I was very excited and proud of my good friend and alumni Charles Kissi when I saw in July 2019 the announcement that he was named the Head Coach and General Manager of the Guelph Nighthawks professional basketball club. His accent into the professional ranks continuing to soar as he adds his new role with the Nighthawks to his current position as the First Assistant Coach to Jama Mahlalela for the Toronto Raptors G-League affiliate, Raptors 905.
When I had initially wrote about Charles Kissi success as a coach it was before he turned pro and he was working tirelessly preparing himself by redefining the Brock University men’s basketball team for five seasons. At one point leading them to a 31-win season and a birth in the U-Sport Final 8 national tournament.
Cooking up a successful university basketball program wasn’t by accident and Coach Charles Kissi knew how to put the ingredients together. From his early experiences as a player he was able to harvest what would prepare him to run with opportunities being presented to him today. Charles basketball history has been about taking from each challenge that important ingredient and using it to create a personal sauce for success.
In 2015/16 Charles Kissi was named the University of Brock Badgers Coach of the Year after leading the men’s team to 27-11 overall record. It was only in 2013 Charles took over the Brock University men’s basketball program in the Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS) League. The reward for his success is a 3 year contract extension and a greater role in the development of basketball at Brock University. Charles is now Head Coach of Men’s Basketball and Manager of Basketball Operations. Thankfully Charles has never forgotten the ingredients to his sauce and is willing to share it with as many of us as possible.
The Kissi Sauce For Success
Ingredient 1: Take Learning Seriously!
The first ingredient in Charles sauce for success was put in place in the summer of 1996. The Toronto Raptors had just come to town and Charles was one of the few lucky kids that got to attend the first Toronto Raptors basketball camp. What he witness then would provide the first important ingredient to his future coaching stew.
“I remember it like it was yesterday! I was in the 9th grade sitting with my group at the Raptors Camp, when Isiah Thomas, Toronto Raptors, General Manager and NBA Hall of Fame Inductee walked in the gym and took a look at what was happening. Immediately he huddled up all the camp coaches, including the head coach of York University and my future AAU Coach Wayne Dawkins. After a very quick meeting with them he brought the whole camp together. Isiah made every coach do push ups while we counted and then apologize to us for not giving us their best.” – Charles Kissi
It was now very clear to Charles that success in basketball meant the opportunity to learn was serious one. With ingredient #1 in place, two years later his on court talent would reach a point it again caught the eye of Coach Wayne Dawkins. Charles would get and invite to be a part of Dawkins’s Adidas Prep Stars Canada Team. A newly formed AAU team with some the best players in Toronto, Steve Morrison -Bathurst Heights – Weber State U., Carl English – St. Thomas Aquanis (Hawaii U., Canadian National Team, Current Professional, Brian Hamilton from top ranked Runneyemede C.I., Brendon Johnson – Westview C.I. top senior guards in the city. Charles was in grade 11 and the youngest player selected.
“Adidas Prep Stars was my first time training and playing with elite players and being exposed to the next level. Coach Dawkins taught me the importance of being around someone who could focus guys on getting better. Not just teaching, but the ability to manage the personalities and make them want to get better together.” – Charles Kissi
Ingredient 2: Seize The Moment!
“I learned an important lesson from an AAU trip we had in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Sam Rines Invitational. It was Friday evening and we had to wait for everyone from the team to get home from school. We ended up driving all night and showed up right before the game, so we changed in the parking lot and ran into the gym. As we rushed in I looked over and saw coach John Thompson of Georgetown University. It became very real to me I could not make any excuses. Moments like this were not guaranteed to happen again.” – Charles Kissi
The no excuses lesson would be reinforced shortly after in 1999. Charles was in his final year of high school at Jarvis C.I. in downtown Toronto, Canada. He was playing for Head Coach Peter Moravich and they had a great year beating powerhouse Eastern Commerce C.I. but later on would lose to a lesser opponent Lawrence Park C.I. in the quarter finals of the city championships. Lesson learned…“do not take no one or anything for granted. Every opponent should be taken seriously and respected but never feared.” – Charles Kissi
Charles decision to stop playing came after graduating from McMaster University. While at McMaster his leadership skills were recognized under legendary Coach Joe Raso and Charles would graduate as team captain of the nationally ranked program. It was at this time the fire to coach was sparked.
Ingredient 3: Great Mentors!
Charles came out of school unsure of his next move in basketball when a friend asked him to be his assistant coach of a girls club basketball team. Two weeks after they started, Charles would be the lone coach, while the head coach left to complete his masters. Charles was now the head coach of a grade 8/9 girls basketball team and had to quickly figure out what to do next.
Charles could have viewed this as an opportunity to learn by himself and figure things out but he knew their was a greater responsibility to give these young girls the best chance possible. That for Charles meant he would have to seek out the people that helped him reach higher heights. Charles went to Mike Katz, the Head Coach of University of Toronto and a coach in the Canadian National Team program. Mike Katz is well known as one of the Canada’s most brilliant and successful coaches and Charles was able to develop a relationship with him from playing at McMaster University with Mike’s son Ben. Charles would also call on Chris Oliver, current head coach at Windsor University, who was an assistant coach at MAC in Kissi’s first year.
Charles also knew player development was what allowed him to grow rapidly as basketball player so he return to his old AAU Coach Wayne Dawkins to get resources on how to coach and make his player’s better. Charles had such respect for Wayne Dawkins he would later recommend his players to get extra training with him.
The result of Charles effort was a trip to the Provincial finals and a championship at the National Tournament. From his original group of young players emerged some of the best female ballers in the Province of Ontario, Kendra Seto – U. Michigan, Whitney Elenor – University of Canisius/Laurier University, Simone Thomas – Binghampton University, Alicia Ifill – University of Western and Wumi Agunbiade – Duquesne U., Canadian Women’s National Team and current professional.
While coaching with the Scarborough Blues Charles club basketball program, Charles would get the opportunity to coach Ryerson University Women’s team. It was on the recommendation of Rob Wright and the late Sandy Pothier that deal was closed. After Ryerson U., Charles had the opportunity to be mentored by Toronto Raptors, head coach Dwane Casey. His coaching experience and ability was greatly elevated in the time he spent with Coach Casey. Months after the internship the door opened for Charles to become head coach of Brock University’s men’s basketball program. At Brock University Charles quickly realized that the culture of the program was going to need restructuring in order to compete with the better teams in the CIS. He would have to trust his ability to recruit student athletes who wanted to get better. The ones that wouldn’t take summers off from skill development was his best chance.
Ingredient 4: Roll Your Sleeves Up and Work!
Charles sauce would not be complete without hands on skill development. That meant for him taking the lead on 7:00 am workouts all summer long!
“I wanted them to know what we’re trying to build and instill in them. How they will have success in our system and it how that success would translate to being a professional one day. We wanted them to commit because we were not going to develop them to use them but to advance them.” – Charles Kissi
“We would meet with players to agree on what they needed to develop and show them how summer is where you get better. Then take the summer individual skill development and translate it to live dynamic play. All skill development has to have some practicality to it.” – Charles Kissi
One of the best examples of Charles recruiting ability would be Johneil Simpson. Johneil was a product of P.H.A.S.E. 1 Academy in Toronto, where he was first introduced to Charles. Johneil’s academy coach was Charles longtime AAU Coach Wayne Dawkins so Charles new they shared the same philosophy. Johneil was absolutely the spice that Charles was looking for to apply to his sauce. In 2014/2015 Johneil would finish his freshman campaign as CIS Rookie of the Year.
From there the individual and team accolades would build up quickly.
- 2015/2016 – Dani Elgadi awarded CIS First Team All-Canadian and OUA All Star
- 2013/2014 – Dani Elgadi awarded Rookie of the Year and OUA and CIS all-rookie team while also being named an OUA first team all-star after averaging a double-double
- 2014/2015 – Johneil Simpson CIS Rookie of the year
- 2015/2016 – Johneil Simpson earns a spot as an OUA Second team All-Star
- 2015/2016 – Tyler Brown was selected to the OUA All-Rookie team
- Weekly National rankings
While at Brock University Charles showed no sign of turning the heat down in his kitchen. Although Charles has been so kind as to share his personal sauce for success, like most great recipes they are often imitated but rarely duplicated, because the final ingredient is the fuel that keeps the fire burning.