Coach at home in Garden CityBY TONY ADAME
The Wichita Eagle
That part of me left yesterday
The heart of me is strong today
No regrets I'm blessed to say
The old me's dead and gone away.
There was once a basketball nomad named Kris Baumann.
He moved a lot, this guy. Idaho, Florida, Colorado — back to Florida — and then, finally, to Kansas. You couldn't nail him down if you tried. If there was a team that wanted him to coach it, he was there.
Along the way he learned a lot, about himself and about coaching. He took some hits, sure, but never let them get him down for long.
He also asked a lot of the people around him — both personally and professionally — so he knew that attachments, long-term, might be hard to come by.
And he was good with that.
The people that stuck with him, he figured, were all he really needed.
"There's something you need to understand about Kris: His values are things that are disappearing, rapidly, in today's society," said Joe Cravens, Baumann's coach at Idaho in the late 1990s. "He has an incredible work ethic and he's fiercely loyal to the people around him. It's no mystery, to me, why he's a success."
And while the nomad is gone, the man that emerged from those years of traveling, of soul-searching, has finally found a home — and unparalleled success — at Garden City Community College.
Last season, Baumann led the Broncbusters to their first Region VI men's title in 56 years and a sixth-place finish at the national tournament, shocking the status quo in the Jayhawk Conference.
Entering his fourth season at Garden City, Baumann 34, has made his way to the top by importing his own inner circle to western Kansas, from his coaching staff —Mark Leslie, a former Idaho teammate and Division I assistant to Cravens, and Tyrone Kerby, the son of his high school coach in New Plymouth, Idaho — to his wife, Dusty, who moved to Garden City from Tallahassee, Fla.
"I've heard him on the phone recruiting, and it never surprises me when he can get someone to come to Garden City," said Dusty, laughing. "He figured out a way to recruit me out there."
He's also used his vast coaching network to locate players off the radar of the rest of the Jayhawk, like last year's Region VI MVP, Thomas Manzano, and former Jayhawk West players of the year Julian Allen and Roy Bright.
"It doesn't surprise me that he's surrounded himself with good people, people that he's know for a long time," said Baumann's father, Rick, a baseball coach and athletic administrator at Treasure Valley (Idaho) Community College since 1982. "He's so loyal that you know you can count on him for anything ... people are drawn to that."
Baumann's run to the Region VI title last year may have caught people by surprise, but closer examination shows that the seeds for a championship run were being sown for quite some time.
In his first season, Baumann and the Broncbusters blew a big halftime lead to eventual Region VI champion Coffeyville in the quarterfinals.
In his second season, the Broncbusters lost to the eventual champion in the quarterfinals again, this time to Seward County by three points.
Last season, with a backcourt of future Division I players in Manzano (Wyoming) and Richard Thomas (North Texas), Baumann was able to put it all together.
"We had a 24-hour period about halfway through the season where we practiced 4-5 times and that was kind of the turning point, where they were going to either do it my way or not at all," Baumann said. "So when they made it through that and we got to the postseason I knew we were playing our best basketball at the end of the year."
To his players, Baumann is known for both his loyalty and his brutal honesty.
After one particularly disheartening loss his first season, Baumann walked into the locker room and picked apart his team, left to right, from All-Americans to redshirts to team managers. It wasn't a postgame speech, it was an evisceration that spared no one.
A month later, his team was in first place.
"Growing up with my father as a coach and being around all the great coaches I've been around, I know what I want out of a team, I know what I expect and that will never change," Baumann said. "Winning Region VI put this program on the map, now the question is: Can we keep it at this level? That's the biggest goal we've got right now. It's like we're playing King of the Mountain and just got to the top, but I'm looking around and these guys that are playing with me — the other coaches — aren't my friends."Check out Tony Adame's small-college blog at blogs.kansas.com/statecolleges. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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