NCAA Tournament: Meet Charleston "Team Favorite" Johnny Ballgame

NCAA Tournament: Meet Charleston "Team Favorite" Johnny Ballgame

The presence of Pat Kelsey's son, "Johnny Ballgame," reflects the identity of College of Charleston basketball on its run to the NCAA Tournament.

Mar 14, 2023 by Kyle Kensing
NCAA Tournament: Meet Charleston "Team Favorite" Johnny Ballgame

Every few years, the NCAA Tournament introduces America to a star beyond the hardwood. This year's promises to be Johnny Kelsey, but you can call him Johnny Ballgame. 

And Johnny Ballgame reflects the soul of College of Charleston basketball. 

The youngest of Cougars coach Pat Kelsey's three children, Johnny Ballgame was front-and-center for Charleston's ticket-punching run through the Colonial Athletic Association Championship. The junior Kelsey could be spotted on the floor of Washington, D.C.'s Entertainment and Sports Arena ahead of the Cougars' title-game showdown with UNC Wilmington, decked out in a maroon CofC jersey with KELSEY on the back, clapping for and exchanging high-fives with members of the team during warmups. 

As the Cougars were presented with the CAA Championship trophy, Pat Robinson III grabbed Johnny Ballgame in a hug, lifting the youngster's Air Jordan throwbacks off the hardwood. The senior Kelsey was then there to hold Johnny up as he cut a piece of the net in celebration of Charleston's berth in the NCAA Tournament. 

"He doesn't know how good he has it," Kelsey said of his son during the Championship postgame press conference, eliciting a laugh from Charleston guard Ryan Larson. 

Johnny Ballgame has it good being around a winning basketball team, and Kelsey and his players have it good, too. 

"Johnny and Teagan Carr — coach [Thomas] Carr's daughter — they're on the bench all the time. They're in the locker room, they travel with us, they're on the bus," Kelsey said, adding with a chuckle: "As much as they can as longer as they're not missing school.

"It's awesome," he continued. "I mentioned how blessed I am. I mean, are you kidding me? I get to work for a guy [athletic director Matt Roberts] who allows me to do that and have my children with me all the time." 

So long as it doesn't interfere with school, Johnny Ballgame continues his March Madness moving on from D.C. to Orlando. The Cougars face San Diego State in the 1st Round of the NCAA Tournament South Regio. For much of the nation, it will mark an introduction to the Kelsey family and Charleston basketball at large. 

Johnny figures to be this postseason's Sister Jean, albeit one-tenth the age of the nun whose Loyola fandom was at the heart of the Ramblers' 2018 Final Four run. In the same vein as the beloved Sister, Johnny Ballgame's presence speaks to the identity of the program, the university, even the community of Charleston as a whole, which Kelsey has embraced emphatically with the social media tag #OurCity. 

Kelsey also touted the significance of "25 Strong" in facilitating Charleston's return to March Madness. 

"25 Strong is symbolic for all the people [who] contribute to winning, and they're part of our family," Kelsey said. "It's the people in our department [who] work their butts off to put wind at our back...whether it's compliance, and facilities, and academics, marketing, sales, fundraising, media relations — [sports information director] Lynn [Walsh] is an absolute rock star. We couldn't do it without them." 

The athletes on the court garner so much of the attention, and deservedly so. But the behind-the-scenes stories of March Madness are so important for putting a spotlight on all the elements that come together to make the basketball product possible. 

Players like Larson recognize all the contributing parties, from the support staff all the way down to Johnny Ballgame. 

"He puts a smile on everyone's face," Larson said. "Coach Kelsey does a great job allowing him to be with us, and he's a team favorite, I can tell you that. There's nothing that we wouldn't do for him. He's part of our team, just like the 18 of us on the team. To have him in always in such a good mood, even after a bad practice, puts into perspective how important it is to have people like that in your program. He's a special kid, that's for sure." 

At the NCAA Tournament, Charleston's team favorite is destined to become one of the basketball-watching nation's favorites, too.