Rochester University head coach Klint Pleasant.
Photo Courtesy of Rochester University Athletics and Camren Clouthier/C2VisualMedia
The Rochester University Warriors put shots up to close their final practice before Thanksgiving. Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” blared through the speakers at Garth Pleasant Arena. Dr. Klint Pleasant’s team was in the holiday spirit in advance of their last game before a short break. Just how he prefers.
To start practice, he reinforced the program’s family atmosphere.
“If you don’t have a place to go for Thanksgiving, let me know.” Pleasant told his players before they started the day’s drills.
As a small faith-based school 30 miles north of Detroit, Rochester draws many local players. But he also rosters players from afar, this year as distant as Russia and Greece.
“We promise (players) that when they come here, we’ll take care of them,” Longtime Rochester assistant coach Scott Samuels said. “We’ve got several guys that are international, we make sure that they have places to be on holidays and over the summer. Family is probably a word that gets overused but it’s a good descriptor for us.”
The staff prioritizes the development of upstanding human beings, not coaching only to rack up victories. But the wins still come by the truckload. Pleasant amassed over 300 wins as a head coach. Now in year 13 at Rochester, the Warriors received votes in the preseason NAIA national poll and are 9-1.
Senior guard Bralin Toney noticed the program’s priorities once he saw the coaching staff at his high school games, both home and away, in River Rouge, Michigan. He mentioned that his hometown is a completely different area compared to Rochester, which showed an early sign of genuine care.
“Once I saw them come there (I knew) it’s a family atmosphere just all around,” Toney said. “The coach loves his players, the assistant coaches love the players. … It’s a family atmosphere, it’s not too big, everybody knows each other.”
The small school nature of Rochester allows Pleasant to have a long-standing impact on his player’s lives. When recruiting, he lets players know that joining RU is a lifelong connection. He constantly asks what they need and what’s going on in their lives back home. Pleasant implements a character, leadership, and life lessons curriculum the moment players step on campus and starts each season with a team retreat focused on developing trust and love.
“Coach Pleasant is a good person,” Sophomore guard Gunner Walters said. “He’s a great coach but he’s a really good person too. That’s important to me. I can learn a lot from him on the basketball court but I think as a person he’s even better.”
Former player Brad Norman was recruited to Rochester after Pleasant attended a game to watch an opposing player. But Norman caught eyes.
The two went on to win a national championship during their time together. After the victory, Norman asked Pleasant to join him in putting the championship medal on his father’s grave.
They remain in touch frequently. Pleasant officiated Norman’s wedding. Now, he lives in California close to where Pleasant’s daughter goes to college. He would drop anything to help because of their connection.
Pleasant began work at Rochester after coaching at Abilene Christian where he was the youngest NCAA Division II coach in the country. He spent time as an assistant at Kent State where he helped the Golden Flashes win 30 games and make a run to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight.
His father Garth Pleasant, the namesake of RU’s basketball arena which opened in 2017, coached the team for 38 years. In 2005, Klint decided to return home and join his father’s staff. Four years later, he took over for Garth as RU’s head coach.
Once Klint began as head coach in 2009, he inherited the program’s blue-collar approach which he had grown accustomed to over the years. Before Garth Pleasant Arena opened six years ago, Rochester didn’t have a true home gym. They played most games at nearby Rochester High School. If that gym had a conflict, RU needed to find somewhere else to play. Sometimes, scrambling to find a new place to play the day of a “home” game.
Now with the opening of Pleasant Arena, that isn’t an issue. But the grassroots nature of the program stays true. With Garth at the helm, he drove the team bus to away games and taped player’s ankles if he needed to. Klint’s teams continue to do anything that’s needed. They’ll sweep floors and pick up trash. They are fine not having an athletic trainer because they can tape their own ankles.
Klint sees this as a chip forever on his program’s shoulder, in a good way.
“The most important thing has always been our culture,” Samuels said. “We’ve only had two coaches for over 50 years. Even though Klint is much different from Garth, the culture has been maintained.”
That culture is based on a set of pillars. First, Rochester preaches character in all things and attention to detail, both on and off the court. On the floor, the culture is to play hard, protect the basketball, and take good shots.
Klint and nearly every member of his coaching staff holds a position with the school outside of their duties for the basketball program. He is Rochester’s Senior Vice President of Athletics and Special Assistant to the President. The school added 11 sports to their roster since he received oversight of the athletic department. Samuels oversees the admissions, development, and communication offices. Assistant coach Quin Rice is also the head men’s and women’s golf coach at RU. Even Garth was a professor and the athletic director while he led the basketball program.
Juggling multiple responsibilities isn’t atypical for a small college environment. But the dedicated nature and integrated approach to serve the school helped build RU’s culture.
“Our guys know that we work our butts off,” Samuels said. “And that we make (the players) a priority despite all the other things that could be going on.”
Klint spent eight years as the Vice President of Enrollment, where he increased new student enrollment each year according to the school. In 2019, he earned a Doctor of Education degree from Lipscomb University, the same school where he started his coaching career. Finishing his doctorate came out of a priority to maintain balance in his life. He loves reading and even got a book published that has nothing to do with basketball. It’s a devotional book centered around the holiday season as Klint loves Christmas.
“I thought you know what, I’m not getting any younger and I do have a desire to continue to learn,” He said. “So I went back and did it. It was one of the hardest things I ever did but one of the most gratifying things. I feel like it changed me as a person, it changed me as a coach, it continued to help develop my mind. I’ve tried to bring a lot of that into my coaching, whether it’s different reading material or a perspective I might have now because of the additional learning. I’m grateful I did it and it’s something I’m really proud of.”
Klint sees his responsibilities as a singular goal to help the university. He’s motivated by a substantial workload and not afraid to roll up his sleeves to get the job done. He loves his job and can see himself at Rochester for the rest of his life.
Garth amassed 720 wins as head coach, the most by any collegiate coach in Michigan. With Klint’s success, the father-son duo has over 1,000 career wins. But the wins are never a be-all and end-all for the Pleasants. It’s so much more than basketball.
“I wake up every morning excited to get to work,” Klint said. “Growing up, the basketball players at RU were my heroes. And now I get to coach my heroes. Fifty-two years of either me or my dad leading this program. Sometimes, I have to stop and remind myself how unique and special that really is. I believe we are in the business of shaping young lives, and not just playing basketball and trying to win games. What can be better than that? I love my job and I’m thankful every day.”
(Featured image courtesy of Rochester University Athletics and Camren Clouthier/C2VisualMedia)