LONGMONT -- It was early in 1994, and a conversation that would shape much of the history of both the Longmont High School boys basketball program and, eventually, the men's program at the University of Colorado was shared in Jeff Kloster's back yard.
Kloster had recently purchased the home on the heels of his three-year tenure as an assistant coach under Tad Boyle at LHS. Boyle had just accepted an assistant coaching position at Oregon, beginning a journey that ultimately would lead him to CU, where he has revitalized the Buffaloes' program.
On that day, Boyle helped Kloster with a few landscaping chores while trying to convince the somewhat reluctant Longmont alum that he was the right man to take over the Trojans.
Before long, Kloster felt a revelation. Longmont basketball has been in good hands ever since.
"When (Boyle) took the job at Oregon, and he'll laugh about this, but we spoke for three or four hours," Kloster said. "It was one of those deals where he just kept saying, 'You're the guy that can get this thing going.' He twisted my arm and twisted my arm.
"It was also that first group of seniors that took us to our first Final Four that year. They wanted so bad to have success. They're the ones that finally made my decision after doing a lot of praying."
Now in his 19th year at the helm, and 22nd overall at Longmont including the three seasons as an assistant with Boyle, Kloster is closing in on an impressive milestone. Sometime in January, Kloster is likely to reach the 300-win plateau. Sitting at 5-0 during the holiday break with 296 wins overall, the earliest Kloster's Trojans could reach that mark will be on Jan. 15, although the squad has a tough draw that night at Broomfield. Longmont also will have a challenge in its previous contest at Denver South.
Regardless, the milestone win will arrive sooner than later. Always humble and focused on the next challenge, Kloster was unaware of his career mark until officials from the Colorado coaches association began needling him for the information over the past few years. With the big victory looming, Kloster has been nostalgic and overwhelmingly grateful to all the administrators, assistant coaches, and players who have contributed to this journey.
"I really didn't take (the record) seriously until a few years ago, but then I started thinking that it's pretty amazing for the kids who've been in this program for as long as we've been here to be a part of that," the 56-year-old Kloster said. "There is so much pride and tradition at this school. To be part of the program, and then to be able to lead the program, to me it's an honor and a privilege."
A 1975 graduate of Longmont, Kloster played under legendary LHS coach Bob Betz, who died last year. Among the traits Kloster inherited from his late mentor is a meticulous attention to detail. At the end of any Longmont practice, one can listen to Kloster count down from 30 as his players scramble to put away all the basketballs within the allotted time. There's also the prevalence of Kloster's basketball lessons doubling as life lessons.
"Coach has definitely meant a lot to me," said Marcus Johnson, a senior averaging 15.8 points per game so far this season. "I started off as a freshman on the D team and I didn't think I was going anywhere. Over that summer I worked with him and worked with him. He was always there every morning over the summer.
"I think (300 wins) means a lot. It will mean a lot to be part of the program that gets that 300."
Kloster has made the Trojans a perennially competitive force not only in the Class 4A Northern League, but the entire state. He enjoyed the unique pleasure of coaching his son, current Fort Lewis guard Cade Kloster, who helped lead the Trojans to the Final Four in 2010 and the Elite Eight in 2011.
Yet while a state championship has eluded Kloster, he has reveled more in the victories his players have earned off the court than the 296 they have compiled on it.
Recently Kloster recounted the tale of a former player who dropped out of school as a junior. After returning to school a year later, he approached Kloster about rejoining the team. Kloster let him try out, and after making the squad, the player had to abide by rules Kloster drew up on a contract. When that young man graduated not long after, it marked the sort of victory every coach desires.
"Of course I want to win a state championship, but I know I have won state championships in other ways besides the metal ball," Kloster said. "That player fulfilled his commitment, walked across that stage as a graduate, and then he went on to college. To me, that's a state championship because that young man became successful in his own life.
"I remember him yelling across the stage, 'This is for you Coach.' I told him later, 'No, this is for you.' That's a state championship."
By that count, Kloster's victory total already is off the charts.
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