Highlands’ Jimmy Kunst becoming accustomed to bigger role with Golden Rams

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Thursday, February 11, 2021 | 5:47 PM


When the Highlands Golden Rams played Knoch last Wednesday, sophomore guard Jimmy Kunst took over in the second quarter and scored 13 of his team-high 23 points.

A day earlier, Kunst had scored a career-high 29 points against Shaler in Highlands’ first loss of the season. He followed up those performances with a 22-point effort against Indiana in a 46-point victory.

Although Kunst has showcased his ability to score, his past three games have shown something that Highlands coach Tyler Stoczynski has been looking for out of his young point guard all season.

“I think it’s just the maturity process of consistently being in attack mode,” Stoczynski said. “He’s realized that for us to be successful, he’s going to have to put some buckets in the basket, and he’s starting to do that. He’s shooting well, and he’s shooting with confidence, so we hope that continues.”

As a freshman last season, Kunst started alongside seniors Korry Myers, Johnny Crise and Luke Cochran as well as big man Wahkeem Roman. But he didn’t have to score as much as the seniors carried the load on the way to a WPIAL Class 4A WPIAL championship. This season is different, though, and Kunst has had to step out of his comfort zone to take on a major scoring role for the No. 4 Golden Rams (9-1, 6-1 Section 4-4A).

While averaging a team-high 17.9 points, Kunst has shown he’s capable of shouldering the load. Earlier this season he hit a winning 3-pointer against then No. 1-Mars. He scored 21 points in a win over Freeport and another 18 in a win over Kiski Area.

But making that transition from role player to leading scorer has been difficult for Kunst. He’s an unselfish, pass-first type of player, and he’s continued to create shots for his teammates. Senior Antoine McDaniel (12.3) and sophomore Chandler Thimons (10.4) are also averaging in double-digits, and junior Carter Leri scores 9.1 points per game.

“It’s been hard because I’ve had to change my game so much,” Kunst said. “It’s just kind of growing into what the guys did last year. I need to score and also get my teammates incorporated, which I didn’t have to do as much last year. It’s been hard growing into a new role and adapting my game.”

Throughout this season, Kunst hasn’t needed to be aggressive because the Golden Rams have jumped out to big leads and have been winning by significant margins. In their 10 games, they’ve won five by 25 points or more.

The Golden Rams found themselves behind against Shaler, though, and Stoczynski said Kunst felt the need to be more aggressive.

“We were down for a lot of the game, and I think it was one of those things where he was trying to make sure that we were continuing to be in the game,” Stoczynski said. “I think it’s easy to be unselfish when you’re up a lot. But in a game when it’s a little tighter, he took some extra shots like we want him to.”

Stoczynski said Kunst’s performance against Knoch was another example of how the Golden Rams want him to play.

“That just showed you what he was capable of, and once we get him running on that kind of level consistently, he’s going to be really really tough to stop even more so than he is right now,” Stoczynski said. “At the same time, one of the things that makes him so good is that he is unselfish, and he is such a good team player. So, it’s just part of that balancing act that he’s starting to become accustomed to.”

While finding balance between an aggressive scoring mindset and creating for his teammates is important, Kunst said having the confidence to do it is key, as well.

“If you want to take that many shots, you have to have confidence because even when you are missing you have to have that confidence to keep shooting,” Kunst said. “So, it’s been different. It’s been really different.”

Although he’s recently started to show his aggressive mindset, it seems like Kunst has had the confidence all along. Before hitting his winning deep shot from the right wing against Mars, the 6-foot-2 guard had gone scoreless in the third quarter and had only scored twice in the fourth.

Kunst said a lot of that confidence comes from his coach, who reassures him.

“He’s always giving me confidence, and that’s the biggest thing,” Kunst said. “He’s always trying to give me confidence to do those types of things and put me in the best situation to succeed.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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