By Jack Ankony, executive sports editor
A new school, new students, and no seniors on the basketball team. This challenge is what legendary Prospect basketball coach Dick Kinneman was faced with when he was named coach in Prospect’s inaugural year in 1959. In his first two seasons the Knights went a combined 47-4.
In the 1960-1961 season, the Knights were the no. 2 team in the state. Prospect lost in sudden death overtime in the sectional championship game lead by Kinneman, who is now in the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
On Aug. 17 Kinneman died at age 92.
“[He will be remembered] as a man of integrity and how he was admired by so many people,” said Mike Korcek, who graduated from Prospect in 1966 and is the former sports information director for Northern Illinois University. “Those eight years a lot of schools can’t say in that time period their worst record in basketball was 15-8, a lot of schools would be partying if they were 15-8.”
To start off winning immediately at a new high school was unprecedented, according to Korcek.
“That was unchartered territory for a high school,” Korcek said. “That really speaks to his basketball coaching acumen. He was a tremendous X’s and O’s coach, but his personality, he was a better person. Anyone from that era who played for him has a great deal of respect for him.”
During Kinneman’s time coaching at Prospect, players and fans called the way the Knights played “Kinneman Style.” According to Korcek, Kinneman Style meant to play hard, practice hard, and play clean.
Something that stood out to Korcek about Kinneman was the way he stayed calm during games.
“You see a lot of coaches and they start yelling at their players in time outs, and basketball can be an emotional game,” Korcek said. “There are a lot of swings in the game, and he always had his head on his shoulders.”
This calm attitude was also reflected in the sportsmanship Kinneman showed. Korcek recalls the first game of the regionals in 1961 Prospect when was the no. 1 seed and played against the no. 8 seed, Maryville Academy.
The Knights were the clear favorite, and instead of running up the score, Prospect passed the ball around in the fourth quarter to run the clock every possession.
“I think that just shows the type of integrity that the coach has to say, ‘What does that prove running up the score against an overmatched team?’ and to me that showed the class he had,” Korcek said. “The idea is to win games, but it is also to be a role model to students and I think that is what coach was.”
After his coaching career, Kinneman can be remembered as someone willing to share advice. Prospect’s current head basketball coach John Camardella had the chance to meet Kinneman in 2011 and 2016 at the Prospect basketball reunions.
When talking with Kinneman, Camardella explains that he tried to put himself in historical footprints and think of what it was like for Kinneman during the first years of the school’s existence.
“It’s hard enough with any job,” Camardella said. “But a job with whether or not you want that responsibility, you are the first, you are the beginning, and I thought he did it with grace and dignity.”
Advice that sticks out to Camardella was to teach and model with confidence at all times, not just in spotlight moments.
“It is just a matter of not letting your confidence be determined by results,” Camardella said, “It is a much more processed approach to coaching. Results still matter, don’t get me wrong, but process oriented keeps you in the game longer.”
Kinneman set the bar high for the Prospect basketball program going forward. His record of 154-43 during his eight years at Prospect is unmatched. Reaching the regional final six of eight times in an era with only one class is something to be inspired by, according to Korcek.
“I don’t think it says in anyone’s job description at Prospect that you are supposed to inspire the students,” Korcek said. “But Dick Kinneman did for me.”
The memory of Kinneman will continue to live strong in the Prospect basketball program.
“We will keep trying to uphold his legacy from this point on,” Camardella said.