John’s Journal: One Final Trip for Austin’s Fadness
Veteran Coach Will Bow Out When State Tournament Ends
Posted: Tuesday, March 22, 2022 - 6:29 PM
Kris Fadness will coach the Austin High School boys basketball team for one more game, maybe two, and when the final horn finally sounds he will retire with grace and humility, just as he has coached for decades.
The 57-year-old Packers coach announced recently that this would be his 25th and final year at Austin; he was the head coach at Caledonia for four years before that. Since 2012 he has led his teams to six state tournaments, including Class 3A second-place finishes in 2013, 2014 and 2017.
Princeton defeated Austin 73-63 in Tuesday’s 3A quarterfinals at Williams Arena, sending the Packers into the consolation bracket at Concordia University in St. Paul. They will meet St. Cloud Tech on Wednesday. If they win, they will play for fifth place on Thursday. If they lose, that will be the end.
No matter the timing, an iconic coaching era will come to a close.
“Kris is a legend,” said Princeton coach Brett Cloutier. “He's probably on the Mount Rushmore of high school coaches after what he's done for Austin basketball and the community itself.”
Fadness said after Tuesday’s game that he regretted announcing his retirement before the season ended, because that took the focus off his players.
“Well, it's very humbling,” he said of the attention he has received. “But it's not about me. It’s about these guys. And to be quite honest with you, I've gotten too much attention and I'm sort of mad at myself for telling people I was going to quit when I did because then all of a sudden the attention went off our guys and came more to me and that's just not right.
“So I made a huge mistake, with that not my only one. But that was a huge mistake. Because this game is about the players. And we've been very blessed in Austin to have a community that supports us. We have a great administration and faculty. I've had great assistant coaches, my family's been supportive. Our janitors have been great. I mean, just down the line our community has supported us and the people around us have been so good. I can't say enough positive things.”
He lamented the current state of coaching high school basketball, which has become a near-year-round job.
“It's getting harder and harder to be a lifer at this,” he said. “I would love to keep coaching but it's not seasonal anymore. It's two seasons; we have a winter season and we have a summer season. We're playing 30-some games in the summer, a lot of these guys are playing in spring AAU. … It's a grind right now from a time perspective. And I don't think any coach ever does it for the money because you're not making money. No coach is doing it for that reason. It's a passion.”
Asked about all the successful young coaches in the game, Fadness issued a warning about finding and retaining more of them.
“There are a lot of great young coaches out there and a lot of guys that are working hard, but we're going to need more. I know there's a referee shortage, but we're dealing with coaching shortages here. We have three guys on our staff coaching five levels this year.”
He mentioned assistant coach Jordan Ransom, a 19-year-old college student who coaches two Austin ninth-grade teams, and top assistant Jamaal Gibson.
“Jamaal has been quite frankly a godsend to me because of all the time and commitment he's willing to make. … We can't find coaches in Austin and we have a winning program. And if you're a young coach and you have a family; we lost an assistant last year who had their second child and he said, ‘I just can't do this anymore.’ I get it.”
Seeing the Packers in the state tournament wasn’t a sure thing a few weeks ago. They had a record of 9-10 but turned it around to win eight of their last 10 games before the state tournament. It happened because of talented, hard-working athletes and a coach who knows what he’s doing.
“I'm really proud,” Fadness said. “I can't express it. Honestly, we have great kids, and I'm really happy for our seniors to get this moment.”
Back Home At Williams Arena
When Mound Westonka coach Andre Phillips was a student at the University of Minnesota, he was a manager for the Gophers men’s basketball team under coach Tubby Smith.
Smith phoned Phillips on Monday evening, wishing him and his team well in this week’s state tournament.
“He wished us good luck and it was pretty nice,” Phillips said after the Whitehawks were defeated by Mankato East 68-55 in Tuesday’s 3A quarterfinals at Williams Arena.
It’s no surprise that Phillips views the University of Minnesota campus and Williams Arena as special places.
“As we arrived on campus, I was telling some of the kids on the bus things like, ‘That's where I lived, that's where the players lived, this is where I spent most of my time,’ ” he said.
In previous years, most of the boys state tournament games, including the semifinals and championship games, have been played at Target Center. The only games there this year were six quarterfinals on Tuesday. The Timberwolves have home games Wednesday and Friday so the rest of the tournament is taking place at Williams Arena, which is fine with Phillips.
“Probably most kids these days really want to play at the Target Center, and nothing against the Target Center but for a high school basketball game it's hard to beat this place,” he said. “When you look at the history, the environment, the way it echoes from the bands, all the different sounds that you can hear. It’s just a more intimate setting than the Target Center. Even if you have the same amount of fans, they just spread out so far (at Target Center) and you just don't feel that noise. Our fans weren’t that far from our bench. You could hear them and you could feel them.”
Remembering Pal Kueth
Pal Kueth, a basketball player who graduated from Mankato East High School in 2021 and died suddenly last September, remains an inspiring figure to this year’s Cougars.
His most historic moment came when he launched a game-winning three-point shot at the buzzer to give East a 45-44 win over crosstown rival Mankato West last March. Before this season began, Pal’s initials were painted on the court at East, marking the spot from where took that shot.
The team keeps his jersey with them and many of the Cougars have his initials written on their shoes. Senior Puolrah Gong also had “PK” and a heart written on tape around his right wrist Tuesday.
“It gives us a spark,” he said. “It gives us something to play for. He's always with us, he's everywhere. … It's good for us. It's good to play for somebody. It makes us play a little tougher.”
After performing at state tournaments while their teams played at girls hockey, boys hockey, girls basketball and now boys basketball, the Mankato East band is leaving for a spring break band trip to Nashville.
--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org