Former Troy star takes over Rochester High basketball program

By: Timothy Pontzer | Rochester Post | Published December 19, 2017

 Vance Kirkwood

Vance Kirkwood

ROCHESTER HILLS — A decade after starring on hardwoods across the Oakland Activities Association, Vance Kirkwood has returned to the league to patrol the sidelines.

A former standout guard at Troy High, Kirkwood has taken over the varsity program at Rochester High. Only 27, the first-year coach replaced Kirk Pleasant.

“I felt a little bit of pressure, especially when I first got the position,” said Kirkwood, who was hired in April. “Coach Pleasant is an amazing guy, and I’m going to try my best to come close to the legacy he left here at Rochester.”

While Kirkwood admitted that his age has caused some to doubt him, he welcomes the naysayers.

“I have heard quite a bit about how I don’t deserve this,” Kirkwood remarked. “I use that as fuel to really prepare properly and make sure the team and myself are ready for any challenges, and try to prove everyone wrong. I’m young, but I have a crazy passion for the game and kids. When you add those together, I’m in heaven here.”

At press time, Kirkwood had the Falcons out to a 3-1 start. Rochester Athletic Director Luke Beach said he is thrilled with his new hire.

“First of all, Pleasant is a great coach but even better person, and he just wanted to spend more time with his kids,” Beach explained. “I praise him for that decision, and he did a tremendous job here. As we went through probably a dozen candidates, it was obvious that (Kirkwood) was going to be a guy who would come in and bring a lot of positivity and energy to the program, which is exactly what we wanted.”

Beach was already familiar with Kirkwood, as he was hired as the varsity golf coach for the Falcons last year.

“We knew him from our golf program, and it’s clear he exudes character,” Beach said. “From a basketball standpoint, we could tell he has a great mind, and he also wanted to bring this family environment to Rochester. He impressed us so much, as we look at this as a long-term investment. We knew he was young, but hopefully he’s going to be here for a very long time.”

Building those bonds with players is extremely important to Kirkwood.

“I’m trying to bring a new type of spirit to the team,” Kirkwood said. “I’m young, so I can really motivate the guys, and I’m not too far removed from them, so I can really relate to them that most coaches probably can’t. I try to take advantage of that and build a level of trust.”

After being hired, Kirkwood held offseason team-building events like pool parties and barbecues.

“It was important to me that we got to know each (other) off the court,” Kirkwood explained. “Now we’re not just teammates, but we’re all friends and brothers. We have that mindset where we have to be there for our brothers at all costs, and that helps with chemistry on the court.”

Senior guard Hunter Schattler said those summer activities helped the entire roster to become comfortable with their new skipper.

“He welcomed us to his house, and that hanging out has led to some of the best chemistry I’ve ever seen,” said Schattler, who is now in his fourth year on varsity. “He’s not just a coach, but a friend to us, someone we want to play for. I’m 17, so he’s only 10 years older than me, but he’s earned our respect and trust.”

On the floor, Kirkwood looks back to his prep days for a game plan.

“The style we ran at Troy was very fast paced,” Kirkwood said. “I’m trying to bring that here, and I have a team that can do it really well. (Schattler) at the point allows us to blitz on the fast break. We get the ball and go.”

Troy coach Gary Fralick fondly remembers the days when Kirkwood excelled in Troy’s high-octane offense. Now in his 24th season at the helm of the Colts, Fralick said he is extremely proud to see his former star now suit up as a coach.

“Vance is a great guy with a great knowledge of the game. I think Rochester made a tremendous choice,” Fralick said. “I cannot put into words how proud I am of him. It doesn’t surprise me that he’s already a head coach at such a young age. Everyone liked him when he was here as a player, and he was a great leader with a tremendous work ethic.”

Kirkwood said he speaks with his former coach on a weekly basis and plays golf with him often throughout the summer.

“What always struck me about Vance is how much he loved the game,” Fralick said. “That’s so important for a job like this. I believe he can still play, so he can get out there and show the kids things in drills, which is huge and that most of us older coaches can’t dream of doing. I know he’ll do a terrific job at Rochester.”

A 2008 grad, Kirkwood spent three years on varsity at Troy, captaining the team his senior year.

“Coach Fralick is a legend, and I’m thankful for the time he gave me then and how he’s always there for me now,” Kirkwood said. “It means a lot. He’s a great family man, and I try to reflect that, as well as his personality and demeanor.”

While he will be judged by many for wins and losses, Kirkwood said his chief objective is to do what Fralick did for him and make a connection with his players.

“For me, I’m here to make an impact in the lives of these kids,” Kirkwood said. “That’s my No. 1 goal outside of basketball: to be that father figure, big brother or whatever they need. I don’t want to be a coach, but a mentor in life — that’s what matters the most to me.”