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Kent DeMars begins his 37th year of college coaching and his 26th season at the helm of the University of South Carolina men’s tennis program. Throughout his 36-year career at the collegiate level, DeMarshas coached more than 57 All-Americans, an Olympic Gold Medalist Doubles team, as well as former Wimbledon,French Open, U.S. Open and Davis Cup Champions. He was selected the National Coach of the Year in 1989 and has collected Region II Coach of the Year honors seven times (1987, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1994, 1998, 2002).
DeMars has led the Gamecocks to the NCAA Tournament 18 times,including a stretch of 13-straight appearances (1994-2006). DeMars became South Carolina’s all-time winningest coach during the 2005 season, surpassing former Carolina and current Rice coach Ron Smarr (319 wins) on March 4, 2005, when the Gamecocks defeated Arkansas, 5-2, in Columbia. Heading into the 2008 season, he has amassed 355 victories at USC.
In 2003, DeMars notched his 500th career win as a head coach with a 4-3 victory over No. 36 Mississippi State on Feb. 28, 2003. DeMars added to his legacy in 2001 by coaching Guillaume Legat,who recorded the highest final singles ranking in school history. Legat ended his senior season ranked No. 4 in the country after an undefeated SEC season playing in the No. 1 position. Legat set another Gamecock record by advancing to the semifinals at the NCAA Singles National Championships.
DeMars’ tennis roots originate on the courts of Assumption High School in East St. Louis, Ill., where he would later return to assume coaching duties. High school tennis did not exist in the early 1960s; as a result, DeMars and four other companions received instruction in their formative years from Gloria Connors, mother of tennis legend Jimmy Connors.
A bright mind on and off the court, DeMars attended St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, on a tuition assistance program (equivalent of today’s athletic scholarships). During his collegiate career, DeMars was a four-year starter at No. 1 singles and doubles for St. Mary’s. After receiving his bachelor of arts in science, DeMars spent two years coaching tennis and teaching biology at Peacock Military Academy. He left that position to return to his alma mater, Assumption High School and lead its tennis program. During his five years at the school, DeMars coached American tennis folk hero Jimmy Connors, who played No. 1 singles for one season.
DeMars received his first collegiate coaching assignment at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. DeMars transformed the university’s tennis program from a club level sport with a $500 budget and two tennis courts 40 minutes away from campus into a NCAA Division II powerhouse. By his third year in Edwardsville, DeMars’ Cougar squad was 20-7 and ranked No. 5 in the nation. In 1978, his program began an incredible run of seven straight NCAA Championships. In addition to seven NCAA team titles, DeMars coached seven NCAA Division II singles champions.
Undoubtedly, Ken Flach and Robert Seguso rank as the most famous products of DeMars’ dynasty at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. From 1981-83, Flach and Seguso led the Cougars to an impressive 57-26 dual match record. Individually, the duo defeated the NCAA Division I champions (Michigan’s Leach and Mace), 6-1, 6-1, and finished the 1983 season ranked No. 1 in the nation.
On June 11, 1984, DeMars was named men’s tennis coach at South Carolina. Since that time, Carolina has been a fixture at the national level. DeMars’ teams have had an average national ranking of 18 during his tenure in Columbia. In addition to the demanding 11-match SEC schedule, DeMars’ teams face nationally ranked programs from one of tennis’ toughest areas of the country, Region II.
In 2005, Carolina enjoyed one of its most successful seasons in recent memory. DeMars led the Gamecocks to a fourth-place finish in the nation’s toughest tennis league, the SEC, and to the school’s 12th-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. South Carolina picked up two wins on the road and advanced to the final 16 at NCAAs. In addition, Tom Eklund earned an invitation to the NCAA Singles Championship and Geraldo Knorr and Pedro Rodrigues won a berth to the NCAA Doubles Championship.
The 2006 season also marked the 22nd-straight season the Gamecocks have been ranked in the nation’s top 30 under DeMars. As a former educator on the college and high school levels, DeMars realizes the importance of his team taking advantage of South Carolina’s top-notch academic resources. Since joining the SEC (1992), DeMars’s tennis teams have placed more than 80 student-athletes on the SEC Academic Honor Roll.
In 1986, DeMars was awarded the Rolex Meritorious Service Award for his involvement in virtually every aspect of college tennis. The award is rarely given to individuals in the game of tennis on the amateur or professional level. Currently, South Carolina’s coach chairs the 15-member ITA Men’s Operating Committee. DeMars also works closely with ITA Executive Director David Benjamin on rule revisions and policy formation in the college tennis game. He also served as editor of the ITA Collegiate Tennis Yearbook.
In addition to conducting youth tennis camps throughout the summer, DeMars has been instrumental in bringing high levels of competitive tennis to the Midlands. In December of 1996, Coach DeMars was inducted into the South Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame. DeMars, an avid follower of the St. Louis Blues, Cardinals and Rams, also enjoys playing golf and following the stock market. DeMars and his late wife, Susan, have two daughters, Colleen and Kristen.