen, gather as much information as I need to gather and make an informed decision as opposed to making rash decisions on impulse,” he said. “A lot of that comes from that [experience], the way I’ve been raised and the coaches I’ve worked with.”

He will need all of those skills to rebuild an Owls team that has issues on and off the court. Kennesaw State went 8-23 last season and likely will be penalized with a loss of scholarships and practice time by the NCAA for its academic performance. The classroom results were cited as the biggest reason why Ingle was fired earlier this year.

When Preston interviewed with new athletic director Vaughn Williams, who was just introduced last week, he presented a plan to improve the Owls’ performance in the classroom. It is based on making sure the players know what is expected of them and how they can achieve those results. Williams said he did his homework on Preston’s classroom credentials, reaching out to academic advisors he has worked with in the past.

“It all checked out the way I knew it would,” Williams said. “He placed a high value on the academics and compliance. I want my coaches to be fundamentally sound in those areas.”

Preston said the academic issues don’t really concern him. If they did, he wouldn’t have applied. He was in charge of academic development in his first job as an assistant at Coastal Carolina, which Williams said strengthened his resume.

Preston said he was attracted to the job because of the possibility of immediate success in one of the great metro areas for basketball talent. The Owls, who were the Division II national champions in 2004, became a transitional Division I team in 2005-06 and a full-fledged member of the Atlantic Sun Conference in 2009.

Things looked promising this season. The Owls shocked Georgia Tech 80-63 on Nov. 15 in one of the biggest wins in school history. However, they didn’t win again until Jan. 3. Ingle was let go March 7 after 11 seasons.

Preston brings a reputation as a strong recruiter and developer of big men. His body of work includes several first-round NBA draft picks, including the Hawks’ Al Horford, who praised him to a website saying, he “is a hard worker and has a lot to offer. He is a great teacher of the game, and there is no doubt that his players will learn to play basketball the right way.” The two worked together at Florida during the second of the Gators’ recent back-to-back national championships.

Preston knows big men because he was the Keydets’ big man, albeit a bit undersized. He is the school’s record holder in career blocked shots (202), including a school-record 65 in 1992. He twice led the Southern Conference in blocked shots, finishing as its second all-time leader.

Preston said he had a good meeting with his new team, and there will be many more. He also will talk to their parents, high school coaches and AAU coaches as he looks to gather information.

Preston said he doesn’t have a timetable for hiring a staff. He does want to move his family, which includes two daughters, from Pennsylvania to the Atlanta area as soon as possible so he can begin the process of turning his players into a group that communicates.

The goal is to produce winners.

“He can bring what we aspire to be: champions in the classroom, champions on the court,” Williams said. “He’s seen it, he’s done it.”