After 272 wins, three trips to the NCAA tournament and 19 seasons building a legacy, Karen Kemp decided she wants to spend less time at the gym and more with her family.
The Chatsworth native has retired as head coach of the women’s basketball program at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tenn. Athletic director Richard Sander announced Kemp’s decision Tuesday via a media release and said the search for her replacement would begin “immediately.”
In a phone interview with The Daily Citizen, Kemp said the biggest reason for her decision was the chance to spend more time with her daughter, 15-year-old Lakeisha Gregory.
“I think with my daughter — I have a daughter who is a rising junior here at Science Hill High School and plays on the AAU circuit — just the opportunity to be a mom, be a mom for a couple of years before she heads off to college,” said Kemp, who also has a 21-year-old son, Marcus Gregory, and is married to Eddie Gregory.
Before coming to ETSU, Kemp was an assistant at Mississippi State University and the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. The 1981 Murray County High School graduate took control of the Lady Buccaneers in 1994 and has accumulated the most wins in program history, with an overall record of 272-277.
Kemp created a foundation for success in her first season as the Lady Bucs won their only Southern Conference regular season title and she was named the conference’s coach of the year.
Starting with the 2005-2006 season, ETSU and Kemp enjoyed their best stretch, posting a winning record for six straight seasons. From 2006-2007 to 2009-2010, the Lady Bucs won 20-plus games and reached the postseason each season. In 2009-2010, the Lady Bucs won a program-record 23 games and notched their third straight Atlantic Sun Conference championship and third straight NCAA tournament appearance. Additionally, Kemp earned the conference’s 2007-2008 coach of the year award.
But just as important, in her eyes, was having all of her players graduate either at ETSU or another school.
“To me, that’s most important, because you can’t play basketball all of your life,” she said. “When you get a diploma, that will take you places the rest of your life.”
In Kemp’s final three seasons, her squads went 35-53, with just one winning season — a 19-12 mark in 2010-11. Her final game was a 66-55 loss to Stetson (Fla.) University on March 6 at the conference tournament in Macon.
Kemp didn’t rule out the possibility of coaching in the future.
“On the collegiate level? No, not really,” she said. “But if there are any opportunities to bring me back closer to home and closer to my mom (Kate Kemp), I would definitely explore those opportunities.”
A four-year letter-winner at Murray County, Kemp helped lead the Lady Indians to the Class 2A state tournament and a first-round victory during her freshman season. She went on to play at Berry College, which went 120-19 during her time there. According to her ETSU coaching bio, she was twice named to both the NAIA All-America and all-tournament teams.
In 2010, Kemp was one of 50 people selected for The Daily Citizen publication “Local Legends: A Collection of Outstanding Area Athletes.”