Family Comes First for Women's Basketball Coach Todd Kent, On and Off the Court

Family Comes First for Women's Basketball Coach Todd Kent, On and Off the Court

Two of the most loyal Slug fans are also the tiniest — 4-year old Hazel and 7-year-old Frances. Hazel likes when she can get ice cream after the women's basketball games, and when the games are short. Frances likes basketball, but more notably watching the halftime performances.

Hazel Kent(left) and 7-year-old Frances Kent(center) play games with their dad, Coach Todd Kent. Photos courtesy of Todd Kent.

Sometimes Hazel sees the coach "get mad and scream 'defense," but most of the time he's picking her up from school or helping her with homework. For her entire life, her dad has been the women's basketball team head coach — overseeing the growth of 17 young women on the court every day alongside his two daughters.

"When he's not talking about basketball, he's talking about his family," said former UCSC starting forward Leah Parrish, who played for head coach  from 2011-15. "His wife and daughters are his whole world, and he never once tried to minimize that."

Now in his seventh season at the helm of women's basketball operations, Todd has built a competitive Division III program while maintaining his identity as coach, husband and father. This hasn't always been easy — he remembers days four years ago when he regularly went to morning practice at 6:30 a.m., taught a class, went home, helped cook dinner, cleaned up, then traveled to Santa Barbara for recruiting.

"I would come back way past midnight and wake up to do the same thing over," he said.

Todd's journey to UCSC began in Lind, Washington — a city with a population of 472 at the time he graduated with 16 other students in 1991. Growing up in a town without much of a social scene and plenty of open meadows, Todd relied on playing sports for entertainment.

Athletics were always a hot topic at the dinner table. Before Todd's dad was a farmer, he rode bulls and horses and played baseball. Todd played high school basketball, baseball and football. He said that he was average at all of them, but improved by studying plays at home.

Four-year old Hazel Kent shoots the ball at one of UCSC women's basketball's game day clinics this past year. Photos courtesy of Todd Kent.

Four-year old Hazel Kent shoots the ball at one of UCSC women's basketball's game day clinics this past year. Photos courtesy of Todd Kent.

During bus rides to away games, Todd sat in the back away from distractions and drew up plays on a notepad. While most people see sports from a first-person perspective, Todd developed the ability to see plays from a bird's eye view. His coach noticed this and told Todd he should coach some day.

"Todd is very knowledgeable on sports," said UCSC assistant coach Chantel Divilbiss. "Even though this is my first year on staff, it's pretty evident he's a sports junkie, and it shows when he talks about basketball."

But despite his knack for coaching, it wasn't his immediate career choice. After graduating, Todd attended Shoreline Community College for a year, then joined the Marine Corps Reserve in the summer of 1992. He was never on active duty but served eight years and credits his time as an opportunity to decide what his future would hold. At the same time, Todd earned a bachelor's degree in recreation management from Eastern Washington University and a master's in teaching from Heritage University.

After working in minor league baseball for a short time, Todd became the girl's head basketball coach and dean of students at La Salle High School in Yakima, Washington from 2001-07. He occasionally taught history and English. As head coach, Kent finished with a 106-26 career record and lead the women's program to a State B championship in 2006.

"Playing for Coach Kent was one of the greatest memories of my life," said former starting forward Molly Lamb, who Todd coached from 2003-07. "He treated us like family and taught us to grow as young individuals, as well as better basketball players."

Not only would Todd's arrival impact La Salle's athletic identity but it would also change his life. Todd remembers chaperoning a school dance with Stephanie, a Jesuit volunteer at La Salle, which turned into their first date. The couple will celebrate their 10-year wedding anniversary this August.

After Todd's success in Washington, he sought a career at the collegiate level and was hired at UCSC in 2009. Their oldest daughter Frances was only 9 months old at the time, straining Todd's role as a father with a demanding job, but also strengthening his time management skills. The family frequently Facetimes when Todd is on the road, and his daughters are no strangers to the West Gym for practices after school. Stephanie said Todd embraces the idea of "athletics making you a better person — well rounded, strong, determined, committed to others."

"He has learned to set some boundaries over the past few years so he can balance coaching, family and his other interests," she said.

Former players echoed a similar message, adding how supportive Todd's family has been of his coaching career and how involved the entire Kent family has been in their lives.

"Not only did coach frequently talk about his own family, but he included us in it," Leah Parrish said. "At every point of my college career I knew I had coach Kent and his wife Steph to reach out to with whatever I needed, basketball or not, no questions asked. Coach always made sure to prioritize that our team was a family before anything."

Todd has 23 years of coaching experience under his belt. He is the most successful coach in UCSC history and holds the school record with 18 wins in 2013. On their journey to setting this record, the Slugs had a program best 10-game winning streak. Of all his accomplishments, Todd says he is most proud of the team's 3.5 GPA over the past four seasons.

On the verge of participating in their first conference tournament, the Slugs will test their 12-9 record this week when they square off against Bethesda University and William Jessup on Feb. 12-13. With the Great South Athletic Tournament tipping off on Feb. 26, UCSC is not taking these remaining weeks lightly.

For the tough week ahead, Frances has some words her dad.

"Be more efficient," she said. "And try to win."