KARNS CITY (EYT/D9) — Zach Kepple played basketball for Chris Bellis and also coached alongside him.
Now the 2011 Karns City graduate is taking over the Gremlins’ boys basketball program from him.
(Pictured above, Zach Kepple)
Bellis, who spent 12 years on the bench at Karns City and led the team to a 23-3 record and a District 9 Class 2A championship this past season, stepped down in June, said Karns City athletic director Josh Williams.
Kepple was hired less than two weeks ago to fill the vacancy.
“He told me the day that he was resigning that that’s what he decided to do,” Kepple said. “So I had a little bit of notice about it, and I had some time to decide whether I wanted to apply or see what the next steps were.”
Kepple never thought he’d be a high school basketball coach. Football was his thing, and he excelled at it, both at Karns City and then at Grove City College.
He’s also the offensive coordinator for the Gremlins’ football team and teaches seventh and eighth grade math in the district. But he couldn’t pass up the chance to shoot for the head boys basketball job.
“I never saw it happening that way,” Kepple said. “When I became a junior varsity coach, Chris came to me and said, ‘Hey, I have an opening. You played for me, you know how to coach and I think you’d be good at it. So, I took it.
“I’m someone who doesn’t like to think that something is going to be handed to me,” Kepple added. “So, I treated it as if I was someone on the outside applying for the job.”
Kepple soaked up as much basketball coaching knowledge as he could from Bellis, who helped him every step of the way.
“I’m glad he asked me to do it because I really enjoyed the opportunity to coach with him,” Kepple said. “I really enjoyed coaching basketball, and I’m just really grateful for him to ask me to do it.
“Chris does a great job of making adjustments mid-game,” Kepple added. “He does a great job scouting beforehand and making sure we have a solid game plan. More times than not, they worked because he was so knowledgeable. So, I think what he taught me was to be prepared to start the game and how to make in-game adjustments.”
(Pictured/Chris Bellis was 150-126 in his 12 years as the Karns City boys coach. The Gremlins went 23-3 and won the District 9 Class 2A title last season.)
Bellis was 150-126 in his 12 seasons as the Karns City boys basketball coach. He had great success in the last five years, posting an 88-35 mark over that span.
He was also the girls basketball coach at the school in the early 2000s.
“It’s been great coaching at Karns City,” Bellis said. “The 12 years as the coach of the boys, the five years coaching the girls and various other years of being an assistant coach and junior high coach have all been valuable experiences.”
Bellis said he hasn’t ruled out returning to coaching at some point.
“I would guess that at some point I will coach again — I took a break after I coached the girls,” he said. “I felt it was time for a break now.
“The program is in good shape with some talented kids returning,” Bellis added. “Zach will do an excellent job.”
The Gremlins lost 1,700-point scorer and point guard Chase Beighley and match-up nightmare in center Nathan Waltman to graduation, but also return a slew of young talent that saw ample minutes last season.
And made big impacts.
“I’m really excited,” Kepple said. “I think a lot of people outside looking in see we lost two great players in Nathan and Chase, but we have a lot of talent coming back. Those guys played a ton of minutes, so we have a lot of guys with experience. Our goal is to still win the conference championship and District 9 and continue on to the state playoffs.”
Junior forward Micah Rupp, who averaged seven points, eight rebounds and blocked 52 shots, and guard Luke Cramer, who averaged 10 points per game, will be the top returnees.
Kepple said his style won’t differ much from the one Bellis employed for 12 seasons.
“We have pretty close philosophies,” Kepple said. “We’re both about making sure that we develop the team as a whole, not just working with the individual. We both wanted to have a great team, not just great individuals.”
Kepple isn’t the only one in his family coaching hoops.
His sister, Ally Kepple, has been the head girls basketball coach at Union for four seasons.
“We bounce ideas off each other all the time,” Zach Kepple said. “She’s asked me, ‘Hey, what are you guys doing this week? Did you put in anything new?’ So, we’re always talking about basketball, which is great. She’s really, really into basketball, so she’s another great resource to have in my pocket who I can talk to for advice. And that’s pretty neat.”