I experienced a wave of muted excitement yesterday while sitting in my office. I received a text message from our head coach announcing the arrival of a long 6′ 4″ athletic-looking sophomore at our school three days before try-outs. This should be good news, but my excitement was muted because in the summer of 2004 I met Kyle McClanahan. Had I been able to send or receive a text at that time, it would have unceremoniously announced the arrival of an ostensibly laid back, skinny 5′ 9″ freshman.
The proof, however, is in the playing and he could play. During the summer of 2004, our head coach had an AAU team and we put together a scrimmage between the AAU team and couple of our Winter Park players. But for the intervention of fate, I have no idea why or how Kyle came to be there that day. He was the smallest, weakest and youngest player on the floor, but it didn’t matter. He belonged. He by no means dominated the play, but he held up in every respect defending, handling the ball, moving to open space and scoring all within the flow of the game.
A couple of months later, Kyle led two other freshman to the final of an all campus 3 v. 3 tourney. Such was the quality of his play then that it took us several months to realize that the other two guys he played with completely sucked.
Kyle made the varsity as a freshman and played a significant role. By the end of his high school career he was the school’s leading scorer and had played in two final fours. He was still a skinny and laid back, but now about 6′ tall.
Kyle had gifts of soft hands, hand eye coordination, balance, vision and the capacity to play the game at the right speed that transcended his physical dimensions, foot speed or leaping ability. They were the foundations of his success, and should not be underrated in assessing a prospective player.
Kyle’s skill set allowed him to play the game of basketball. The hands enabled him to catch, shoot and pass the ball quickly and on time. The hand eye coordination accounted for steals, deflections and the ability to subtely alter a dribble or release point on a shot or pass. The balance was essential to staying in front of his man defensively and contributed to his ability to blow by far more athletic looking defenders at will. The vision and ability to play at the right pace enabled him to remain poised, see plays and opportunities develop in advance and to react to them appropriately.
I do not look at a player without measuring them against Kyle’s standard in these qualities, and while I haven’t found anyone to measure up it is a valuable gatekeeping function in my evaluation process.