If someone with no knowledge of the University of Toledo men’s basketball team had stopped by practice Tuesday morning, they’d be curious about the big man wearing gym shorts and sneakers.
Jason Kalsow attacks the glass with more ferociousness than anyone else in the gymnasium. His 6-foot-8 frame allows him to deny passing lanes in the paint, and his deft outside shot complements his soft touch around the rim. With respect to UT’s excellent sophomore guard Rian Pearson, Kalsow is the best player on the floor.
It isn’t until he reaches into the pocket of his shorts and pulls out a piece of paper containing a scouting report that his identity is revealed. Kalsow is an assistant coach, and, at age 28, still a remarkable player.
“I can tell you this,” Kalsow’s boss, UT head coach Tod Kowalczyk, said. “If he was eligible, he’d clearly be one of the top 10 players in our league. Without hesitation. He’s that good of a player. I don’t think there’s a power forward in our league that’s better than he is.”
Seven years after he was named the NCAA Division III player of the year at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Kalsow spends mornings running up and down the floor with UT’s practice squad, barking instructions to his teammates, and trying to emulate post players on upcoming opponents.
On Tuesday, Kalsow tried to replicate the spin moves seen on film from Ohio University forward Ivo Baltic. It’s a shame for the Rockets (10-13, 2-7 Mid-American Conference) that Kalsow will be wearing a suit and tie, and not a jersey, on Wednesday evening when they’ll try to end a three-game losing skid at home against Ohio (19-4, 7-2).
“Once you become a coach, you see more of the detail,” Kalsow said. “Then, going back out and playing with the guys, you’re able to give them tips. I think that’s valuable for our guys.”
Kowalczyk credits Kalsow for indirectly leading him to his first head-coaching position. Kalsow, a native of Huntley, Ill., wanted to attend Green Bay, but its coach at the time expressed minimal interest. He landed at Stevens Point, where he enjoyed a career that included a record of 103-18, two NCAA titles, two All-American honors, and the 2005 national player of the year award. Green Bay fired its coach after the 2001-02 season, creating an opening filled by Kowalczyk. A backslap goes to Kalsow.
“We’ve all made mistakes,” Kowalczyk said, “and it certainly was a mistake [to not recruit him] because he would have been an all-conference player and a very good player at the Division I level.”
Kalsow acknowledges that, partially because he was only 190 pounds at the time, he was not a D-I caliber recruit coming out of high school. As is the case with many big men, his ascent to stardom took some time. He reminds himself of that now, as he works with sophomores Matt Smith, Delino Dear, and Richard Wonnell.
“It’s a daily process with bigs,” he said. “I think big players do develop later on, but they’re getting better. They’re definitely getting better.”
After playing professionally in Mexico and Iceland, Kalsow realized his career was served best in coaching, not playing. He returned to Stevens Point where he was on the sidelines for three years before Kowalczyk enticed him to Green Bay with an offer to be director of basketball operations — a position that paid $9,000 annually with no benefits. The job description included trivial tasks like operating the scoreboard at practice. Per NCAA rules, director of basketball operations are not allowed to coach or practice, but Kalsow was willing to pay his dues. A year later, Kowalczyk promoted him to a full-time role as an assistant. Among his first pupils was Smith, who began his career at Green Bay.
“It’s like going against the MAC player of the year every day,” Smith said. “He plays harder than anybody else. I just try to match his intensity.”
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @RyanAutullo.