With several bracket-busting upsets on day one of the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament yesterday, fans of the annual March Madness festivities might be looking for someone new to root for and cheer on.
Look no further than Jerome Tang, head coach of the Kansas State Wildcats. In his first year on the Manhattan campus, the coach has exceeded all expectations. But most importantly, Coach Tang prioritizes his faith in Jesus Christ above all other endeavors.
Incidentally, K-State (23-9) tips off against Montana State (25-9) tonight in Greensboro, North Carolina. It’s the Wildcats first March Madness appearance in four years.
At 55 years of age, Jerome Tang arrived last year from Baylor University, where he served as a long-time assistant coach beginning in 2003. Tang’s longevity and success at the Waco, Texas school was largely attributed to his basketball prowess, of course, but also his fitting into the Christian school’s “JOY” culture – an acronym that stands for “Jesus, Others, Yourself.”
A native of Trinidad, West Indies, the coach first lived in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, and he now lists “Lover of Jesus” first in his Twitter bio.
“My faith is extremely important to me,” Tang has said. “That’s what I live my life by. I believe that God put me on this earth to be a servant leader, and I just want to be of service in any way I can to serve our players, to serve my staff, to serve our community and our university.”
Ironically, as a kid, Jerome Tang struggled as a basketball player. He was cut from his junior high team. “I wasn’t any good,” he admitted. But he pressed ahead, watching Rick Pitino videos. Pitino, who now coaches the Iona men’s basketball team, is a legendary teacher who has spent time in both the pro and college ranks, most notably with the University of Kentucky.
Coach Tang broke into the coaching ranks at Heritage Christian Academy, a private school in Texas that’s affiliated with the Assemblies of God. He was known to recruit players with great basketball skills but behavioral and personal challenges – and help them work through their difficulties.
At Heritage, Tang taught, coached, and served as a youth pastor. He wasn’t just concerned about his players athletic performance, but their spiritual and academic outcomes. When he arrived at Baylor, Tang was excited at the prospect of serving on a Christian college campus.
“I’d always sit with the guys and say the biggest stage to proclaim the Gospel is the Final Four,” Tang shared. “Can you imagine being at a Christian college and being with a bunch of Christian kids and win the Final Four? Can you imagine the impact we could have on this world if that could take place? There’s no reason this can’t be one of the best athletic programs in the nation because of facilities, the town, and because everybody here wants the Lord to be lifted up. Kids will want to come to Baylor because they want that kind of environment.”
Kansas State may not be a Christian university, though Coach Tang sees it as a university with Christians and an opportunity to share Christ’s love with those who might not yet know Him. Looking at the initial success he’s enjoyed at the school, Jerome Tang summed it up this way:
“It’s a testament to God’s faithfulness. This wasn’t my vision. I’m simply an instrument. Basketball is just the platform that God’s given me in order to help mentor young men.”
With an attitude and perspective as grounded as that, the Wildcat community is poised to win regardless of tonight’s outcome or its remaining postseason games.