By Anna Dunlavey
Last night, Kevin Sullivan, one of Kenyon’s assistant men’s basketball coaches, traveled to Denison University with his team for a game that bore a bit of extra importance. Kenyon won the game 65-60, and now Kevin has some serious bragging rights over his brother, Chris Sullivan, who is in his fourth year as one of Denison’s assistant coaches. Last night was the first time Chris coached against his brother on his home court. Kevin can now say he has bested his brother not once, but twice, in their first season as coaches for rival teams.
Competing against each other is nothing new for the Sullivan brothers — they’ve been doing it for most of their lives. Their father was also a basketball coach, and both brothers said that they’ve been playing basketball since they could walk. “We were always doing things in the driveway and playing competitively,” Kevin said. Chris, Kevin and their youngest brother, Brian, who now plays for Davidson College, were all on the varsity team at their high school. “Competing together and against each other is something that we’ve always done,” Kevin said.
The brothers also aren’t strangers to the North Coast Athletic Conference, as they both played in this conference as college students. Chris played for Wittenberg University, and Kevin played for DePauw University, which moved to the NCAC two years into his time as a student there. Chris and Kevin never confronted one another as players because of the timing of DePauw’s switch — the brothers are two years apart, and Chris had just graduated when DePauw entered the conference.
Chris took the position with Denison right after graduation. His high school coach knew Denison’s Head Coach Bob Ghiloni, and Ghiloni had recruited Chris years before. “A job opened up my senior year of college and luckily I’d stayed in touch with Coach Ghiloni for a while,” Chris said. “It just kind of worked out.” It also worked out that he had to face Kevin and the rest of the DePauw squad for the first two years of his job. “He kicked our butt actually,” Chris said of Kevin’s time playing for DePauw. “His career night was against me. He was ready.”
Kevin hadn’t been as sure about becoming a coach as Chris. He became more interested in coaching “after seeing what [Chris] did, what he was able to do at Denison,” he said. Kevin’s first job was as a graduate assistant at Defiance College, and he applied for the job as Kenyon’s assistant coach when the position opened last year.
Chris was happy when he found out about his brother’s Kenyon coaching job. “In a lot of ways it was a great situation for him and I was excited,” Chris said. The emotions changed a little bit when Chris and Kevin discovered the rivalry between the two schools. Kevin said that when he first got to Kenyon, “I didn’t know what the rivalry really was or how deep it went.” The brothers have been playing both with and against each other for long enough to know how hard the other will work for a victory. “I always want to see my brother do well,” Kevin said. “I know how hard he works, and I know that it’s really important to him, and it’s really important to me as well.”
However, the two are close enough that their bond as brothers outweighs their rivalry as coaches. “I want to beat him as much as the next guy but it’s unique in that I can go to him when I have questions about what to do in certain situations,” Kevin said. Chris also noted that their jobs bring them together off the court. “The way we recruit high academically, we do a bunch of travelling together over the summer to the same camps and showcases,” he said. “We’re lucky that we work in the same line of business, and so closely that we’re pretty much best friends.”
The Lords swept the Big Red this season, but how does that affect which team their parents work for? In Kevin’s DePauw years, “when he was a player and when I was a coach, they had to go with the player,” Chris said. Now, however, Chris said “they’re pretty impartial.” “They’ve said that they’re gonna root for, or at least wear the colors of, the home team, so they’ll root for each team once throughout the course of the year,” Kevin said.
No matter who wins, the Sullivan brothers will enjoy working together and against each other. “I get really excited to go see him,” Kevin said. “It’s another chance for us to compete, which we’ve grown up doing.”