Dallas and Derek Jensen vividly remember the individual 1-on-1 times they had with their dad, Kort, from the time they were adolescents into their college years. Most of those moments—they number in the thousands—took place at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Gilroy, the city in which all of them currently reside.
Kort, who is in his ninth year as Oakwood High’s athletic director and boys basketball coach, took aside his boys to teach them not only how to properly shoot a basketball, but something far more important—the game of life. Kort called those father-son talks a dad, boy and a ball.
“I remember sometimes struggling with things in life, and my father always said, ‘Let’s go talk about it,’” said Derek, a 26–year-old who is in his second season coaching the Christopher High boys basketball team. “Everything we talked about was bigger than basketball, but basketball provided that outlet and was a nice release from everyday life.”
Dallas, 32, is in his first season coaching the Gavilan College men’s basketball team. Dallas said the time spent with his dad—in which Kort imparted to his sons important values, among other things—are life lessons he uses with his players today. For the Jensens, it’s about building relationships. Sure, they coach to win, but in the grand scheme of things they know it’s the relationships that will have the greatest impact on the players than a team’s won-loss record. Realistically, no one remembers a team’s won-loss record just five years after the fact.
“We spent so much time in the gym growing up even in times I did not want to go to the gym,” Dallas said. “That enabled us to have an incredible relationship away from the game of basketball. I think being in the gym and being able to talk openly to one another really helped our relationship grow and helped me open up to him. I took those moments as an opportunity to learn.”
Did he ever. Gavilan has enjoyed one of the greatest one-year turnarounds in California Community College basketball history. At 14-1 and ranked No. 3 in Northern California, the Rams have won more games this season than in their previous eight years combined. For Dallas, the wisdom Kort imparted onto him has transferred directly into how he views his role as a coach.
“Obviously I’m a huge relationship guy and try to spend as much time I can with my players talking about basketball, but more about life,” Dallas said.
In addition to Dallas and Derek, Kort has another son, Dylan, and two daughters, Ashley and Stacie. Kort and his wife, Cherie, have been married for 38 years. Whenever the sons needed a talking, Cherie would tell Kort to “get a ball and go to the gym.”
“I would take one boy at a time and rebound their shots for hours,” Kort said. “During those hours we talked about everything in life: girls, grades, dreams, future, expectations, having respect for their mothers and sisters. That is where I basically did an interview with them every time we went to the basketball court.”
The Jensens are true basketball junkies. Last Friday, they attended three basketball games—two high school and one community college. In those times, the Jensens talk about players, their teams, strategies, Xs and Os and everything in between.
“That’s pretty much how it’s always been,” Derek said. “Basketball dominates the conversation. Even if it’s out of season, that is the topic of conversation.”
Kort made it a point to emphasize quality time with his sons. Derek specifically recalls going through issues on making a college decision after he had completed two years of community college basketball.
“I remember his guidance and just being in prayer and doing the right thing,” Derek said. “He said we’ll get the help we need if I stay on the right path and continue to stay close to the heavenly father. We’re such big believers and know if we do things the right way, things will fall into place.”
Dallas knows his dad instilled in him traits that have helped mold him as a person and coach.
“Dad had a different upbringing in that he had to grow up fast,” Dallas said. “He has taught us the value of service and relationship, of being kind and loving people unconditionally. And I think those traits alone have rolled over to what I’m trying to teach at this level. I’m trying to mentor young men from all different walks of life, helping them with their education, careers, basketball, and relationships.”
Dallas, Derek and Kort also agree they’re extremely fortunate to have wonderful wives who support them in every endeavor, especially when it comes to the basketball side. During the basketball season, spouses of coaches know there won’t be much quality time together. There simply isn’t enough time in the day once practice or the games end before it’s close to bedtime.
Dallas, Derek and Kort rave about Cherie, who didn’t know much about basketball when she first met Kort but now has an uncanny understanding of the game.
“She can sit with anybody and have an incredible conversation of the game of basketball because she’s been around it for a long time,” Kort said. “I’m married to greatest woman on Earth. She’s really attractive, fun and a great friend. She allows me to hang out at the gym all the time, and when I come home she can have a great conversation about basketball. I am the luckiest man in world.”
Dallas and his wife, Kimberlee, recently celebrated their 12-year anniversary. They have four kids: AAliyah, 11; Zander, 9; Palmer, 6; and Otis, 1.
“I don’t know how my wife deals with me to be honest,” Dallas said. “It’s craziness. She’s awesome, an incredible wife and an awesome and amazing mother. I got very lucky.”
‘Derek feels the same way about his wife, Emily. On Dec. 21, the two celebrated their five-year anniversary. They have two kids, Houston, 3; and Alanna, who was born six months ago.
“We are so blessed to have such great kids,” Derek said. “We feel like we hit the jackpot. Alanna is an amazing sleeper, and has been since Day One. She sleeps all the way through the night, and has been doing it since she was a couple weeks old.”
Even though the Jensens have their own coaching methods, in the end everything comes full circle because they’re constantly sharing their thoughts and opinions. The three will often gather at Kort’s house, and they’ll pore over game film and examine plays online. When they’re away from each other, they’ll send texts of certain plays and ask each other to analyze them. They also scout constantly, together and separately.
“We talk basketball everyday, and we all end up pretty much running the same things,” Derek said.
Kort actually wasn’t planning on coaching until he realized his sons had a passion for the game at an early age.
“That’s what drew me in more to do it,” Kort said. “Coaching wasn’t for them to follow me; I was following them.”
Kort counts Sobrato Athletic Director Lawrence Crawford as one of his influential coaching role models. Crawford trained his son, Marcus, into one of the best basketball players to ever come out of the South Valley area. Derek had great mentors in Jay Baksa and Craig Martin, while Dallas had a great mentor in Percy Carr, the legendary San Jose City College coach whom Dallas still has a strong relationship with today.
The Jensens agree on many things, but not when it comes to rooting for their favorite NBA team. Kort is a Golden State Warriors fan, Dallas roots for the Lakers and Derek loves the Los Angeles Clippers. Of course, they have a much more vested interest in each other’s teams.
In fact, Kort knows the Christopher boys well, as Derek has taken his team to his parents’ place on occasion. While coaching is rewarding, Kort said the best part of the job is when former players return for alumni contests or visit during a game.
“The greatest part is when the kids return and they still call you coach,” Kort said “They come back with their own kids years later, but they still refer to you as coach. There is no greater honor—there really isn’t.”
This happens because the Jensens are intentional in building relationships with their players.
“You have to be there for the kids,” Derek said. “We’re there for them a lot more than for just basketball matters. When they’re off the court, they can still call us. And when they need help, we’ll be there. You can be tough on the kids and can even break them down once in a while, but at the end of the day they need to understand you love them and care about them. That takes a basketball team and relationships to another level. My guys know I love them and care about them way beyond the game.”