Ashland's Kellems all about the kids

As much as he just loves his seventh-ranked Ashland High boys basketball team, third-year coach Larry Kellems knows better than anybody that there is work to be done.

It's evident on this night, when as the boys loosen up for an evening practice there's still not a coach in sight.

After being torched inside by Mazama two weeks earlier, Kellems and four assistants are trying to get it right this time, the ideas bouncing from wall to wall downstairs in their walk-in closet of an office inside the Grizzlies' locker room.

Kellems stands with marker in hand next to a whiteboard — the room's only decoration — as two others demonstrate post-defense tactics on each other.

The rematch with Mazama only days away, decisions need to be made.

"Let's at least figure out how we're going to guard this before we get up there," Kellems says. It takes some prying, but the five-piece brain trust comes to an agreement after a few more scribbles are made, and then a few more after that.

While the others march upstairs, Kellems stays behind to chat — immediately regretting it after being made aware of the night's topic.

"Oh no, not me," he says. "This is all about the kids.

"You know, after Mazama beat us, we decided we needed to be more of a transition team instead of just trying to win with a half-court style," Kellems continues. "But these kids are so awesome, and I've been amazed at how well they've adjusted the last couple games."

He goes on to say that he loves the way his point guard, Adam Pavlich, sees the floor and that a fast-paced game really suits him in being able to get his teammates going.

More importantly, he needs only one sentence to re-route the entire conversation.

"I really feel like we're playing our best basketball right now," he says, and that's great, coach, but what about you?

"I'm so lucky to have all these young guys all around me," he says, referring to his coaching staff. "None of us know it all, so they really make my job easy, and being able to mentor these guys is what makes this fun."

For Kellems, a contractor and developer who works more now as a consultant, it's certainly not the high school coach's salary that makes it fun. But he's been at it since graduating from the University of Oregon in 1977.

He returned to his hometown of Etna, Calif. soon after and began assisting the high school at the request of his old coach, eventually going on to oversee almost every level of each gender over the next 20 years.

After arriving in Ashland in 1999, he entered the program under John Skinner as a freshman coach, and has survived two more head-coaching changes since then as the only original staffer remaining.

Kellems' laid-back demeanor may not suggest he is a typical competitor, but it's his competitiveness that keeps him at it, he says, while remaining in-your-face cordial to the community and continuing to help change the identity of Ashland basketball since his arrival.

"We've tried to make it a more complete program, and I think we're succeeding," he says. "We're trying to implement the same stuff we do (at the high school) to the middle school level as well, and just keeping them as active as possible in what's going on."

While the only consistency of the program used to be the chuckles it collected from around the valley, the wins are now piling up, and Kellems has consistently been there to oversee it all.

But for how much longer?

"I honestly have no idea how long I'll do it," he says, throwing up his arms. "Every year I ask myself if I want to come back and do it again, but it's the draw of the kids that always brings me back, and it usually only takes a month or two until I can't imagine what I'd do without it."

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