Kylee Shook wants to grow into greatness, and her coach Jeff Walz expects her to become, using his favored word, “special.”
All the pieces are there for a dominating basketball presence. Shook is tall (6-foot-4, at least), fast and strong and blessed with surprising touch.
She departed Mesa Ridge High as one of the coveted Colorado recruits of this decade. So much is possible.
We’re still talking about the possibilities as Shook battles for playing time in her sophomore season at unbeaten national power Louisville.
On Wednesday afternoon at Air Force, Shook revealed how far she still needs to travel. She scored four points and seized 13 rebounds in Louisville’s 62-50 victory over the Falcons.
The word potential has followed Shook since she was towering over defenders on the southern edge of Colorado Springs as a fifth-grader who already approached 6 feet.
The word isn’t going anywhere, and Shook knows it.
“Potential doesn’t mean anything if you don’t work with it,” Shook said. “It’s nice to know that people believe in me and say, ‘Oh, she can be great,’ because I want to be great, but it’s all on me if I want to be great.”
A few years ago, Walz was traveling to Mesa Ridge’s gym in a relentless attempt to sell Shook on Louisville. As a senior, Shook averaged 27 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots. During her career at Mesa Ridge, the Grizzlies roared to a 93-11 record and won a state title.
In his salesman approach, Walz was friendly. He was persuasive.
That was his old role.
Now, he’s relentless in his quest to turn Shook into an elite college player. He sees glimpses. He saw enough last season to start Shook in the last 13 games. Shook no longer starts for the Cardinals, ranked No. 3 in the nation.
Walz wants his players to spend June and July on the Louisville campus, where he expects them to labor obsessively on weaknesses. Those months, he said, offer a good player the chance to become great.
Shook spent June in Colorado Springs and July in Louisville. Walz awaits more complete devotion in the future.
“To be great, you’ve got to have everything,” Shook said. “You have to have offense and defense and you have to have a great mental attitude. How close am I? I got a ways to go, to be honest. I feel like I need to mature on and off the court. Confidence is the main thing with me right now.”
On Wednesday, Shook struggled with her touch. She missed 7 of 8 shots, mostly from point-blank range. She said she’s struggling to overcome a stress reaction in her left shin that forced her to miss 10 days of practice.
Shook was not alone in her struggles. Air Force is winless this season, following a brutal trend. The Falcons have won 18 of their past 171.
But the Falcons put a brief scare into the Cardinals. After Louisville sprinted to a 30-14 lead, the Falcons woke up and cut the lead to 39-30.
“We battled them on every level,” Air Force coach Chris Gobrecht said.
Gobrecht is realistic. She knew Walz could have thrown a tantrum on the sideline. But Gobrecht also knew that Walz and Shook and the Cardinals toured the Air Force campus Tuesday and listened intently as they were told of the demanding lives of cadets.
Walz never started shouting.
“I’m very appreciative of the respectful way coach Walz handled it,” Gobrecht said. “Sometimes coaches make scenes in situations like that, when their team is struggling against a team that hasn’t won a game.”
The Cardinals inhabit a vastly different basketball world than the one they visited Wednesday afternoon. A crowd of 537, big by Air Force standards, watched. Crowds of more than 10,000 often watch Shook play at Louisville.
Air Force goes back to trying to win a game. Louisville returns to its quest to win the national title
And Shook faces, as always, that word.