Lawrence Free State senior point guard Garrett Luinstra sits outside the school gym, talking casually about his time as a Firebird and reminiscing about last year’s third-place finish at the Kansas Class 6A tournament.
He’s averaging 19 points per game this year, blossoming in the leadership role coach Sam Stroh bestowed on him. This is only Luinstra’s second varsity season, but he’s impressed enough people to know he might have a chance to play at a mid-major college program if he wanted to.
Luinstra doesn’t want to. He said he decided months ago to accept an invitation to walk on at the University of Kansas, though Luinstra added he hasn’t yet informed KU of his choice.
“I was awestruck when it happened,” Luinstra said of his conversation with KU coach Bill Self in which the walk-on spot was offered.
Luinstra grew up with KU posters in his room, looking up to the same players Self rattled off when the two met this summer at a basketball camp at Allen Fieldhouse. His parents went to KU, graduating around the same time. Mom was a cheerleader, stepdad a walk-on pole vaulter who earned a scholarship and eventually participated in the 1996 Olympics.
Fighting for a spot in the Jayhawks rotation has always been a dream.
And he’ll get a chance to live it where his late father, Brian, once studied to become an athletic trainer.
“I don’t think he’s decided to do that for his dad,” said Carolyn Huffman, Luinstra’s mother. “This is what Garrett wants.”
Luinstra never got to know his father. He was 8 months old when Brian Luinstra was among the 10 killed in a plane crash involving the Oklahoma State men’s basketball team on Jan. 27, 2001.
What Garrett Luinstra knows about his father he learned through photographs, home videos and anecdotes. In the 17 years since the tragedy, family members have regaled him with enough stories for him to know he inherited his father’s competitive streak and passion for sports.
His father was a high school wrestler — Luinstra showed some talent in the sport as a child. Luinstra picked up a love for basketball, a sport his father played throughout his life.
“He did every sport imaginable,” Huffman said. “We had to start paring down. He had a lot of energy. Like his dad.”
But Luinstra never dwelled much on the parallels.
He barely even noticed it was strange he didn’t have a dad until his mother remarried in 2011. He hadn’t really missed having one. His grandparents and uncles showered him and his older sister, Alexis, with attention, filling in the void dexterously.
“I didn’t realize it,” Luinstra said. “My mom met Scott (Huffman) in fifth grade and it really hit me. … He’s really a great father figure that we never had.”
Still, the memory of Luinstra’s father has loomed throughout his life. The family has returned to Stillwater, Okla., on multiple occasions, participating in “Remember the Ten” races and other ceremonies honoring those who died, including KU grad Will Hancock, an OSU sports information director and the son of College Football Playoff executive Bill Hancock of Prairie Village.
Luinstra has seen the impact a scholarship fund his mother started in his father’s honor has had on students studying to be athletic trainers at Wichita State and Oklahoma State, both places he worked before his death.
Now Luinstra will attempt to walk on at KU, where his father also has a scholarship fund named after him — where Self has hinted Luinstra could be the next Conner Teahan.
“I think Brian would want Garrett to do the best thing that fits Garrett,” Carolyn Huffman said. “And if that’s walking on somewhere, if that’s going somewhere else, he would be supportive of whatever it is. But of course he’d be thrilled that he is going to KU.”