Rockhurst senior Kyle Wolf has put together a distinguished high school basketball career, but he wants you to know it wasn’t always easy.
By SAM McDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
Before there were accolades, awards or an appearance in tonight’s Missouri state tournament, there were obstacles, learning experiences and one particularly bad memory he can’t seem to shake.
A conversation about Wolf’s three years as a starter for Rockhurst will undoubtedly lead you here — to his worst moment on a basketball court. It came in the final game of his sophomore season with the clock winding down and Rockhurst trailing by one point.
The coaching staff drew up a play for Wolf to take the game-winning shot against Ruskin in a district championship game. It was a dream scenario for a kid who counted down the seconds as he took shots in the driveway, while envisioning burying game-winner after game-winner.
Except this time he missed. Game over. Season over.
“Missing that shot and seeing the seniors and knowing that was their last game, man that was tough,” Wolf said. “I let them down. I never want to experience that again.”
The miss shook Wolf’s confidence. He called the ensuing weeks an “emotional time.”
Then he got to work. He spent the next two offseasons developing his game, which for a 6-foot-5 post player meant working on perimeter shooting.
As for the results: A year ago, he averaged 15.9 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.
In helping the Hawklets reach today’s Class 5 semifinal game against Columbia Hickman, Wolf leads the team in scoring (18.9 points a game) and rebounding (10.3 rebounds a game). The individual mark of which he’s most proud: He’s shooting 38 percent from three-point range.
“That miss made me want it more,” Wolf said. “I was good as a sophomore, but I’ve gotten so much better. I pushed myself to get better, shoot better and be a better leader.”
Wolf still isn’t a flashy player and maybe not even particularly athletic, compared with many of his peers.
But he is as smooth as they come for a high school post player. His game has a deceptive feel, and he can put up 20 points in a night as the focal point of Rockhurst’s dynamic offense without causing much of a stir.
“When we need a basket, we look to get the ball to Kyle and let him take care of it,” Rockhurst coach Mark Nusbaum said after Wolf scored 21 points in a sectional win against Blue Springs South. “It’s dependable, and that’s why he’s so easy to coach.”
The Hawklets enter tonight’s game on a five-game winning streak. Certainly no coincidence, Wolf has averaged 27.5 points during that span while recording four double-doubles.
He plans to continue his basketball career in college, though he hasn’t made a decision on where that will be. He has received a handful of Division II offers but thinks better opportunities may await should the Hawklets prevail this weekend.
That seems to be a possibility in a competitive Class 5 tournament in which all four remaining teams have a realistic shot to hold the first-place trophy Saturday.
Rockhurst expects tightly contested games this weekend. In fact, Nusbaum said earlier this week he could picture the state championship coming down to a game-winning shot.
Wolf is hoping it does.
“I’ve thought a lot about that,” Wolf said. “I think anyone on our team could shoot it, but I want it. I know I can hit it.”
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