Big Red Ballers

Exeter alumni soar to the NBA and WNBA. 

Brian Muldoon
April 29, 2024

Josh Bartelstein ’09, Greg St. Jean ’09 and Mitchell Kates ’09

Buzzer-beaters, focused trainings and jovial pick-up games: Love Gym’s hardwood has been the scene of all the joy, sweat and tears that make the game of basketball great. But the hallmarks of a great program are the relationships forged off the court, during bus rides and lifting sessions, that endure long after graduation.

We checked in with three Big Red alums — Greg St. Jean ’09, Josh Bartelstein ’09 and Duncan Robinson ’13 — who have remained connected and humble while rising through the ranks of professional basketball.

“What makes the Exeter basketball experience so special is that it starts on the first day you are on campus and it lasts a lifetime,” says St. Jean, who is in his first season as an assistant coach with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. “From the moment we stepped on campus, our coaches preached to us the importance of how we carry ourselves and ingratiate ourselves. They challenged us to take pride in everything we do, show maturity and be someone the student body can rely on. The program is made up of high-character people with high aspirations to be successful in whatever they do.”

St. Jean, who was a three-year captain at Wesleyan University, entered the NBA as a video coordinator for the Sacramento Kings in 2013. He then held coaching positions with the Los Angeles Lakers, who won the league title in the 2019-2020 season, and the Dallas Mavericks before joining his Exeter teammate, Bartelstein, in Phoenix this season.

Bartelstein was a walk-on player at the University of Michigan who rose to team captain. He started his journey in the NBA as an office assistant, spending eight years with the Detroit Pistons. Last year, at 33, he became the league’s youngest CEO, overseeing business operations for both the Suns and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury.

Robinson played at NCAA Division III Williams College before jumping to Division I Michigan and serving as team captain. He played in two NBA finals for the Miami Heat and recently became the fastest player in league history to connect on 1,000 3-pointers, doing so in just 343 games. “I am insanely lucky, fortunate, blessed — I could use any of those words to describe it,” Robinson says of his voyage through basketball. “We are all so fortunate to be part of a game for our profession. You have a propensity to start to think that this is normal and this is just what life is. I always try to challenge myself and take a step back to be grateful and appreciative of the journey and experiences I have had.”

Jay Tilton, Exeter’s varsity basketball coach, says: “These guys cannot be sold short on their talent but I have always admired their tenacity, perseverance and self-awareness. They have never taken an opportunity for granted and they are all the type of people who have the ability to bring the best out of their teammates.” 

Coach Tilton draws up a play.

The success of others has been both an area of strength and an important aspect of life for Bartelstein, St. Jean and Robinson. “When you are part of a team, you are a part of something bigger than yourself,” Bartelstein says. “As a walk-on captain who did not play a lot of minutes for a Michigan team who went to the national title game, I needed to know something about leadership, building culture and connecting teams. If we were going to be good, I needed to find ways to push my teammates and empower them to lead to be at our best. These are things I think about every day in my current role.”

Robinson adds: “As a young player, you are obsessed with just trying to stick in the league, find a role and find your way. Now in my sixth year, I’ve shifted to being a mentor and leader for guys. It’s the ultimate compliment to me and it’s a responsibility I am excited to embrace. It’s made the day-today more than whether my shots go in, but what can I pour into the team and organization on a given day?”

Though their careers have taken them to different areas of an NBA arena, the three are woven into the tradition of Big Red basketball, a network that is entrenched in a supportive culture and mutual respect.

“Our program has been fortunate to enjoy some real tangible results over the years,” Tilton says. Big Red won their fifth Class A title in March by toppling Andover 60-42 in the finals. “But the success we’ve had is all progression. It’s really humbling to look back at the effort and commitment of past players and how so many of them have remained a huge part of our program.

“Our current players have witnessed firsthand how connected past players remain to each other and to our current team. What I’m most proud of is how those connections have continued to grow and how much Exeter basketball alumni continue to support and take pride in the program today.”

Big Red alumni often return to Love Gym to work out with the team, they send videos offering congratulations and good luck, and they connect around the globe to catch up and reminisce. They remember when coach Tilton would bark about not buying celebratory jackets for a regular-season win, and when the coaching staff gave them “humble pie” T-shirts ahead of Thanksgiving break as a reminder to not get ahead of themselves.

Although St. Jean, Bartelstein and Robinson have found professional success, it is relationships that they have built over the years that form the core of their ethos. “To this day some of my closest friends and closest relationships I have are with some of my teammates from Exeter,” Robinson says. “It is fun to reminisce, but it is even more enjoyable to follow what we have all done in totally different spaces. Some of us are still in basketball, some are crushing it in the corporate world or with entrepreneurial endeavors. But we are a group that have certainly grown through our post-Exeter days together.”

Bartelstein echoes that sentiment, saying, “I would go back to Exeter in a second because my friends I made there have been my friends for life. The way coach Tilton does it is all authentic; it’s truly about building relationships. To think that Greg and I would go work out together every night in the gym — I can remember it like it was yesterday — and now we’re texting about how we’re defending the Cleveland Cavaliers for our jobs.”

“We are always thinking about what it means to build culture,” Tilton says.

“How do we want to act, be perceived, and how do we want to grow. The best teams are a collection of unselfish people who are passionate about what they do and are connected. Nothing is more important to us than extending those connections between our past and present players.”

This article first appeared in the spring 2024 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.