Reaching Triple Digits: Coach Caleb Kimbrough hits 100 wins

Published 12:12 pm Saturday, March 23, 2024

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Nobody had told him the numbers were that high. When Hampden-Sydney College basketball coach Caleb Kimbrough came back to the locker room after a February win, Athletic Director Chad Eisele asked if he could say a few words. 

“I thought he was just going to compliment the guys, tell them great job on the win,” Kimbrough said. 

Instead, Eisele announced to the packed locker room that this win had been Kimbrough’s 100th in his coaching career, a milestone for the profession. A few days later, it was still something the coach was processing. 

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“I think it’s a special moment,” Kimbrough said. “There was no lead up for me, nobody was letting me know ‘hey, you’re this close’ or anything like that. But it’s a neat feeling. I’m also just fortunate to be with a great program like this, so that I can get 100 wins this fast.” 

Caleb Kimbrough

And Hampden-Sydney has been the place he’s recorded more than half of those 100 wins. Starting out at Huntingdon (AL) College from 2016-19, Kimbrough has been with Hampden-Sydney as the 19th coach in the program since the 2019-20 season. And it’s a program he takes pride in, highlighting the work both coaching staff and players have put in. The two years before he arrived, the Tigers had 10 total wins combined. They collected 14 in his first season alone and have continued to build from there. Last season was Hampden-Sydney’s first 20-win campaign in a decade, capping off with the program’s return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nearly as long. Now they’re on track to do the same in 2023-24, with a 23-2 record in the regular season and nine weeks spent as either No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 in the nation. 

It’s not a bad progression for a coach whose first love wasn’t even basketball. 

Rivalry pulls Caleb Kimbrough in

Caleb Kimbrough actually grew up playing tennis. There are more photos of him as a child with a racket in his hand than a basketball. But when you grow up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, it doesn’t stay that way for long. 

“There was the Duke-Carolina rivalry,” Kimbrough said. “My mom worked at Duke Hospital. Both she and my dad went to Duke. I think just being around that rivalry gets you interested in basketball, at least in watching basketball.” 

By middle school, he had a coach that helped encourage his interest in the sport. And Kimbrough also had a stubborn streak that helped as well. 

“I was short,” Kimbrough said. “I had decent quickness, but no jumping ability. And most everybody said ‘well, this is probably the last sport you should play’, so naturally that was the one I wanted to play.” 

Kimbrough was starting games on a regular basis by the time he got to Guilford College. Over the course of his own college career, he would start a school record 108 games, helping the team to a four-year record of 75-36, including 48-10 over his final two years, when the Quakers made it to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. He would finish with 356 assists, fourth all-time at the school; 130 steals, sixth all-time at Guilford and with 97 three-pointers, good enough for 14th all time. 

After graduation, he played a year for the Washington Generals, competing against the Harlem Globetrotters in exhibitions across the United States and the world. To be honest, he hadn’t given coaching much thought, but when the Washington and Lee coach called and offered an assistant position, he took it. 

“I really fell in love with it,” Kimbrough said. 

That season, Washington and Lee went 17-10, their best record in more than 20 years. He worked his way up to becoming associate head coach at Guilford, before leaving to take over his own program at Huntingdon. 

“It has been very rewarding,” Kimbrough said of coaching. “I was lucky enough to be around some great mentors and be in some great basketball communities. There’s just something about college basketball. Every year, really every day as a coach is a new challenge.” 

Looking ahead

It was that challenge he agreed to take on in 2019, when he joined a Hampden-Sydney program that had been struggling. Seeing the effort the players put in, seeing their hard work pay off has been worth every step, Caleb Kimbrough said. 

“Having the guys believe in us, believe in this college and continuously commit to this work and now to be where we are, it’s great,” Kimbrough said. 

And he sees a bright future for his program. 

“Hampden-Sydney really allows you to recruit a wide range of student athletes,” Kimbrough said. “It really is an attractive place that provides resources where you can compete at a high level. Obviously we want to win and we want to win championships. We have that opportunity here.” 

But for Kimbrough, beyond talk of titles, the biggest reward is the work itself. 

“Just to inherit a group of guys and recruit a group of guys, putting in the work to help them improve, to help them win is rewarding,” Kimbrough said. “I think finding joy in that process is what we aim to do all the time.”