Kennesaw State Basketball Staff Update

The Kennesaw State men’s basketball coaching staff is now complete as first-year head coach Antoine Pettway announced five new hires on Tuesday. Willie Watson, Robert Kirby, and Donovan Kates will serve as assistant coaches under Pettway. Dan McDonald will be the Owls’ Director of Operations, and Jamie Baker will be the team’s Video Coordinator.

Watson is no stranger to the ASUN Conference, having spent the past six seasons at North Alabama, where he was recently elevated to the position of associate head coach. During his time with the Lions (2017-23), Watson helped lead UNA to the 2021 ASUN championship game, and to the team’s first-ever Division I national postseason tournament appearance in 2023 CBI. He was part of a staff that recruited eight all-conference players and two conference Freshmen of the Year. Before his time in Florence, Watson was an assistant coach at Kentucky Wesleyan (2016-17) and UTRGV (2014-16). As the interim head coach at Marion Military Institute in 2012-13, when he led his team to a win over the No. 1 team in the region while coaching two all-conference and one all-region player. He was an assistant coach the previous season, helping the team to a program best 21-9 record while coaching three all-conference and all-region players, including the Player of the Year.

A former co-worker of Pettway’s at Alabama, he initially joined the Crimson Tide as a manager before walking onto the team for the 2005-06 squad, which reached 20 wins and the second round of the NCAA Tournament. He then returned to his managerial duties as the head manager before earning a promotion to Graduate Assistant following his Bachelor of Science in business management degree in May 2009, and later earned his Master of Science in sports management in 2011. He also earned graduate certificates in conflict management, negotiation and mediation.

“It’s been great watching Willie over the years develop into one of the best young assistant coaches in the country. I’ve known him since he came to Alabama as a freshman. He’s a high-character man who will help develop our student athletes, on and off the court,” said Pettway. “I’ve worked closely with him before, and I know he brings a strong work ethic and basketball knowledge to our program.”

Kirby brings 38 years of Division 1 coaching experience to the Owls’ staff. During his career, he has helped lead teams to 19 total postseason appearances (11 NCAA Tournaments, eight NITs, and has coached 18 professional players. Most recently, Kirby spent the 2022-23 season on the staff at Ole Miss, his fourth trip through the SEC, after a five-year period on Patrick Ewing’s staff at Georgetown (2017-22).

The Memphis native has also made coaching stops at LSU (2012-13, 2016-17), Memphis (2013-15), Mississippi State (1989-83, 1998-2010), Houston (1993-98), Southeastern Louisiana (1988-89), and UALR (1985-88). Some of his coaching highlights include three NCAA Tournament appearances at Georgetown,10 postseason appearances in 12 years at Mississippi State, five All-Americans and several nationally ranked recruiting classes. Kirby also pulled in consecutive top-15 recruiting classes at Georgetown in his first time with the program (2010-12). He has been recognized by both as one of the nation’s top recruiters, and HoopScoop as one of the country’s top assistant coaches. Kirby has also received the NABC (National Association of Basketball Coaches) Distinguished Years of Service Award.

“Coach Kirby has been a mentor of mine for a long time and recruited me out of high school. He’s one of the most respected coaches in the country. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to our staff. He has recruited, coached and developed many players that went on to play professionally,” said Pettway. “He has recruiting ties throughout the southeast as well as nationally that will greatly benefit our program in the future. He’s a tireless worker who will be a great mentor to our student athletes.”

A national champion in his freshman year, Kirby led Three Rivers Community College to the NJCAA title in 1978-79, and a fifth-place finish as a sophomore before finishing his final two seasons at Pan American (now known as the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley). He helped them to the 1981 NIT and graduated in 1983 before serving one year as a student assistant coach.

Kates comes to the Black and Gold from Louisiana, where he helped the Ragin’ Cajuns make their first NCAA appearance in nine years after winning the Sun Belt Championship. Prior to that, Kates spent four years in Tuscaloosa as the special assistant to the head coach, director of men’s basketball video services, and two years as a graduate assistant manager (2018-20).

He also was the boy’s head prep coach at Combine Academy (Charlotte, N.C.) in 2017-18. Kates was a three-year starter at Manhattan (2011-15) and led the Jaspers to back-to-back MAAC (Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) Championships and NCAA Tournament appearances (2013-14, 2014-15). He received his bachelor’s degree in communications from Manhattan in 2015, and a master’s degree in sport business administration from Alabama in 2019.

“Donovan Kates is another coach I’ve worked closely with for four years at Alabama. I have great trust in his ability to recruit great players and develop strong relationships with our current student athletes,” said Pettway. “I also know what he’s going to bring from a coaching standpoint in motivating our guys, holding them accountable, and getting them better every single day as basketball players. He’s also a man of high character and a rising star in our business.”

The Owls’ new Director of Operations is a Kennesaw State alumnus. McDonald is a 2016 graduate from KSU with a bachelor’s degree in history. McDonald has been heavily involved in high school basketball in the Atlanta area for over a decade between coaching, scouting, and running tournaments and leagues. Since August 2017, McDonald was the program director for basketball at the LakePoint Sports facility in Emerson, Ga., where he coordinated and directed all RYZE Hoops events, ranging from middle school tournaments, travel tournaments, and high school showcase events.

“Dan McDonald is another guy I’ve known for years who brings strong ties to the state of Georgia. He has relationships with high school coaches and travel coaches all over the state and around the southeast that will greatly benefit our program,” said Pettway. “He’s a Kennesaw State alum who grew up in Kennesaw and has great love for the university and this area. He’ll be a strong asset to our program cultivating relationships around campus and the local community.”

Jamie Baker comes to KSU after spending the past two seasons as a graduate assistant for Alabama. He began his collegiate career at Presbyterian for his freshman and sophomore seasons, before playing his final two years at Appalachian State. Baker graduated from ASU with a bachelor’s degree in communications and media studies in May 2019, and received his master’s in hospitality management and sport management from Alabama this month.

“I’ve worked closely with him at Alabama for the last two years and watched him work tirelessly to prepare towards becoming a coach. He has a great ability to connect with players while also holding them accountable and making them better,” said Pettway. “He has a growth mindset and will be a great benefit to our program, on and off the court.”

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