GREEN BAY, Wis. — People say you can never go home again.
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay women’s basketball coach, Kevin Borseth, is living proof that this expression can be untrue, at least in regard to Borseth’s coaching career and his travels throughout the Midwest.
Many people in this area know of the Bessemer native’s coaching journey but some do not. Every place that Borseth has coached, from Gogebic Community College to Michigan Tech University to UW-Green Bay twice and to the University of Michigan, he has been successful. There is no doubt the man can coach. And the 25-year head coaching veteran has an impressive overall record of 556-234 to prove it.
In his first stint at UW-Green Bay from 1998-2007, it seemed like Borseth had found his perfect coaching niche in women’s college basketball. His teams compiled a 218-62 record and advanced to the postseason in all nine seasons, including seven trips to the NCAA Tournament. The Phoenix also won the regular season conference championship in each of his nine seasons and Borseth was named conference coach of the year seven times.
But just as importantly, Borseth and his family loved the university and the community. Borseth said he and his wife, Connie, wanted to raise their five children in Green Bay.
Borseth himself was immensely popular in Green Bay. He said it was because Green Bay loves its sports teams and people like a winner like the Phoenix, but UW-GB athletic director Ken Bothof, said there was more to it than that.
“A lot of it is Kevin’s personality,” Bothof said. “Some people would come to games to watch Kevin coach as much as the games themselves. They liked to watch his intensity, enthusiasm and just Kevin being Kevin. He was very community and family-oriented and Green Bay is like that. His family lived by the campus and we watched his kids grow up.”
Borseth seemed set for life in Green Bay, but that was before the University of Michigan came calling in 2007.
“It was a dream job of mine,” Borseth had said. “It was one of the only places in the world I ever really wanted to coach. An opportunity like Michigan doesn’t come along very often. So we left Green Bay for Ann Arbor.”
Borseth and his staff had its work cut out for them as the Wolverines women’s program had sunk close to rock bottom. But Michigan made steady progress in each of Borseth’s five seasons and in his final 2011-12 season, the Wolverines made a postseason trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000-01.
“We sunk our heart and soul into that thing,” Borseth said.
It was an accomplishment that was five years in the making, and yet when Borseth was starting to reap the rewards for all his hard work, he decided he wanted to leave Michigan.
His previous job at UW-Green Bay was open and he wanted to “get back home.”
Borseth said the level of commitment at a major Division I school like Michigan was too much and that it seemed like he was coaching or doing something with basketball seven days a week and 24 hours a day.
Borseth talked about how he always liked Sundays because it was one day he could be around his family and they could do things together. But in the Big Ten Conference, games were scheduled on Sundays.
Borseth said he knew that in Green Bay he was going to be able to “breathe again.”
“The higher you climb the ladder, the harder it is to breathe,” Borseth said. “It’s taking time to breathe and live again. And you have to go where you’ll be happy.”
Borseth said the move would allow him to be closer his other “home in the U.P.” and to be closer to his parents who were in their late 80s and living in Bergland.
“I miss everybody back there,” Borseth said. “I’m a proud Gogebic Ranger. I love the area. I still get the Globe and I pay attention to things that are going on up there.”
When the word spread like wildfire that Borseth was heading back to Green Bay, Bothof said the reaction all over Green Bay was “extremely positive.”
“We knew Kevin had said Michigan was his dream job, so everybody was very surprised he would come back,” Bothof said. “Even though it was five years later, many fans still remembered him and embraced him back.”
And Borseth and Bothol both said the transition back home has been a good one.
“I think the transition was a lot smoother coming back here, because I know the community,” Borseth said. “I know the university. I know the people I’m working with. Not a lot has changed, but we have the new Kress Event Center that is state of the art and as good a mid-major facility as any in the country. But almost everything else with regard to the job itself and the people that are here was pretty much the same. I feel comfortable being back here. I feel like I’m in a place where I’m wanted and where we can achieve a high level of success.
“Not only on the court, but in the community as well as in our social life, things have been very good. I don’t have any regrets with what I did going to Michigan and I don’t have any regrets coming back here. The quality of life is very good here and we’re really enjoying it.”
And Borseth and his family have their Sundays back.
Bothol said the transition was helped along when Borseth’s predecessor, Matt Bolant, recruited the same type of players Borseth looked for and kept the same offensive and defensive systems in place.
Borseth said a lot of UW-GB’s players are within a 90-mile radius of the program and many times they look for good players who really want to play for the Phoenix and have been over-looked by other universities.
Bothol said UW-GB recruits have to recognize its history and know the high expectations of the program. He said the recruits have to be ready and willing to out-work opposing players. Borseth said he thinks UW-Green Bay and Gogebic Community College have similar ways of recruiting.
And what Green Bay is doing obviously works. Bothol said over the years the Phoenix women’s basketball teams have been more successful than Wisconsin, Michigan and Marquette.
UW-Green Bay has a sparkling 28-2 record and is ranked No. 20 in the country, which is higher than always strong Michigan State. The Phoenix have won 23 straight games and captured its 15th straight conference championship with a perfect 16-0 mark in league play.
The team led the nation in scoring defense (47.9 points per game) and has held 18 of its 30 opponents this season to under 50 points.
With the regular season over, Borseth now had set his sights on winning the Horizon League Tournament this week and being selected to play in the NCAA Tournament.
It’s possible the Phoenix and their 28 wins have already done enough to earn an at-large bid to the Big Dance.
ESPN’s Charlie Creme has UW-GB as a No. 7 seed in his latest bracket selections, but the Phoenix strength of schedule is the worst of any team in the top 25.
“Our only guarantee of getting in is to win the conference tournament,” Borseth said. “You would think a record like ours would get us in, but I don’t think they (NCAA selection committee) care what I think. They have their formulas they utilize, but you’re putting it in the hands of someone else. You’d rather win the tournament and not have to rely on that.”
UW-GB is hosting the tournament and won its quarterfinal game over Valparaiso 80-59 on Wednesday. They defeated a tough Detroit team 71-54 in the semifinals on Friday night.
The Phoenix will face Loyola-Chicago in the conference title game on Sunday at noon on ESPNU.
The NCAA Women’s Basketball Selection Special will on ESPN on Monday at 6 p.m. CDT.
With the possibility that UW-GB and Michigan could both be selected for the NCAA Tournament, there is also a chance the Phoenix and Wolverines could play each other in the Midwest Regional.
Borseth laughed when told about the possible matchup.
“There is that possibility,” he said. “Yeah, that would be interesting.”