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Card Chronicle Catches Up With: Brian Kiser

“Praise God, then play defense.”

I’d like to think that every individual has a purpose in life, to do and be something special. Many people never find their “place” or the answers they are looking for while others seamlessly carve out their personal niche. For former University of Louisville Basketball standout Brian Kiser, basketball was a tool that helped lead him to his ultimate calling – a life in ministry serving and helping others.

This interview unveils the inspiring story of a young kid from Eastern Kentucky who, until the end of his high school hoops career, knew next to nothing about the city of Louisville or it’s storied men’s basketball program. A story that also reveals how that same person would become not only an accomplished Cardinal basketball player but someone that readily identifies Louisville as “home”.

Please read along as I go in depth with Brian Kiser for issue 9 of the Return to the Flock series and we discuss his huge game winning shot at UCLA, his family, and a fulfilled life working with the FCA and ministering abroad.

Brian, please tell the readers how and when you first got involved in the game of basketball.

BK: My dad played at EKU and coached my high school team before I was born. Both of my older brothers played. When I was a teenager, I felt like if I could beat my brother Jimmy one on one, I could beat anybody.

Being that you grew up in Eastern Kentucky (Estill County), did you pull for the University of Kentucky as a kid? At any time, did you follow or pull for UofL?

BK: On my recruiting visit, I remember Coach Crum introducing me to former Card and NBA player Derek Smith. I had never heard of him but I could tell you the names of UK’s walk-ons that year. I always wanted to play for UK but I now thank God for answering that prayer with a “no” for many reasons.

At what point during your basketball career did you start to realize that you had a special talent and could potentially play at the college level?

BK: When I finally beat my brother Jimmy one on one. Seriously, I wasn’t being recruited by any major D1 programs. A sprained ankle kept me from playing in my last high school game. God used that injury to help me see that life was about His glory rather than my own.

So, talk to me about your recruitment during high school. How did you get involved with UofL? What other schools recruited you and offered you a scholarship?

KW: I tried out for the Kentucky All-Star team a few weeks after that ankle injury. Coach Crum was there to watch Dejuan Wheat and Tick Rogers, who had already committed to Louisville. I had never played as well as I played at those try-outs.... and I probably ain’t played that well since. Coach called the next day and offered me a scholarship. UofL had never even sent me a letter before that. I would have probably played at West Point if UofL hadn’t entered the picture.

(Editor’s note: This kind of gave me cold chills – Brian was in the right place at the right time)

What ultimately made you choose UofL as the place where you would play college hoops?

BK: Louisville was the only major D1 team to recruit me. I thought Tick and Dejuan would be great teammates and they were. Of course, the opportunity to play for Coach Crum was a major factor also.

Talk a little bit about your first-year experience at UofL. Was it challenging going from a rural environment to one that was completely urban?

BK: I grew up in a small town in eastern KY that had a slight shortage of African-Americans… like... none. It took me several months before I understood what Georgia-native Greg Minor was even saying. Derwin Webb was a senior and my roommate on the road. He helped me adjust and was one of the groomsmen at my wedding 3 years later. James “Boo” Brewer was also a senior but our relationship developed more after college through FCA (the Fellowship of Christian Athletes).

Most helpful was my wife Wendy. She grew up near UofL and ran cross-country and track there until transferring to Bellarmine. We have lived in Sudan, Egypt, and Jordan, but the city of Louisville will always be home to us.

A lot of former UofL players have been known for and developed reputations for really excelling at one certain skill. Yours, undoubtedly, was your ability to hit the 3 ball. What do you think attributed to you being such a good outside shooter?

BK: My heroes growing up were Rex Chapman and Steve Alford. After IU won it in ‘87, I bought the “Steve Alford All-American Work Out Video” :-) Pick-up games in Irvine, KY were hard to find but my dad had a key to an old gym where I spent hundreds of hours in shooting workouts.

(Editor’s note: reading this makes me want to watch Jimmy Chitwood shooting jumpers in his driveway, no idea why either)

You had to know this would come up at some point so here goes… the vein of shooting, tell me what you remember the most from arguably the biggest shot of your UofL career – a go ahead 3 pointer with a few seconds left at Pauley Pavilion the home of the defending National Champion UCLA Bruins.

BK: Surprisingly, I remember not being nervous. I wanted the ball and was excited when Coach Crum drew it up. Dejuan made the perfect pass and Damion Dantzler set the perfect screen. I had never hit a game-winning shot in my life, not even in elementary school. So, for it to happen my senior year on national TV in the presence of the most successful coach ever (John Wooden), it was pretty sweet. My one regret is not shaking his hand after the game. The other thing I remember was the reaction of Matt Akridge, Beau Zach Smith, Craig Farmer, Jimmy King & other teammates, which you can see here:

(Editor’s note: I’m glad Brian wasn’t nervous because the group of friends I watched that game with were all in need of a valium at that point)

Denny Crum. Summarize him as a person and as a coach in just a few sentences.

BK: Coach was a great teacher of the game. He didn’t scream and yell and act a fool. He didn’t need to. His success and reputation were motivating enough. If you got it done in practice, he would give you the opportunity to get it done in the games. He was very fair. He would make us pancakes on Saturday mornings at his house then we would go fishing. I still take my kids fishing out there now.

Would you list the three or four of the best competitors you faced while playing at Louisville?

BK: Marcus Camby, Jamal Mashburn and Calbert Cheaney.

Obviously Coach Pitino and any of those guys from the ‘96 Kentucky team. We lost to Tim Duncan and Wake Forest in the NCAA tourney my senior year. I mean, if you are going to lose to somebody, it might as well be a hall of famer. The most competitive in practice would have been Greg Minor, Dwayne Morton, BJ Flynn, Alvin Sims, and Eric Johnson.

Being that you grew up in Kentucky, was the annual Dream Game one that meant more to you for personal reasons or was it no different than any other game on the schedule?

Oh, it definitely meant more to me. We only beat UK once, my junior year, when we finished only 19-14. My senior year I cried like a little baby after the game because they killed us and I had 7 turnovers. But, hey, they killed everybody that year.

(Editor’s note: If you have a kid who plays basketball or any sport they should read the answer above as it shows honesty and humility at the highest level)

I happen to know a handful of folks that met you during your playing days and several talk about you handing out candy bars with Bible verses placed on the back. Can you talk about the role your faith played throughout your career at UofL?

BK: As a senior in high school, I was voted most popular, most athletic, and most likely to succeed, yet I had no purpose in my life other than to live for my own glory and my own personal happiness. When I began understanding that God had given me life so as to live for His glory, my life had real purpose and I found true happiness. College was a wonderful time of spiritual growth through Southeast Christian Church, FCA, and Athletes In Action tours during the summers.

After graduating from UofL what did you decided to do professionally?

BK: I considered using my business degree or playing professionally overseas but I realized that God had given me a certain amount of influence in Louisville that He wanted me to use for His glory. Steve Wigginton invited me to join him with FCA & it was the perfect fit. I served schools in the south end and west end of Louisville for 8 years and loved it. God gives all of us a certain amount of influence in the lives of others. We are to use it for His glory and to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others. The poem “God’s Hall of Fame” says it well…

To have your name inscribed “up there” is greater yet by far,

Then all the halls of fame down here and every man-made star.

This crowd on earth, they soon forget the heroes of the past.

They cheer like mad until you lose and that’s how long you last.

I tell you, friend, I would not trade my name, however small,

If written there beyond the stars in that celestial hall,

For any famous name on earth or glory that they share.

I would rather be an “unknown” here and have my name “up there”.

I know you have a family that you are very proud of. Give the readers a quick overview. If I’m not mistaken, wasn’t one of your daughters on the rowing team at UofL?

BK: Wendy and I have 8 kids, 4 boys and 4 girls, ages 23 to 11. The oldest is married and has her own photography business. The next 2 are student-athletes at Campbellsville and UofL. One is working full-time. The youngest 4 are at homeschooling while attending Sayers Classical Academy.

Wendy teaches there 2 days a week. We’ve lived approximately half of the past 15 years in the Middle East.

What are you doing these days professionally? I want to say that I was told you are doing Christian counseling. Is that accurate?

BK: I promote biblical counseling & family ministry in the Arab world. I primarily do that through personal relationships with younger leaders, traveling there every 3 months for 2-3 weeks then continuing those relationships online whenever I return to Louisville. God has been very gracious to allow me the privilege of serving in ministry full-time for the past 24 years.

Brian, in looking back at your basketball career, what do you remember the most about the following things……..

BK: Freedom Hall – I remember the managers and trainers getting everything ready in the locker room. I remember running out of the tunnel as the band plays and the fans clap to our alma mater. I remember Robbie Wine calculating his points per game during warm-ups. I remember Matt Simons hyping the crowd during time outs.

Louisville fans – Respectful fans who have a very high basketball IQ. I remember how loud it was one game during a snowstorm when the upper-level fans were allowed to move to the lower level.

The city of Louisville – Home.

What do you like to do with your spare time? Any hobbies you have picked up, especially in lieu of the COVID-19 situation?

BK: We play Monopoly Deal WAY too much. We go to parks a lot to ride, run, or hike. Here are some of our favorite things that we have watched on Youtube over the years I take a 15-minute nap every day. I play H-O-R-S-E left-handed against my sons and they still can’t beat me. I won’t say which daughter but we rub each other’s feet almost daily. The best days are when all 8 of the kids happen to be in the house at the same time.

How do you hope UofL fans will remember you as the years continue to go by?

BK: Obviously, it is fun whenever someone brings up the UCLA game but younger Louisvillians recognize me more as the FCA guy. Ultimately, I want to be remembered as a fellow sinner saved by God’s amazing grace through Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less.