Chet Kammerer, a man of considerable modesty, was floored when Westmont College wanted him to be the men’s basketÂ-ball coach, and now he is being floored again. On Saturday, December 13, the playing surface at Westmont’s recently renovated Murchison Gym will be dedicated as Kammerer Court. The ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. before the Warriors play Cal State San Bernardino in a non-conference game.
Kammerer, the Miami Heat’s vice president of player personnel, coached the Warriors for 17 years, from 1975 to 1992. His teams compiled a record of 359-156 and made five trips to the NAIA National Tournament, reaching the Final Four in 1984. He was hardly dreaming of such success when he moved west with a young family after coaching for 10 years at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana.
“There must have been a hundred applicants for the Westmont job,” Kammerer said. “It was the providence of God that brought an Indiana farm boy to Santa Barbara, California. Most people thought I would never last. I grew up in a little town [Leesburg, population 600]. I didn’t know I was coming to the garden spot of the world. I called Sherill [his wife] and said, ‘This place is beautiful. I don’t know if I’m going to fit in.'”
There was a rather convincing precedent for bringing a Hoosier to coach a basketball team in Southern California: UCLA had done it some years before by hiring John Wooden. “I’m no Wizard of Westwood,” Kammerer protested. Okay, let’s just call him the Maestro of Montecito.
Kammerer credited his predecessor Ron Mulder for recruiting players who helped him get off to a positive start at Westmont. His teams never had a losing season. One of Kammerer’s first recruits was John Moore, a point guard from Cypress Junior College. Moore is in his 16th season as the Warriors’ coach, taking over a year after Kammerer left.
“When I first met Chet, he was kind of a Howdy Doody character,” Moore said. “It was hard to believe somebody could be so nice. He was so conversational. He made me feel special.” Moore came to appreciate Kammerer’s religious faith. “I wrote it down in the negative column that Westmont was a Christian college,” he said. “I later came to know Christ because of Chet Kammerer.”
After his three children were grown, Kammerer stepped out of his comfort zone again. Randy Pfund, another Midwesterner who got his first coaching job as Kammerer’s assistant at Westmont, became head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1992. He persuaded Kammerer to join his coaching staff. “Going to the Lakers was such a unique opportunity,” Kammerer said. “My first year, we played against Larry Bird and Michael Jordan.”
His and Pfund’s run with the Lakers did not last long-partly because they did not have the retired Magic Johnson to play against Bird and Jordan- and Kammerer went off to coach a professional team in Germany. Pfund became general manager of the Heat, and he brought Kammerer to Miami in 1997 as a scout. They prompted the club to make some key moves-notably, the drafting of Dwyane Wade-that resulted in the Heat’s winning the NBA championship in 2006. Pfund will attend the Westmont dedication Saturday. He resigned from his GM post two months ago and is taking time off “to get refreshed,” Kammerer said.
Kammerer’s VP job with the Heat sends him around the country taking stock of players in college and developmental leagues. “I run in the same circles as Bill Bertka,” he said. It was Bertka, a longtime Santa Barbara resident who has spent four decades with the Lakers as an assistant coach and scout, who boosted Pfund into the NBA. Bertka and Kammerer were both professional observers at the Thunderdome last month when North Carolina played UCSB.
“Chet was a tremendous coach at the college level,” Bertka said. “He knows the game.”
Kammerer called his Westmont years “the heart of my coaching experience,” and Saturday night the college’s gym will pulsate with his name.
ATHLETES OF THE WEEK: A pair of sharpshooting guards, Sam Kwock of Bishop Diego and Rebecca Griffin of Santa Barbara High, were honored at the Athletic Round Table luncheon. Also taking a bow were the Sportspersons of the Month, a pair of women who founded two significant fitness movements: Dawn Schroeder (Momentum for Life) and Jamie Allison (Moms in Motion).
GAMES OF THE WEEK: UCSB is giving free tickets to emergency personnel who worked at the recent Gap and Tea fires for its next two home basketball games: the Gaucho men versus Loyola Marymount on Saturday night, December 13, and the women versus Harvard on Wednesday, December 17.