TC Basketball director John Casale and Kelly Peek of the All-Ohio Xpress
Kelly Peek has loved and lived the game of basketball from early childhood, when her brother (who is seven years older) took no pity in driveway hoops, blocking her shot and compelling her to dig in and master the finer points of the sport.
After playing collegiately at Toledo and Wright State, injuries forced her to the sidelines, and she got a taste for coaching at her prep alma mater, Dayton (OH) Christian. The unique thrill that comes with sharing your insight propelled Peek deeper into coaching, where today she helms the Xpress and fields impressive teams featuring collegiate-level talent up and down the roster.
She came through the Triple Crown offices in late January to visit with TC Basketball staff.
Q: It’s one thing to help out at your old high school, and another to get deeper into club sports. How did that play out for you?
I moved to Cincinnati and began helping a friend coach fifth- and sixth-graders, and that advanced (around 1998) into AAU or something like it, because they wanted to play spring ball. We took a pounding. I got interested in running my own program and vowed I’d come back and beat every one of those teams. One of those games we lost, 84-7, a score I would never forget. Interestingly, later parents from that team began contacting me because they liked how I coached, and that’s how things got rolling – I called it the Queen City Crossover.
I had good U13 and U14 teams, finishing top 8 in AAU, and that kind of phased out and Nike started exposure tournaments. We started in some of those. College coaches were watching and interested, and one coach had a few recruits heading to her program from St. Louis, and she asked me if they could play with us. That was where we took it to the next level and changed the name to Midwest Xpress.
Then, there was All-Ohio basketball, and I helped (that person) grow a couple tournaments. He gave me two players, then we became the All-Ohio Xpress. I will also play as just Xpress, and if it’s best for the kids we will play an Adidas tournament. Whatever works for the kids, that’s how I view things.
Q: Are you tempted to grow the club into multiple teams?
I have one team, maybe two, and I see it as all-encompassing. I asked college coaches what is it that kids don’t do well as freshmen; they said they don’t understand man-to-man (defense), so 90 percent of the time we do that. Coaches said they want players physically stronger, so we work on that.
I try to get kids, 6th or 7th grade … keep that core together. Then there will be others who want to play with those kids. You’ll have 1-3 changes every year, when you tell a kid or parent this isn’t the right fit or they want more playing time or something … and there are distractions in junior high. By the time you’re in 8th grade and you’re not interested in playing in college, my team is not for you.
Q: What are your program’s priorities?
I do the total mind, body and basketball. I realized I couldn’t do this by myself. Soccer is really big on having a trainer and a coach, so I adopted the soccer model. I have a trainer, and a lot of them are AAU coaches with their own programs, but they train my teams and it works great. It’s another voice.
We work on footwork, shooting form. And especially for the girls … either they seem to be 3-point shooters or they make layups. What makes my kids more marketable – mid-range is very important. We work on everything, but I know what’s going to separate my kids. If we can play off the bounce ... those coaches are going to remember my teams. I’m trying to get my kids to have more value than be specialized.
Q: What’s your take on the shape of the game, its ability to grow and thrive?
Outside of AAU, girls basketball is shrinking. Volleyball is less physical. You get the same number of scholarships in volleyball as basketball. In soccer, you have to share scholarships, where if you’re a backup goalie, that’s a 50 percent scholarship. In the Midwest, JV basketball games used to be good, and today they’re doing away with freshman teams … the better freshmen are on varsity. Down south, there’s enough basketball to carry this thing, but the numbers are lower than they were 10 years ago.
Here's a (very) partial list of collegiate players who came through Peek's program:
Tihanna Fulton (Miami-Ohio)
Amani Burke (Ohio U.)
Alea Harris (Wofford)
Abby Voss (Florida Atlantic)
Jailyn Mason (Arkansas)
Sam Rodgers (Cincinnati)
Maya Dunson (Loyola-Chicago)
Olivia Trice (Bowling Green)