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Jerome Tang never forgets having just $10.81, janitor duties
Mar 9, 2023; Kansas City, MO; Kansas State Wildcats coach Jerome Tang, right, watches the game during the first half against the TCU Horned Frogs at T-Mobile Center. (Credit: William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports)

Jerome Tang never forgets having just $10.81, janitor duties

MANHATTAN, Kansas (BVM) – Kansas State Wildcats men’s basketball head coach Jerome Tang started from the bottom and now he’s here – as the 2023 Big 12 Coach of the Year, a semifinalist for the Naismith Men’s College Coach of the Year and finalist for the Ben Jobe National Coach of the Year Award. 

For Tang, life didn’t always look like he’d one day be worth $14.1 million over a six-year deal as a first-time head coach at K-State. He was making just $16,000 a year when he was the athletics director and basketball coach at Heritage Christian Academy (Texas) before 2003. 

Tang, who was around 36 years old when he interviewed for his assistant coaching position with the Baylor Bears, gathered the $10.81 he had in his name to get dinner in order to impress HC Scott Drew. 

“When I had to tell my wife that Scott Drew was coming to the house – both her hands are on and whatever we want to do together she’s all in, so we just scrounged up what we had ($10.81) and put together a meal,” Tang said on the “Everybody Pulls the Tarp” podcast in August 2022. “[We made] ribs… it was [Scott] seeing who we were as people and just the champ my wife is and I know that’s what sold Scott on us. It’s because he saw what a great recruiter I was because he saw my wife.”

All jokes aside, Tang’s wife, Careylyen (Rey), has always stood beside him – even when the goings were rough. The couple took on janitorial jobs together before Tang’s lucky break at Baylor. 

“My dad got up every morning at 4:30 in the morning and went to work and my mom was a custodian for 20 years,” Tang said on the “Everybody Pulls the Tarp” podcast. “I would go to work with her at night sometimes. I learned how to buff floors. All those little things I learned from my mom about how to clean a school paid off because when my wife and I were at Heritage Christian, in order to make ends meet, we were the janitors at the school and the church.” 

Coach Tang credits his parents for his shoot-your-shot mentality. His parents risked a ton when they immigrated to the U.S. from Trinidad (his father is half Black and half Chinese and his mother is Indian). 

Now, the 56-year-old shares his relentless determination with the Wildcats. Tang’s story of rags to riches may also influence how he recruits athletes. 

“I want [recruits] who have a chip on their shoulder – like they feel like they’ve been overlooked,” Tang said on the “Everybody Pulls the Tarp” podcast

Now, with a No. 12 ranking in the latest AP poll, a .719 winning percentage this season and a potential run at the national championship – Tang knows to never forget where he started and how far he can still go. 

“I know I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth and I know that I’ve got to out-work the next guy,” Tang said on the “Everybody Pulls the Tarp” podcast. “I know that everybody thinks the next guy is better than I am so that’s the thing that drives me. I’ve got to do the extra things in order just to be equal with the other person and that inspires me every morning to get up and work a little bit harder.”