By Justin Prince
Note: This story was originally published on NBLCentral.
The 2016-17 National Basketball League of Canada season has not started yet, but the Halifax Hurricanes already have made a coaching change.
The franchise announced Monday that it has named Mike Leslie as its new head coach and general manager.
Kevin Keathley, who has coached with multiple teams in leagues such as the NBA Development League to the NBLC, had originally been announced as the team's head coach and general manager earlier this offseason.
In a team-issued release, the Hurricanes said Keathley had stepped down for personal reasons.
Keathley said in a statement he has been working with the team to provide a smooth transition for Leslie.
"I want to congratulate Halifax and coach Leslie on him being named head coach. I love seeing guys who have paid their dues in the coaching profession being rewarded for their hard work, patience and perseverance," said Keathley. "I believe coach Leslie will do an outstanding job continuing the on court success that Halifax has had over the last couple of seasons."
Leslie had been an assistant coach with the Island Storm since 2012, when they played in Summerside, P.E.I. He had also been teaching at various schools in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. for the past 27 years.
He has also represented two provinces at the Canada Games as an official and a coach. Leslie is also a former president and director of elite development with Basketball PEI, assistant coach of the UPEI men’s basketball team and was an instructor with the Canada Basketball Atlantic High Performance Program.
Leslie has also coached various provincial teams and high school programs in Nova Scotia and P.E.I., accumulating several provincial championships.
“I am very excited to welcome Coach Leslie to the Hurricanes organization," said Hurricanes Board of Directors Chair Jim Mills in a statement. "He is not only local which is fantastic, but he brings a lifetime passion of basketball excellence to our club."
Joe Salerno, head coach for the Island Storm, had been one of the people to recommend Leslie for the position. He said Leslie had always wanted to be a head coach in NBL Canada and had been considered for the position with the Cape Breton Highlanders.
Leslie had received the official offer a few days ago.
"Mike has really put his time in," said Salerno after the official announcement. "He's been an integral piece of what we've done here for the last four years. He's worked extremely hard. That (the assistant coach role) was his first taste of the pro game and working and developing players at this level ... I'm very happy for him."
In a statement, Leslie said he was thankful for the experience the Island Storm gave him in the professional game.
“I would like to thank the Island Storm for providing me with a very comprehensive experience through all phases their organization to help prepare me for this opportunity in my home province of Nova Scotia,” said Leslie. “I am very appreciative and look forward to joining the highly successful Halifax Hurricanes organization. Nova Scotia, and Halifax, has a long and storied tradition of excellence in basketball at all levels and I look forward to continuing to build on that legacy through our work in the community and with the Hurricanes.”
Salerno said he feels Leslie knows what it takes to win in the NBLC.
"I'm glad to see a guy who has been really one of the top assistant coaches in NBL Canada for the last four seasons is getting a crack at a head coaching job," said Salerno. "You see it all the time in college basketball and in the NBA that a coach is getting promoted and moving up in the ranks. I don't think it really could have happened to a better guy."
Salerno said the Island Storm has hired two new assistant coaches to take Leslie's place. That official announcement will be later this week.
The Hurricanes start their regular season on Dec. 26 at home against the Moncton Miracles.
Update: Former Hurricanes head coach Kevin Keathley has sent the following statement regarding his decision to step down from his position:
I want to congratulate Halifax and coach Leslie on him being named head coach. I love seeing guys who have paid their dues in the coaching profession being rewarded for their hard work, patience and perseverance.
I believe coach Leslie will do an outstanding job continuing the on court success that Halifax has had over the last couple of seasons. He has had an opportunity to work for a class organization and coach in P.E.I. and coach Salerno. He understands the ins and outs of NBL Canada.
I have been working on my end to make this a smooth transition for everyone involved and will continue to consult for the team for the next several days until all loose ends are tied up. Once I finish up working with the front office staff with anything they might need on my end I will then turn my attentions to cheering Halifax on this season as they look to repeat as champions.
I wish Coach Leslie, the assistant coaches, players and front office staff and ownership the very best this season. They have some of the best fans in NBL Canada and I will join the fan base in rooting the Hurricanes on.
Best wishes and God Bless.