To say that Davidson senior guard Tyler Kalinoski comes by his athletic prowess naturally would be an understatement of significant proportion.
Kalinoski was named the Atlantic 10’s basketball player of the year this week and leads the 24th-ranked Wildcats into the league’s tournament with a quarterfinal game Friday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
It’s a high honor, to be sure, and one that’s part of an impressive athletic legacy that reaches through both sides of Kalinoski’s family tree:
▪ Kalinoski’s father Scott played football at Purdue.
▪ His aunt Pam Kalinoski played on four national championship soccer teams at North Carolina from 1987-89 and 1991. A teammate of soccer greats Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly, Pam Kalinoski is tied for eighth on the Tar Heels’ career assists list.
▪ One of his grandfathers, Ron Ward, played for the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. His other grandfather, Ken Kalinoski, ran track at Ohio State.
▪ Great-uncle Dave Ford played for the Baltimore Orioles, and was pitcher of the year in the Southern League for the old Charlotte O’s in 1976.
▪ His sisters are both top-notch volleyball players. Brittney, 24, is a former player at Southeast Missouri State; Kelli, a senior in high school, will play at Duke beginning next fall.
“It was something great growing up with that kind of atmosphere around my family,” said Kalinoski.
Or, as teammate Brian Sullivan put it: “He’s got good genes.”
But Kalinoski has combined those notable bloodlines with equal parts hard work and toughness to get to where he is today, a key player on a team that has become one of college basketball’s surprise stories as tournament time swings into high gear this week.
“I knew there was something special about him early in his freshman year when he got a tough offensive rebound,” said Wildcats coach Bob McKillop. “There was a toughness, moxie, instinct and fight that I saw in Tyler. It was a defining moment. He’s developed that year after year.”
There’s also a sweet-looking jump shot and ball-handling skills that have resulted in a 16.9 points-per-game scoring average and Atlantic 10-leading numbers in 3-pointers made per game (2.9) and assist-turnover ratio (2.9). He makes 83.8 of his free throws and is one of five Wildcats who shoot better than 40 percent from 3-point range. His 4.2 assists per game rank third in the league.
Those intangibles that McKillop described allow Kalinoski, all 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds of him, also average 5.7 rebounds.
While Kalinoski is most dangerous offensively on the perimeter, he’s also willing to go to the basket against taller players who don’t want to see him in the lane. He sports several stitches above his left eyebrow from a blow he took against Virginia Commonwealth last week.
But perhaps the most amazing aspect of Kalinoski’s career at Davidson is that it nearly didn’t happen.
McKillop found ‘perfect fit’
A solid if not spectacular player at Olathe East High in Overland Park, Kan., Kalinoski wasn’t highly recruited. As his senior year unfolded, his college choices were coming down to Missouri-Kansas City, Jacksonville and Arkansas-Little Rock.
At the same time, McKillop was facing a problem at Davidson. One of the players he had recruited didn’t qualify academically. So McKillop, in need of a guard, asked then-assistant Landry Kosmalski to find one, a tough chore so late in the recruiting process.
Kosmalski knew Kalinoski’s AAU coach, who recommended Kalinoski, a skinny sharpshooter with an impressive all-around game.
McKillop was to fly to Kansas to scout Kalinoski play in a state tournament game. But McKillop’s flight was delayed and he missed the game, one in which Kalinoski said he played “terrible.”
Said Scott Kalinoski: “There was nothing that Tyler did in that game that characterized him as a Division I player.”
When McKillop finally arrived in Kansas, he watched Kalinoski play much better in a state semifinal, scoring 20 points, grabbing six rebounds and handing out seven assists in a loss against Wichita Heights, a team that featured future Kansas player Perry Ellis and Evan Wessel, who now plays at Wichita State.
McKillop was sufficiently impressed to offer Kalinoski – who was playing on two injured ankles -- a scholarship.
McKillop had seen Kalinoski play the right game at the right time.
“I knew he would be a perfect fit for what we did,” said McKillop. “Our system isn’t for everybody, but he fit.”
Said Kalinoski: “If coach sees me play that first game only, there’s no way I’m at Davidson. It’s crazy how it all happened so late and fell into place.”
Intensely competitive family
Kalinoski had built to that moment by growing up in a household that was all-sports and all-academics all the time.
Scott Kalinoski, who played in the same Purdue defensive backfield as future NFL players Rod Woodson and Cris Dishman, coached all three of his children in several youth sports. The competition in the house was always intense.
“It wasn’t cutthroat, but seeing how my sisters were growing up to be great athletes too, that definitely motivated me,” Kalinoski said. “Brittney was playing in college. Kelli’s volleyball team won a national tournament. I saw how to be successful in sports by watching them.”
Their sibling rivalry extended to the halls of Olathe East High, where photos of all-state players are displayed on the walls.
“Brittney got hers up there, so I had to get mine and Kelli had to get hers,” said Tyler. “Now we’re all up there.”
The Kalinoski family played together as a team in a local sand volleyball league. Tyler and his dad continue to have intense table-tennis games, sometimes playing as late as 3 a.m.
Scott said he beat Tyler in their most recent game of one-on-one basketball three years ago.
“I hit the first shot, then faked an injury,” said Scott. “So I told him, ‘I win 1-0.’ That’s the last time we’ve played.”
Older sister Brittney would sometimes accompany Scott and Tyler to basketball workouts at the gym, where the then-taller Brittney would post up her little brother.
“I’m responsible for teaching him post defense,” Brittney said with a laugh.
Kalinoski’s career at Davidson will end sometime over the next few weeks, possibly playing in the NCAA tournament for the third time in his career. One of just two seniors on Davidson’s team, Kalinoski will graduate this spring with a degree in economics.
“Seeing him and how he’s gotten better every year, throughout every season, he embodies everything you want,” said Sullivan, Kalinoski’s roommate. “He’s our leader, he’s unselfish. He’s a guy you want on your side is the best way to put it. You want to go into a fight with him.
“He’s Mr. Davidson.”
Free throw percentage
*unofficial (not enough attempts to qualify)