Prime Time coach Ahrens preaches defense, defense, and defense

BY J.T. BUGOS | JULY 08, 2009 7:21 AM

Dan Ahrens has been involved in basketball for more than 40 years, but it’s off the hardwood where he best illustrates his character.

Nine years ago, Ahrens adopted Aliou Keita, a foreign-exchange student from Dakar, Senegal, who lived with Ahrens while attending Regina High. Keita lost his father as a child, and when he seamlessly fit in with the exchange family, Ahrens decided to adopt him.

Keita came to the States as a soccer player, but living under the same roof as Ahrens soon changed that. The two played basketball every night, and Keita started playing at Regina. He went from never having played basketball to scoring 37 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in the last game of the state tournament his senior year.

Keita, now 25, hadn’t planned on playing in Prime Time, saying he was burned-out after playing for Drake. Ahrens jokingly threatened to kick him out of the family if he didn’t play, and now Keita is playing for his father on Jill Armstrong of Lepic-Kroeger Realtors and enjoying it immensely.

Ahrens has coached in the Prime Time for three years, and he has no plans to stop. The chance to enjoy basketball with his son, develop relationships with players, and the camaraderie with other coaches keep him coming back, he said.

One of the players Ahrens has bonded with is Iowa’s Matt Gatens, the lone Hawkeye to suit up for Armstrong.

Gatens described his coach as laid-back but noted that players who don’t play defense and hustle find themselves on the bench.

“He preaches defense a lot,” Gatens said. “Which is nice and different in our league. Most coaches just want to push the ball and take shots.”

Although Ahrens is laid-back, it’s impossible for anyone not to notice his love for the game. Being able to play for Ahrens, and also spending time with him on the bench while injured, has allowed Gatens to see just how deep basketball runs in his coach.

“He’s very passionate,” the Hawkeye sophomore-to-be said. “He’s not just out there to make everybody happy. He wants to win.”

Ahrens agreed, saying that when he drafted his team, he was looking for shooters and physical defenders. The coach also wouldn’t disagree with Gatens’ claim that he’s coaching to win.

“It’s always about winning with me,” Ahrens said. “You get better by winning.”

That competitive streak in Ahrens takes hold during Prime Time games. Wins are celebrated, losses aren’t easily taken.

“After we win, he’s real excited,” Gatens said. “And after we lose, you probably don’t want to run into him.”

Fortunately for Ahrens, his teams haven’t experienced much losing. He estimates that over his three years, he might have the most wins in the Prime Time. He credits his ability to recognize talent and being a good listener for his success.

Watching that talent on the floor has also been a source of great enjoyment for him.

His favorite memories of the Prime Time were being able to witness great athletes perform. He listed Ben Jacobson and Matt Birk as two players that stood out for him. Jacobson caught his attention as a phenomenal athlete, Ahrens said, adding he was maybe the best he’s seen. Birk dazzled him with a smooth shooting stroke that, when on, was lethal from anywhere on the floor.

Being able to appreciate basketball for simple things such as shooting prowess is what separates an observer from a fanatic. Ahrens, even after 40 years of playing and coaching, still has a childlike enthusiasm for the sport.

Further showcasing his strong character off the court, Ahrens wanted to ensure that credit was given to league director Randy Larson, as well as his fellow coaches, for making the league enjoyable for him.

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