BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — For years, Kevin Huerter was the little brother. The boy with the red hair chucking up 3-pointers. A skinny kid learning lessons the hard way.
Those labels were ripped up and thrown out a while ago. Huerter now stands on his own as offering the most dynamic and complete game in the Capital Region. That status was solidified Wednesday with a new moniker for the Shenendehowa senior, an apt one demonstrating his growth through the years.
Mr. New York Basketball.
That’s the title the Basketball Coaches Association of New York, Inc. bestowed upon Huerter, making the 6-foot-6 guard only the second player from Section II — Greg Koubek, a 1987 Shenendehowa graduate, being the first — to earn that honor. Normally stoic, Huerter admitted it was surreal to win the state’s top award for a high school player.
“This one’s a little bit different,” Huerter said.
But since Huerter started playing competitive basketball, he’s always been different from his peers. He never
really played with them, though, either. Instead, he grew up playing on his older brother Thomas Huerter’s travel teams that father Tom Huerter — who played at Siena College — coached.
It didn’t always go well. Kevin Huerter was always at least a year younger than his teammates — and sometimes two years since he is young for his grade; Huerter won’t turn 18 years old until this August — and was physically slight. In games, he got pushed around and beat up.
“I’d yell at him because he was our point guard and if we ever got pressed, he’d try to make these 60-foot passes and he just wasn’t strong enough to do it,” Huerter’s father said. “He’d throw this huge rainbow pass, and it would get intercepted.”
“There were tears shed some nights,” Huerter said. “I was the weakest and the smallest guy on the court.”
For Shenendehowa, Huerter played freshman basketball as a seventh-grader, junior varsity as an eighth-grader and was on varsity as a ninth-grader. During that rookie varsity year, Huerter said Shenendehowa head coach Tony Dzikas’ instructions to him made clear the freshman’s physical limitations.
“Coach would tell me that if I wasn’t shooting threes, he didn’t need me on the court,” said Huerter, who made 50 3-pointers that season — and two 2-pointers.
Fast forward a season. That sophomore year, right toward the end of it, was when Dzikas knew Huerter was coming into his own. A few years earlier, Huerter had been nearly
6-feet tall and weighed maybe 100 pounds; as a sophomore before a last-season scrimmage against Troy, Huerter was dunking so violently that it almost ended his season.
“He was throwing it down so hard that he cut his hand,” Dzikas said. “I had to tape up his hand so he could play.”
When he was younger, Huerter had to be crafty and learn angles to be able to compete. The skill set, though, was there. As he has grown into his current 180-pound frame, there’s really been no stopping Huerter as he’s led Shenendehowa to 49 wins in 50 games so far during his junior and senior seasons.
This season, Huerter has averaged a shade more than 21 points per game and regularly flirts with triple-doubles. He’d average more points if he wasn’t taking fewer than 15 shots per game, but he’s consumed himself with playing the right way. That’s something his teammates appreciate.
“He’s in total control out there,” senior teammate Petar Bebic said of Huerter, the MVP of last year’s state tournament. “There’s been so many times this year where it’s just like, ‘Wow.’ ”
Niskayuna head coach Bryan Mattice remembers coaching against Huerter when the Shenendehowa star was a middle-schooler playing AAU ball, and said the difference between then and now is stunning.
“Back then, he was very much just a spot-up shooter. As long as you closed out on him and figured out a way to push him toward his left hand, he wasn’t going to hurt you too bad,” Mattice said. “Now, he’s become such a multi-faceted player.”
Steve Dagostino, the former Guilderland High School and College of Saint Rose star, has worked with Huerter for several years as the owner of the Dags Basketball training group. Remembering back to those days when Huerter was not strong enough to throw lengthy passes makes Dagostino laugh. Now, Dagostino said the best part of Huerter’s game is his ability to get a defensive rebound in traffic and snap long outlet passes up the court to teammates for transition layups. That play has become a staple of Shenendehowa’s success this season as it attempts to repeat as Class AA state champions.
“I really think that if Kevin gets the defensive rebound, you should just foul him right away,” Dagostino said. “It sounds absurd, but that’s the best thing you could do as an opponent.”
Moving forward, Dagostino said Huerter will need to keep filling out his 6-6 — and growing — frame when he gets to the University of Maryland for his collegiate career.
“But the strength will take care of itself. Defensively, he’s going to get better,” Dagostino said. “If he figures out how to be the toughest guy on the court, day in and day out, he’s going to be a pro player and make a ton of money. And, I think he will.”
Off the court, Dzikas said his star player has little to improve. That’s what the coach said made him happiest about Huerter’s latest honor.
“I love it because he’s everything that’s right about high school basketball,” Dzikas said. “He’s a bright kid. He gives you your time. He goes into elementary schools and reads to kids. He helps out with the youth basketball program up at Chango, where he went to [elementary] school — and those teachers there all love him.”
Dzikas was the first to congratulate the senior on his BCANY honor, firing off a text to Huerter with the news. The coach’s message was part news, part joke — and a reminder that outside labels only matter so much.
“You’re officially Mr. Basketball [in] New York state,” Dzikas said he wrote. “But I think I’ll continue to call you Kevin.”