Co-Founder and Coach
Sometimes, it’s the journey — and the destination.
Combining a decade of pro basketball experience with his passion for helping kids learn the game he loves, Kei Madison speaks fondly about the road that led him to create Swish Athletic Club in Grand Rapids.
“The amazing opportunities I’ve been fortunate enough to experience make what we are doing for young athletes truly special. If I can share even a little bit of what I’ve learned with these kids, then I can make a difference,” explains Kei, while rebounding errant shots from several overzealous third grade boys.
Serving as an assistant boys basketball coach at Catholic Central High School for the past three years, Kei continues to strengthen his love for teaching the game. Catholic Central head coach T.J Meerman has been instrumental in showing Kei the many positives that can come from guiding young men in the right direction.
As the father of two young children, Kei’s overall vision for Swish comes from his desire to help young athletes develop their basketball skills in a positive environment. More importantly, he wants to create an atmosphere where kids not only learn to play the game on the court — but also learn to play the game of life off the court!
Kei’s accomplishments and lessons learned from a lifetime of chasing his dreams make for an inspiring story.
Growing up in small-town Alabama in a faith-based home, Kei recalls attending church two or three times per week. If he wasn’t at church or in school, he was on the baseball diamond, where he eventually developed a blazing fastball that caught the attention of area coaches. Midway through high school, with pitches approaching speeds of 90 mph, he found himself playing his high school games in front of pro scouts from the Dodgers, Brewer’s, Padres and other major league teams. The summer before his junior year, however, a sudden six-inch growth spurt changed everything. In just a few months, his 93 mph fastball took a backseat to what quickly became his true passion — basketball.
A natural athlete towering over teammates at 6’9” with a 39-inch vertical leap, Kei quickly became the star of his high school team. Ranked third in the state of Alabama entering his senior season, his talented team reached the Elite Eight in the state tournament that year. Suddenly, in addition to pro baseball scouts, Kei was on the radar of top college coaches from across the country, and was heavily recruited by Indiana University’s Bob Knight. Their relationship was so close that Kei got to know Knight’s two sons so well that he maintains a relationship with them to this day.
Needing to improve his grades out of high school, Kei enrolled at a small Junior College in Iowa, where he excelled on the court. A year later, he transferred to be closer to home, enrolling at high profile basketball school Okaloosa-Walton Junior College in Florida. Playing against top competition in the South and from across the nation, Kei averaged over 20 points and 13 rebounds per game, attracting national attention from college and pro scouts. Next thing Kei knew, he was being projected as low as the19th pick and decided to forgo college to enter the NBA draft.
After working out for 11 NBA teams, Kei successfully showcased his skills at a number of NBA summer league events, including playing for the Memphis Grizzlies in the Salt Lake Review in Utah, and for the Los Angeles Lakers at The Pyramid in Long Beach. Based on his play during the summer, Kei was invited to the Seattle Supersonics training camp. While training with the team, Kei lived with Rashard Lewis, a prolific scorer for the SuperSonics who later played for the Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards and Miami Heat during a successful 16-year pro career. Lewis took Kei under his wing as the talented would-be rookie quickly made a name for himself on the court. As training camp progressed and the team cut the roster down to size each week, Kei continued to play at a high level and kept making the cut.
In the last week before the season began, Kei found himself in competition for the final roster spot with Miles Simon and Reggie Evans. After Reggie was cut, Kei was confident that things were going to go his way. As he remembers clearly, on the morning of Halloween, two days before the season opener, Kei was called into the office of the general manager to receive what he hoped was the biggest news of his life.
In the end, Kei came about as close as you can to signing an NBA contract, when the Seattle Supersonics unfortunately made him their final cut from the team. The team loved Kei as a person and a player, but decided their need for a backup point guard in Miles Simon was more important than adding another forward to the roster.
Obviously devastated, Kei stayed focused and positive, especially when his agent suggested that he stay in the U.S. — and avoid signing any overseas contracts — as his name was still being circulated around the league. Just a short time later, Kei became the second overall pick in the CBA draft, when the Grand Rapids Hoops made him their top choice in 2002. Unfortunately, after dominating the CBA, Kei injured his knee midway through the season and was forced to return to Seattle, where the Supersonics team doctors surgically repaired torn ligaments.
While rehabbing his knee in Seattle — and still only 22 years old — Kei received an invitation to sign with the Harlem Globetrotters in Atlanta, Georgia. Playing in front of large crowds and traveling all over the world, including Australia and China, instilled in Kei an appreciation for basketball’s global appeal. While he loved the experience he gained playing for this storied franchise, Kei was not satisfied and wanted to play against better competition to improve his game and challenge himself. With his knee at 100% and with no NBA offers on the table, he ‘took his talents overseas’ and began what would become a successful 9-year professional career that took him all over the world.
Traveling the globe to play the sport he loved was definitely not the NBA — but Kei loved it and excelled against top competition. His journey began in lower-level leagues in Puerto, Chile and the Dominican Republic. As his game improved and he began to dominate those leagues — including winning a championship in Chile and earning MVP honors — he received offers to play for upper-level teams in Israel, Kosovo and Italy. Moving up to play against better competition only strengthened Kei’s game, and he led his teams in each country, highlighted by earning another league crown and championship game MVP honors in Kosovo.
After over a decade playing professionally, and satisfied with his many accomplishments Kei returned to West Michigan with his wife, Tiana — a Grand Rapids native — to begin the next chapter of his life.
While searching for a basketball program for his then 4th grade son Matthew, Kei realized that the type of program he wanted did not exist. Knowing he was in a position to do something about it, he partnered with former Calvin College and Grand Rapids Flight guard Jeremy Burgin — to create a program that focused more on the overall development of young athletes.
Kei’s life experiences — both accomplishments and failures — drive him to try new and face new challenges. He hopes to mold Swish Athletic Club into a program that represents the positive values and attitude he developed as a successful professional player, world traveler and more importantly, husband, father and youth basketball coach — the titles he takes pride in the most.