CHICAGO — Five years ago, Kevin Devitt was an elementary school gym teacher on Chicago's West Side.
On Thursday, Devitt — in his third season as director of operations for the University of Alabama at Birmingham men's basketball team — and the 14-seed Blazers (19-15) will play 3-seed Iowa State (25-8) in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
"I just had a dream to get to this level," Devitt said. "There was just so much hard work and persistence and determination and all of the above to get to this point in my life."
Devitt, 28, a DePaul University alumnus, has taken a long, ultra-winding road to Division I basketball. He had previous assistant coaching stints at Lindblom Math and Science Academy in Englewood and Roosevelt University in the South Loop, where he also helped found the program and recruit the school's first class five years ago as an unpaid volunteer.
Justin Breen says Devitt wants his own team one day:
That year, his first after graduating from DePaul, he also was a physical education teacher at the former May elementary school in Austin as he attended 75-some high school games to find Roosevelt recruits.
"Kevin is a legend in our program," Roosevelt head coach Joe Griffin said. "He literally helped build our program from scratch, and he will be a star wherever he ends up, just like he was with us."
Devitt, a Barrington native and Carmel Catholic High School alumnus, was on the DePaul track team, but his career ended after a January 2006 injury when, while stretching at the school's indoor track, he fell over a railing and landed 20 feet below.
While he recovered, Devitt said his focus switched to basketball, and he started the windycityhoops.com website that highlighted local players' accomplishments. He also created the Chicago High School Classic, a prep all-star game that ran until 2009.
His first coaching job came via a posting on his website, where a commentor said Lindblom's freshman gig was available. Contacts he made led to the opening at Roosevelt, where he stayed for about 2½ years before he left mid-season for UAB.
"I've never met someone with his determination and focus when he sets his mind on a goal," Roosevelt University assistant coach Aaron Rolle said. "He will sacrifice all aspects of his personal life to get even the smallest of tasks done."
With the Blazers, Devitt coordinates team travel, handles video operations and runs the program's summer camp for high school players, in addition to taking care of other logistical management.
Devitt, who has a degree in physical education, said many of his DePaul classmates wanted to become high school gym teachers, but he had other intentions.
"I expressed to them I would be a Division I college basketball coach, and I think everyone at the time thought I was a little bit crazy," Devitt said.
Devitt, who did not play high school basketball, said his next step is finding a spot on a Division I bench as an assistant coach and, hopefully, one day land a head coaching role.
"It's all about getting a chance and an opportunity," Devitt said. "The only thing I can do is work hard and hopefully it pays off. I've followed a lot of routes just to get here. A lot of it is pure luck, but it's also just a lot of hard work."
Devitt said he still is shocked the Blazers are playing in the NCAAs. They started the season 4-9 but pulled off several upsets to claim the Conference USA tournament title and automatic NCAA tourney bid.
It's the Blazers' first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2011, and also Devitt's first time on college hoops' biggest stage.
"Five years ago, I was a PE teacher; now I'm going to be at the NCAA tournament," Devitt said.
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