AAU Coach of the Year: Keefe Zelinske, Southern Minn. Fury
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One of the things I love about the game of basketball is how it brings people together. It doesn’t matter if you are from biggest of cities or smallest of burgs, whether you reside on a cul-de-sac in a toney suburb or on an acreage outside a one-stoplight town. If you can hoop, you can hoop. If you can coach, you can coach. If you believe, you can instill belief in the athletes who play for you. Keefe Zelinske of Southern Minnesota Fury 2022 is one of the most laid back coaches in Minnesota AAU basketball, a small-town guy who doesn’t appear to have a pretentious bone in his body. Once again this year, however, Zelinske proved he can coach while leaving an indelible mark on the future of the girls who played for him. That’s why we’re especially pleased today to honor the John Deere salesman from Hayfield as the Prep Girls Hoops AAU Coach of the Year.
Zelinske’s team won 38 games and finished in the top five at the AAU State Championships. They finished their last year of AAU basketball on a 19-2 streak, capturing their second and third championship trophies of the season along the way. That stretch culminated a five-year run for Keefe and his core group, a collection of unheralded small-town kids from the Southern part of the state, an admirable group who showed up with their lunch pails and hard hats and put the work in to be successful. One of those kids isof Albert Lea, who has been with Zelinske from the beginning.
“It brings a smile across my face,” Jeffrey said upon learning that her coach was receiving the post-season accolade. “Keefe has been a great coach for our team for the past five years, from just wanting to be at practice with us weekly and setting high expectations for the team to being super flexible with new incoming players every year. I think Keefe more than deserves that.”
Jeffrey, the highest-ranked player on the team at #59 in the Class of 2022, is part of a core group that played more than 300 AAU games together. Among the veterans are sistersand of Austin, of Dover-Eyota and of Goodhue. of New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva was the other returnee this season. Newcomers of Cannon Falls, of Rochester Lourdes, Megan Morgan of Winona Cotter and of Austin made a big impact, as well.
One of the key criteria for being a successful AAU coach is helping your players improve, and the girls of SM Fury 2022 certainly did that. Johnson, Hopkins, Schultz and Walsh – all 2023 prospects – had terrific seasons and are strong college prospects. Jeffrey has gotten a little bit better every year as has Nelson. The Dudycha sisters have formed a rock-solid backcourt forever while Carlson has made her presence felt at both ends of the floor. Morgan was a steady contributor throughout.
All of that is important, of course, but it isn’t what the kids will remember. “Keefe is a competitive coach,” Jeffrey said, “but what I really see in him is that he always wants each and every one of us to play our best basketball to the best of our ability every game, along with making sure we have fun. He tries to make sure we always do the little things that make big differences. He (along with our team) likes to win, but more so he values helping us individually reach our basketball goals after high school. I think over the past five years our core group has also made great relationships with him, and personally that is something that I really value in him as my AAU coach.”
Zelinske, who played basketball at Luther College, is an assistant coach at Hayfield High School. His wife Kenzie is an official in stripes. It isn’t clear in what capacity Keefe will coach with Southern Minnesota Fury next summer. What is clear is the impact he’s made over the past several seasons.
Andy Berkvam, North Tartan 2024 Nike – Andy is no stranger to winning championships. He’s an old-school, no-nonsense coach who never stops innovating and always seems to get the most out of his players. This year his squad exceeded expectations by going 34-7 and winning three tournaments, including the 2024 state championship.
Bruce Borowicz, Minnesota Stars 2025 – Bruce is another veteran bench boss and no stranger to the winner’s circle. His 2025 Minnesota Stars team has set the standard in the class despite two of its best players being out with injuries. This summer they lost just once while capturing a Division 1 state championship for the 4th time in the past 5 years and winning a big AAU national championship event.
Dre Jefferson, Minnesota Suns 2024 Blue Star – Dre has done a great job building his squad into one of the best in the 2024 class. Suns Blue Star rose to a new level this year with the addition of top prospectsand . With a season mark of 38-8, the Suns won four tournaments and finished 3rd at the AAU state championship.
Top photo: Coach Keefe Zelinske (right) and his Southern Minnesota Fury 2022 squad.