By Mike Pilosof
Photo by Adam Shrimplin
Garden City, KS-It's easy to root for a player like Kyler Lamb.
In a day and age where national signing day makes more headlines than most presidential elections, the senior from Garden City made a move that epitomizes what he is about. And he did it, without saying much at all.
On Thursday, Lamb signed a national letter of intent to play basketball at Garden City Community College next season. He did so in front of a jam-packed media room at Garden City High School. And for the most part, that's what every kid dreams of-a celebration of what they've accomplished.
But not Lamb; not the guy who didn't even tell his own family about his plans. Not because there is no respect. But because there is a special practice in the Lamb household-it's called humility.
Lamb never cared about the glitz and glamour of making such a decision. He didn't have different hats sitting in front of him when making his choice. He didn't suddenly tease the audience by picking up one cap; then replacing it with another. There was no hoopla or shenanigans. Honestly, he just wanted to get it over with. And for that, there was no justification needed.
"It's exciting for me," Lamb said. "I grew up in Garden City going to Broncbuster games, so to have an opportunity to play there is something I've always wanted."
In Lamb's perfect world, that statement would have been enough. He didn't need everything else that came with it; not even this feature article. He just wants to hoop.
"It's all about grinding for me," Lamb said. "I just love basketball-especially the team aspect of it."
Pick any afternoon at any particular time of the year, and you will find Lamb in a gym somewhere in Garden City. His regimen includes more than 500 shots and free throws per day. It's a work ethic he adopted from both of his parents; one that has a very specific purpose behind it.
"I told him, at a young age, that he has to work harder than everyone else," his dad Colin Lamb said. "He was brought up with the idea that nothing is given to you."
And that is what caught the eye of his new coach.
"We were drawn to Kyler's character and his toughness," Patrick Nee said. "His ability to shoot the ball; he just brings so many intangibles to the table. We were very lucky to keep a kid like him in Garden City."
Lamb's story isn't unique by any stretch. He didn't overcome obstacles as so many other athletes have, to reach the collegiate level. He comes from a good family, one that is fully engrained in the community.
But if you've been around Kyler enough, you get a better understanding of why he's a magnet for success.
Feb. 5, 2019
Kyler doesn't profess to have a photographic memory. But if you drill him enough about his team's performance vs. Hugoton in 2018, he gets pretty fired up.
"Coach really ripped into us at halftime of that game," he said. "I remember that vividly. We were playing selfishly and not as a team."
The Eagles ran Garden City off the floor that night, beating them by 34 points. The Buffaloes missed 38 of their 50 shot attempts and were thoroughly embarrassed. It was the type of performance that still resonated the following season.
But one year later, Lamb atoned for one of the worst performances in school history with one of the best. In fact, if not for some fluke electrical problem at the Garden, we may be talking about the single, greatest offensive night in Garden City history.
Kyler set the tone right off the bat, nailing his first 10 shots. He scored 11 points in the first quarter and pumped in three triples and 11 more in the second. His first half stat line read like this: 22 points on 10-of-10 from the field and 4-for-4 from 3. Try doing that on NBA 2K. Good luck!
"I really didn't have a different feeling going into that game," Lamb said. "But I was really locked in. Our team was really focused. And it wasn't just me. Everyone shot the ball really well."
Leave it to Lamb to deflect most of the notoriety. And he was right, the entire team did shoot lights out-finishing 23-of-35 from the floor (66 percent). Carlos Acosta had his most efficient night of the year, going 8-of-11 from the field.
But years from now, and no disrespect to anyone else who was on the floor that night, the two things that will be remembered are Lamb's offensive pyrotechnics and the electricity going out at halftime.
"It's funny because we make the joke that we shot the lights out," Lamb said with a giggle. "I was worried though because I didn't want to cool off."
Although Hugoton, who trailed by as many as 27 points in the first half, got back into the game, Lamb and his teammates finished off the Eagles, handing them a 65-43 beatdown.
"It's a game that really gave me confidence," Lamb said. "My form felt really good."
The man who changed his form
The book Golden by Marcus Thompson, is the biography of Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry. At one point, Thompson describes how Curry had to change his shot in high school because of his small frame. He was releasing it so low that anyone could block it. So he had to totally reconstruct his shot. Think about that for a second-the greatest shooter in the history of the NBA had to totally alter his form.
While Kyler's transformation isn't as dramatic, it definitely was a struggle.
Before his freshman year, he and his dad began working on a new shot.
"He told me if I kept it where it was, that I would have a hard time getting it off. It was easier to block it."
So Kyler and his dad stayed in the lab, bringing his release point from in front of his face to around the top of his head. It didn't go over well at first.
"I airballed the first 10 free throws I tried," Kyler said. "It was tough. But I stuck with it and eventually it worked out."
Colin Lamb will be the first to tell you that he's just the ordinary guy trying to help his son. He's spent the better part of two decades working in administration and athletics at Garden City Community College. So there is no 'Shot Doctor' title on his business card. Then again, maybe there should be.
The adjustments that father and son made, were on full display during the 2018-2019 season. Lamb improved his scoring average from 4 ppg his junior year to 12 as a senior while also leading his team in rebounds (7.3 per game). He shot 46 percent from the field and 39 percent from 3. Five times he hit three or more triples in a game.
And the rest of the state took notice. Lamb was named first-team All-WAC and Honorable Mention All-State by four different publications. This after not playing a ton as a junior.
"I had to prove to coach that I was ready to play," Lamb said. "So I got in the gym and worked. I grinded every day during the summer. I wanted to earn my spot."
Jacy Holloway knows all about shooting. He played on one of the most prolific offensive teams at Moundridge in state history, winning four straight state titles. So when Kyler went off against Hugoton, even Holloway was grinning from ear to ear.
"That's one of the best shooting performances that I've ever seen," he said. "At least top five all-time."
Give pops an assist with that one; although, like his son, he'll never admit to it. Because that's what Lamb's do. Let someone else take the credit.
The mention of Steph Curry in this piece probably will infuriate the Lamb household. Not because they hate Steph, but because their allegiance is to the guys in green; one of the most historic franchises in professional sports-the Boston Celtics.
Not that Kyler had much say in the decision, but he grew up rooting for them and Larry Bird. If you walk into the Lamb household, you would have thought you just rolled through the Boston Celtics Historical Museum. If that house was ever auctioned off, the Celtics memorabilia alone could cover the cost of two mortgages.
At a very early age, Kyler was running around his house wearing that green and white jersey with the big No. 33 on it. And while not many people can live up to Bird's basketball acumen or his height (Bird is 6-9 and Kyler is 5-10), there's no shame in rooting for one of the greatest basketball players ever.
Lamb began playing in third grade. He started on the Garden City Bullets traveling team, which was coached by his dad and Jeff Crook. Oddly enough, the mascot was one of Boston's biggest rivals in the Eastern Conference. Go figure.
"My dad has helped me ever since I started playing basketball," Lamb said. "He's a big reason for my success."
When he was nine, Kyler and his family traveled to Kansas City, where Bird was being inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame.
"That was a pretty cool experience," the elder Lamb recalls. "I even yelled Larry's name. I think he turned around."
I mean who ever heard of French Lick, Indiana? Well, 12 NBA All-Star appearances and two NBA Finals most valuable trophies later, I think people could point it out on a map. Thanks Larry. And before Steph Curry was launching 3's, the guy from the little-known town that sounded more like the title of 'B' movie, had a little boy dreaming that he could do the same things.
Landing at Garden City Community College
In 2009, then Head Coach Chris Bauman, guided a scrappy Broncbuster team to the program's first National Tournament appearance in 50 years. They knocked off Highland, IL 82-79 in the opening round; then dropped their second-round game to Connors State 83-64. They rebounded with an 89-62 win over South Georgia Tech before being eliminated by Lamar 61-58.
The Lamb's were courtside for every one of those games. In 2016, when Jeff Sims guided the Broncbuster football team to the school's first national title, the Lamb's were front and center in Yuma, AZ. They were also there in 2018 when the football team lost to East Mississippi in the title game at Pittsburg State.
"It's created a lifetime of memories for our family," Colin Lamb said. "People always ask why Garden City. I always respond-why not Garden City."
The reality is that most kids don't grow up dreaming of playing Junior College ball. They want to play at Duke or North Carolina. The blue bloods of college hoops. But that's a pretty short sided vision-especially when you consider that the chances of kids making it to that level, and then the NBA, are rather remote.
Kyler, and the rest of his family, consider themselves pragmatic. There is no fantasy about a life of glamour in Durham or Chapel Hill. But that doesn't mean that Garden City doesn't have the same luster to them that Cameron Indoor has to a kid that grew up in North Carolina.
"I've grown up watching this team," Kyler said. "I've wanted to play here since I was a little kid. Now I have the opportunity to do so."
Growing up, Lamb played three sports: basketball, baseball and football. His career on the diamond only lasted a couple of years while he quit football after his freshman year.
"I just love basketball; always have," Kyler said. "I really enjoy the team aspect and the family side of it."
By giving up the other two sports, Lamb concentrated on basketball, refining his skills while playing on travel teams through Junior High. In high school, he waited his turn, unleashing an all-around game during his senior year that him averaging nearly a double-double.
"Playing college basketball, I have to get better shooting the 3," Kyler said. "From coming off picks to the step back, creating my own shot, that's what I have to do."
Nee is pretty giddy about the signing.
"We really think that Kyler can help us," he said. "And Kyler is such a good kid."
But don't expect Lamb to deviate from his quiet, humble nature. Just remember that on the court, that silence is replaced with a killer mentality, one that has the 5-10 guard from Garden City, a coveted prospect for Nee's rotation in 2019.