Freshman Jimmy Kunst playing big role for WPIAL champion Highlands
Wednesday, March 4, 2020 | 6:44 PM
The Highlands boys basketball team relied on its trio of seniors this season.
Johnny Crise, Luke Cochran and Korry Myers are averaging at least 14 points apiece, with Cochran leading the way at 17.2 points. They also have acted as coaches on the court, guiding their younger teammates.
It showed more than ever during their run to the WPIAL Class 4A championship, culminating with Saturday’s 72-54 victory over Belle Vernon at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center.
Even before their WPIAL playoff run, their influence started to rub off on the younger players, especially Jimmy Kunst.
“They’ve been very welcoming, and they’ve helped me learn all the little things that have to do with basketball,” Kunst said. “Not just the plays, but how to act during big games and big moments. They’ve definitely helped me become the player that I am today.”
Said Myers: “There have been multiple times I’ve told him throughout our season to just not be nervous about anything. Even though you’re young, just go out out and play your game no matter what. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”
Kunst, a 6-foot-2 freshman guard who has acted as a ball-handler and skilled defender, has played a big role in the postseason.
He earned a spot in the starting rotation early in the season and has been a consistent role player.
“I wanted to come in and get some playing time, but that wasn’t really my goal. It was more team goals,” Kunst said. “I wanted to win a WPIAL championship. So to play a little more while accomplishing that was surreal.”
He averages 7.5 points, 3.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists.
“He’s mature beyond his years, and he’s as coachable of a player as we’ve ever had,” coach Tyler Stoczynski said. “He’s got that instinct that allows him to do some things that you can’t teach on a basketball court. That makes him so valuable to us.”
Kunst has come up big on defense, as well, averaging close to four steals. His length allows him to guard multiple positions, and he has come up big in several games.
During Highlands’ second meeting with Knoch, Kunst produced 11 points, six steals and four assists. All six steals came in crucial moments, including back-to-back thefts right after halftime that helped the Golden Rams extend their lead.
Kunst said those are the type of moments the seniors helped prepare him for.
“At the beginning of the year, I know I would’ve been going crazy in those types of situations,” Kunst said. “I would make mistakes or something like that. But they taught me how to stay calm and just relax.”
Said Myers: “It’s been amazing to see how mature he is as such a young age,” Myers said. “To get to play with him and help him grow has been great. I wish I had more time with him.”
Not only have the seniors prepared him to play a big role this season, but they have helped to instill the culture Stoczynski is trying to build. That starts with players such as Crise, Myers and Cochran, passing on those core values.
Said Stoczynski: “Our older guys are great role models, so (Kunst) has three older guys that he can look up to that do it in a way that we’re so proud of as a program. So if he can take those qualities that they are giving to the young guys and add that to what he’s gotten from his parents and then bring that to our team next year in a leadership role, it makes us even better.
“We are very excited for him, and we just hope he continues to progress over the next few seasons.”
Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .
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