For most of Sunday’s 32nd All-Star Basketball Classic at John A. Logan College, Chester’s Keith Kiner was the best player on the floor.
The 6-foot-5, 185-pound Kiner was the Most Valuable Player of Team Shurtz, which outscored Team Gordon 130-120. Kiner threw down transition dunks, stuck mid-range jumpers and even canned three 3-pointers.
In short, he looked the part of a college small forward. But the road Kiner traveled to get there was a lot longer than Sunday’s game might have made it appear. It involved playing AAU ball with and against other top players, and the willingness to do extra work in practice to evolve his skill set to the point his natural skills stood out above everyone else’s.
“Definitely playing AAU ball over the summer,” Kiner said when asked what hastened his development. “Playing with other good players, picking their brains a little bit and stealing some of their moves. I also got to the gym with coach (Brad) Norman and my teammates.
“We stayed after practice, working hard, and I was able to expand my game.”
Norman walked a tightrope of sorts with Kiner. He needed him to play inside against most opponents because Kiner could simply jump and score over an average high school team. But to give Kiner the best chance of playing in college, he had to coach him in practice as though he were a small forward.
So Norman had Kiner do drills with the guards as well as posts. In addition to pivot moves, Kiner might work on ballhandling. This was extra work that Kiner did without complaint.
“We tried to evolve his game,” Norman said, “and I hope it helps him. They want him to be a wing at the next level, and with his wingspan, if he’ll commit to getting a little bit lower with his handle, he’s going to be something special.”
A more refined, polished version of Kiner emerged as the calendar turned to 2019. This Kiner seemed to flip through a mental play list of which move to use against what outmatched opponent, and executed it at will.
There was a 29-point performance in one win, and there was a late January game against Goreville where Kiner unleashed the assortment pack. He dunked in transition and off a post move. He faced up and hit jumpers, posted up and scored off either shoulder.
The 21-point output in his team’s 72-48 win didn’t quite tell the whole story of how varied and good Kiner’s game was against the Blackcats.
“It was the leadership part of it,” Norman said of Kiner’s ascension from one type of player to another. “He decided to step out of his comfort zone a little bit. I think the mentality finally caught up with the skill level and evolved into someone who was special to watch. He just glided through the competition the second half of the season.”
The Yellow Jackets finished 26-6 overall and 12-0 in the BDC West, capping their unbeaten run through the conference with a rout of Sesser-Valier on Senior Night. That the season ended in their regional final with a one-sided loss to West Frankfort was a bit surprising, but didn’t take away from the success they enjoyed.
For Kiner, who also played a key role for a football team that went 7-4 and won a first round game in the Class 2A playoffs, it’s been a senior year to remember.
“It’s been an amazing year,” he said. “We’ve accomplished so much, getting into the record books in Chester history. We won the Chester Invitational for the first time in 43 years, and it’s been fun.”
Kiner’s next stop appears to be the junior college ranks. He’s not made a final decision, although he is interested in Kaskaskia College.
“I want to expand my game a little more and get used to the college level,” he said. “I will hopefully play the 3 in college. I have the right height, body and speed for it.”