A Leader In the Making

Kelvin Penn is the only fourth-year senior on the FAU basketball team. He took quite an interesting path to Boca Raton – one that even involved military school.


Penn is primarily valued for his defensive prowess. Photo by Max Jackson

Before Kelvin Penn became a leader for the FAU Basketball program, the 21-year-old senior matured thanks to a year of military school — more than 2,700 miles from his hometown of Steilacoom, Wash. “I feel like it really played a big part in who I am today,” Penn said.

Steilacoom is a town of just 6,070 people, stretching just over two square miles. The community is tight-knit, the people are friendly. It’s a traditional and historic town district.

While at Steilacoom, Penn developed some of the skills which would make him an important part of the FAU basketball program in the future.

“He had a real knack for timing of checking shots and rebounding very well. I mean, I’ve never seen anyone like him time shots and we kind of set our whole defense around that,” said Steilacoom High coach Gary Wusterbarth. “He’s probably the best defensive player that I’ve ever had,” he added.

Penn would go on to have a successful high school basketball career, voted co-player of the year and garnering first-team honors during his senior year.

“He came to our school as a sophomore and played varsity the whole time,” said Wusterbarth.

After finishing high school, Penn decided to attend a prep school to increase his chances of attracting Division I schools — meaning a postgrad year of basketball (and schooling). He attended Massanutten Military Academy (Woodstock, Va.) which produces several college basketball recruits each year.

“[For] most kids, their parents are a couple of miles away or hours and they can usually see their family on the weekends or when they want. Kelvin was coming from hundreds of miles away on the West Coast. He couldn’t see his family whenever he wanted to,” said MMA coach Melvin Abrams.

Penn’s father, Charles, passed away at age 44 from a heart attack his junior year of high school. Penn described his father as a “great man.” His early death serves as a reminder to be great himself and to stay in peak physical shape.

Penn scores most of his points around the rim. He averaged 4.2 points per game last season. Photo by Sean Webster | Contributing Photographer
Penn scores most of his points around the rim. He averaged 4.2 points per game last season. Photo by Sean Webster | Contributing Photographer

His mother, Jamie, plans to one day become a university president. He used his family and his mother’s drive as motivation at MMA.

Because of his post-graduate status, he was tasked with leading a platoon — multiple groups of middle school cadets, many of which were there for discipline.

Every morning, Penn arose early and led younger cadets through the scheduled activities. He became a role model, and the leadership skills he learned benefit him years later. The added responsibility forced him to mature quickly

This was the first time he was thrust into a leadership role. He learned how to set an example for both the young cadets and future teammates, and through being on his own, he became more responsible. “He learned that as a leader, you have to step up,” said Abrams.

“It really was an eye-opening experience for me. It help me set my priorities in order. It was definitely a different experience, a transition phase in my life,” Penn said.

Playing at MMA, he garnered the interest of several schools — including the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University.

It was former FAU basketball assistant coach Tim Kaine  who reached out to Penn in the spring of 2011 — very late in his recruiting process. Kaine is now an assistant coach at Georgia Southern University, and the school did not make him available for comment.

“Coach Kaine was the first one to contact me. He wanted to see if I wanted to come on down.” Penn headed to Florida and worked out for former coach Mike Jarvis and his coaching staff.

While there, he quickly fell in love with the South Florida area and lifestyle. Soon after the visit, he began fostering a close relationship with Jarvis. “Me and coach Jarvis, actually we had a pretty good bond with each other. He told me when he was recruiting me, ‘it’s not gonna be easy playing under me [Jarvis]’.”

One particular memory sticks out. During Penn’s freshman year, FAU played the University of Washington in an early season game — and many supporters of Penn made the 44 mile trip from Steilacoom to Seattle to see him play in-person.

“They were out in full force. I had family, friends, everybody. It was great,” said Penn.

This experience would be a stark contrast to what would occur later. The resignation of coach Jarvis after three consecutive losing seasons brought changes for the entire program. But according to Penn, the resignation didn’t come as a shock.

“With all the people transferring, and our record the last three years, I guess it was only a matter of time,” he said. The news of Jarvis’ resignation came to Penn through the ESPN app on his cellphone, and through his roommate and teammate, Justin Raffington.

While the team tried to deal with these distractions it was Penn who guided them.

“He really kept all the guys focused and the locker room tight throughout the whole Jarvis thing,” said former FAU basketball assistant coach Peter Gash. Gash is now a video coordinator for the University of Florida basketball program.

Penn remained even as players have left the program in bunches (eight scholarship players left in the past two offseasons).  When asked about whether he ever thought about transferring, Penn said he never had. This did not come as a surprise to his former coach Abrams.

“I kind of suspected that Kelvin wouldn’t leave because he’s such a loyal kid. He comes from a tight-knit family.So him staying or remaining wasn’t that big of a surprise,” said Abrams.

Some of his best friends, including guards Omari Grier (Bradley University) and Dennis Mavin (Florida International University), were among those who did move on. “Having so many people come and go, whether it be because of them, or because of coach [Jarvis], that’s actually been kind of hard for me to deal with,” Penn said.

During Mike Jarvis’ tenure. Penn tried to use what he was experiencing to his advantage.

“I think through the whole Mike Jarvis era he was trying to figure out how to be a leader to the team and to the younger guys, and just trying to figure out how to step up in that aspect,” said former FAU guard Richard Morrow. Morrow is now a model for various companies.

Penn and his teammates expect the program to rebound under new head coach Michael Curry, who played in the NBA for eleven years, before brief stints as a head coach and assistant coach for the Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers.

Penn described him as a players’ coach, and an extremely approachable, personable man.

“He seems like he really cares about the community and what they have to say,” he said.

Penn and Curry have discussed an expanded role for him on the offensive side.

“I’ve been working on my jump-shot a lot more,” he said.

Regarding what he expects for himself after college, Penn would like to pursue a professional basketball career overseas. Aside from basketball, Penn also has a passion for filming — specifically sports filming.

In ten years, Penn sees himself owning his own production company and making movies. He has a friend who is a practicing director and Penn hopes that he’ll be able to help him make movies one day.