Mister Jennings, arguably East Tennessee State’s most popular basketball player ever, was hired as an assistant coach at the NCAA Division II school in Banner Elk, North Carolina, on Friday.
Jennings had previously coached at Bluefield College from 2009 until last season. At Lees-McRae, he’ll be working under head coach Steve Hardin, an Elizabethton native who was Bluefield’s women’s coach during part of Jennings’ time in West Virginia.
“One door shuts, another one opens,” Jennings said Friday. “Fortunately, Coach Hardin and Lees-McRae felt like I would be a good addition to the staff. He had talked to me last year, saying something might come open. It just happened this year and I am thankful for the opportunity.
“I think it’s gonna be a wonderful opportunity. I love what I do. Coach Hardin has given me so much more responsibility than I had at Bluefield. It’s gonna be great.”
Jennings has also coached at Highland School in Warrenton, Virginia, as well as Science Hill High School and ETSU.
“Coach Jennings is a close and loyal friend and I am extremely excited to have him,” Hardin said. “We have talked about building a program together for some time and now we have the opportunity. Keith brings a wealth of basketball experience. His playing resume speaks for itself and is very knowledgeable about the game. Mister is a valuable asset in all phases. I am extremely blessed to add Coach Jennings to the staff.”
Jennings, a 5-foot-7 point guard, spent three years in the NBA before a lengthy playing career in Europe. While at ETSU, he led the Bucs to three consecutive Southern Conference championships (1989-91), while earning the SoCon player of the year and tournament MVP as a senior. In 1991, he was a second-team All-American selection.
Jennings ranks fourth all-time in ETSU program scoring (1,988 points) and holds multiple records, including career totals for assists (983) and steals (334), single-season records for assists per game (9.1) and steals per game (3.4), and single-game marks for assists (19) and free throws made (18). Jennings had a career 3-point field goal percentage of 49.3. His mark of 59 percent from 3-point-range led the country in 1991.
“We continue to make great strides in turning around our men’s basketball program and today is no different,” said Craig McPhail, Lees-McRae’s athletic director. “To be able to hire Keith and watch his relationship with Coach Steve Hardin grow will be fun for all. I am especially looking forward to the growth and development of our young men on our team as I see their progression reaching new heights.”
Lees-McRae is coming off a 7-20 season. The Bobcats were 2-14 in the Conference Carolinas.
Follow Joe Avento on Twitter. Like him on Facebook.