In the 56 years since he played, Jim Kersten has been an excellent ambassador for Marquette basketball. Charming, dignified and eloquent, Kersten represents both the sport and the schools at which he played it, with class.
Athletes like Kersten personify the impact Marquette University has had on basketball in the state of Wisconsin.
While the 100-year old program has produced some big-name players including modern era stars Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler and Doc Rivers, it also has developed legendary coaches, like Rivers and Kersten.
Kersten, who played for the Warriors under coaches Jack Nagel and Ed Hickey, built such a strong basketball program in Manitowoc that, last year, Roncalli named its gym after him.
He is also the product of another legendary Wisconsin basketball coach and MU grad, Ralph “Cyclone” McClone.
“Ralph was a good coach. He was a true cyclone,” Kersten said. “He created my interest in coaching early on.”
Kersten played for McClone during a run in which Menasha St. Mary’s won the WISAA state championship twice, and finished second the other two years. Zephyr teammate Ron Dibelius, who also played basketball at Marquette with Kersten, scored a record-setting 78 points in one game during that run.
“Ron was a high school All-American who was heavily recruited by Marquette and he brought me along,” Kersten said.
In addition to Debulius, Kersten teamed up with Don Kojis, who went on to play 12 years in the NBA, and Walt Mangham, who still holds both sixth and eighth place among all-time season rebounders at Marquette .
“I played with two All Americans while I was at Marquette,” said Kersten, who grew three inches to 6-5 while he was at the school. “Having the teammates I did made playing basketball easier and made practice better and more effective.”
Because he knew early on that he wanted to coach basketball someday, Kersten listened carefully to what McClone preached every day in practice.
“Learn discipline,” he said. “Accept instruction, share the ball on offense. We always played a man-to-man defense. The only time we played zone was in the regional finals when we beat Xavier and went on the win the state title.”
All of Kersten’s coaches became his mentors and he took what he learned from each of them as he developed his own coaching style.
“Hickey ran the five-man fast break, which was unique in those days,” he said. “As I developed my own coaching style, I established what I thought was important on both ends of the court based on the coaches I had.”
Kersten racked up 328 wins as a high school coach and, as athletic director, built Roncalli’s sports program from the ground up. He coached the Roncalli boys basketball team from 1965 through 1991.
At least one player (and likely many more) Jim Kersten coached also caught the bug. HIs oldest son Mike coached with the Xavier girls basketball program, along with Mike’s son A.j. Kersten, for several years.
Last Saturday Mike, A.J., and daughter Mariah (MU 2013) were all on hand to see Jim take center court along with many other MU basketball alumni at halftime of the Marquette basketball game.
“It was awesome,” said Mike. “A great day!”