(courtesy UC Magazine)
Like many college players who often coached their teammates on the floor, Armein Kirkland is now trying to break into the coaching profession.
I caught up with him recently at the Deveroes Summer League at Woodward High School, only this time "Captain Kirk" wasn't playing, he was observing. At the ripe old age of 26, and after four knee surgeries, Armein Kirkland is hanging up the sneakers.
Other than playing some with his AAU team, which he coaches with another former Bearcat, Herb Jones, Kirkland is content to end the playing portion of his basketball life. His new focus is spreading his knowledge to a group of 16-and under young men.
"Tru Playaz basketball--that's my team," said Kirkland (who was wearing the team logo on his shirt). "We have kids from Anderson to Winton Woods, Northern Kentucky. If kids want to play, we're trying to form as many teams as we can. Depending on how many kids we have, we'll get more coaches."
The goal is to "travel the circuit" and go to tournaments where youngsters of that age get exposure. Kirkland showed me pictures on his IPhone of a recent trip to Indianapolis. They've also been to Louisville and a trip to Las Vegas is on the horizon.
There are various avenues to get into coaching and Kirkland hopes this one is successful. However, long term, he wouldn't mind taking a seat on the bench at Fifth Third Arena again, or any D-I arena for that matter.
"Definitely, definitely," said Kirkland of his career aspirations. "I would like to build this program up, but at the same time, I would like to get into college coaching."
Often times, making it at that level is more difficult for ex-players than their original recruiting process. They go from being the "recruitee" to the "recruiter" as aggressive networking usually leads to such employment.
"It's who you know, I guess," said Kirkland of the possibilities. "I wish I did know the secret, but it seems like it's just who you know. You see these new coaches getting hired and it's like a rotation of the same coaches going different places. You've got to get your foot in the door somehow and hopefully I'll get mine in the door sometime."
I'd venture to say Kirkland's foot is bigger than the average college coach. Plus, it seemingly wouldn't hurt to bring in a 6-8, four-year player with some credentials to meet some new recruits. It's not like staffs don't hire former players, but I does seem like it's not as many as one would think.
"I guess there is a lot of politics involved," said Kirkland. "Some guys like to have control of their team and it might be a threat having any Division I players come in to help. I think it's a good thing, but at the same time, it might be a threat."
There's no denying Kirkland knows the game. Plus, he undoubtedly learned a great deal from some of his former coaches who all head up big programs now (Bob Huggins-West Virginia, Frank Martin-Kansas State, and Andy Kennedy-Ole Miss).
"Three of my coaches are all high major Division One coaches right now," said Kirkland. "I have the contacts, but it's hard to get in. There are only so many positions at each school. Three assistant positions at each school--it's hard."
One thing that shouldn't be overlooked for college suitors of Armein Kirkland is that he played four of the five positions in his career at UC. At 6-8, he was big enough to go inside, but had the ballhandling skills and athleticism to play at either guard slot (to boot, he at one time was a high school football quarterback in Texas).
"That's part of what I base my career on--being versatile," said Kirkland. "I think that in due time, something will come along. You never know what can happen. I'm just being patient and hoping something comes along soon."
Meantime, Kirkland is staying busy with his Tru Playaz squad and not missing being a Deveroes participant. He still is inquisitive of the new players coming to UC though as we stood together on the Woodward balcony taking in the talents of Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson.
"I think so," said Kirkland when asked if UC could find it's way back to the NCAA tournament. "They've got to get some better recruits in. At the end of the day, you've got to have players. It doesn't matter who's coaching, you've got to have players first and foremost. If Calipari (Kentucky) didn't have John Wall and Cousins, he couldn't turn average players into a Top 10 team, he's not that good of a coach. He's a good coach, but you've got to have players. That's what they (UC) have got to do first."
That's where Kirkland believes he could help a college team. Having been a top recruit, he knows the process and is willing to offer his expertise.
"I definitely understand the process," said Kirkland. "I understand what the kids will go through in college, on and off the court. I definitely would be able to advise young kids on what they can expect and possibly take care of them when they did come to my school. I think I have a lot to offer. I've played professionally, I've been through injuries, I know how important education is, I graduated, so I could use that. If I didn't graduate, I wouldn't even have the option to be a college coach."
In this area, Kirkland is also still recognized. Older fans and younger players, all who have watched Kirkland play at UC, recognize him and acknowledge him when he walks into a gym.
Perhaps someday, we'll see Armein Kirkland in a suit on the sidelines for someone after a visit to the local "Big And Tall". Until then, he's guiding high school kids in the Tri-State along the same path he traveled in Texas to reach the ultimate destination of a college scholarship.
If you know of a young man who would like to try out for one of Kirkland's teams and be coached by a couple of pretty awesome Bearcats, you may contact Armein at: Akirkland33@hotmail.com.