Boys Basketball: Lake City's green light, Kjos POY
Marc Kjos approaches basketball with seemingly little fear. The 3-point line is simply a suggestion for the Lake City senior, who routinely fires from well beyond the arc. And if a defender dares come out to put a hand in Kjos' face, the University of Jamestown commit will bolt in either direction, a beeline to the hoop that will end with an acrobatic finish or a dish to a teammate for an open shot.
Simply, Kjos' game is electric. His demeanor in an interview setting is the opposite.
Along with two teammates and his head coach, the Republican Eagle Player of the Year said little, and what was coerced was hushed, reserved.
"He's taught me a lot of things the last two years," said sophomore and backcourt mate Nathan Heise. "We've always had a connection on the court. And I can talk to him in practice or outside of practice as a friend."
This praise had Kjos with his head in his hands, clearly uncomfortable being talked about. It's the opposite of what happens during a game, when Kjos is the center of attention.
Over a four-year career that started as a freshman, Kjos piled up some staggering statistics. He was part of 95 wins, won four HVL championships, played in a school-record 117 games and finished fourth in school history with 1,372 points. Tigers head coach Greg Berge said Kjos likely leads in assists as well, but records don't go back far enough to be certain.
But the awards Kjos has amassed are concrete. There's the three All-HVL selections, the Minnesota All-Star series selection, the inaugural HVL Player of the Year this season as well as an Academic All-State nod.
And for all Kjos can do with the ball in his hands — the sixth-best 3-point percentage (45.32) in Minnesota history, and the seventh-best nationally for those with more than 400 attempts — it's what happens when he passes that makes Lake City such a tough team to beat. In addition to Kjos (16.8) and Heise (16.7), both Zach Bremer (12.9) and Reid Gastner (11.7) averaged double-digit points per game this season.
"He just knows when to make the right decision, the right pass," Bremer said. "He never made it about himself. He took open shots when he could, but he was the main creator for us and gave me a lot of open looks. That's why I scored as much as I did this year, because he draws the defense and it leaves someone else open.
"Having a flashy player like him makes the game so much more fun to play. And having him out there it extends the defense and give the inside a better chance."
And while Lake City's dreams of reaching a second-straight state tournament fell short this season, the team accomplishment of holding the 2017 Section 1AA trophy is what stands out for Kjos.
"I don't know how to explain it," Kjos said when asked how he felt in that moment. "I just can't."
"It's raw emotion," Berge said. "That's the great thing about sport. People rarely get that feeling again. You'll get married and have kids and all that, but that raw emotion is unbelievable. It's pure joy."
Surely there are coaches all across the area and HVL and Section 1AA that are happy to see the mechanical engineering major head off to North Dakota, there will be something missing at Lincoln High School next year that can't be replaced.
Yes, there is the leadership void that a three-year starter leaves. Yes, there are points and assists and steals to be replaced. But that moment when a player walks the ball up the court and in one smooth motion just two steps past half court pulls up and fires, that immediate excitement and confusion, that will be missed dearly.
"Ever since I was little, playing with my brother, I was always smaller than him. I couldn't get my shot off at the 3-point line because they'd guard me," Kjos said. "So I stepped back and they wouldn't guard me. Then they would and I could drive around them."
Again, a player who can lift people out of their seats with a shot from 25 feet that drops without a kiss of the rim describes it like it's a drill. That's OK, everyone else knows how exciting it is because Kjos reacts the same way when he's actually raining 3s, not talking about them. He's as loud and fiery on the court as he is quiet and withheld while seated in an interview.
Hopefully that shot follows Kjos to Jamestown, and hopefully his new coach allows Kjos to fire up the crowd with a shot that though developed out of necessity has turned into weapon.
"There's not many guys I give the green light to from that distance," Berge said. "Marc has earned that right. ... It's funny, I've had coaches and parents and community members here and there that would make some comment about how deep he shoots. And I just tell them that he probably makes a better percentage from there than he does close. He's earned the right to shoot that, and I never hesitated to let him. He put in the hours to become a great shooter."