PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Westin Kirk named Marshall Independent Player of the Year

Design by Sam Thiel Russell-Tyler-Ruthton senior Westin Kirk was named the 2018 Marshall Independent Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

TYLER – All season long, the Russell-Tyler-Ruthton boys basketball team used a combination of gritty play, stifling defense and a lot of heart, as the Knights capped off their season with a state championship.

Russell-Tyler-Ruthton senior Westin Kirk played with those same factors, helping guide RTR with a display of both power and finesse. Kirk’s contributions on the court has earned him the 2018 Marshall Independent Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

Kirk said he was completely surprised and honored when he heard the news.

“It’s very surprising and exciting,” Kirk said. “There’s a lot of great athletes in this area and it’s very much an honor to be named that so it’s exciting.”

RTR coach Ted Kern said Kirk is very deserving of the accolade and that it’s a fitting end to his prep career.

“It’s very deserving and it’s kind of a nice culmination to a very good career for a hard-working kid,” he said.

Kern said what makes Kirk’s play on the court so special is that he seems to be in the right place at the right time and has a great feel for the game.

“He never seems to be in the wrong spot. He positions himself very well and just has an instinct to where the ball is going to be,” Kern said. “There’s no way a kid his height should be as effective a rebounder as he is, but he has a knack and a feel for where the ball is going to be and where he needs to be.”

Kirk has been protecting the paint for the Knights for the past four years, leading the team in nearly every category. He averaged 18 points per game (fourth in the area), grabbed almost eight rebounds per game and had 112 total assists, 83 steals and 14 blocks.

The post player’s efforts would pay off for RTR, as the Knights put together its best season in program history at 30-1 and stamped their ticket to their first state tournament in 13 years.

In the state tournament, Kirk would continue his strong play, averaging 16 points and six rebounds per game as RTR took down No. 5 Hinckley-Finlayson, No. 1 Mayer Lutheran and No. 2 North Woods to win its third state title.

Kirk said in addition to winning a state title, what made this season extra special was getting to know his teammates more and it was fun to just go out and play basketball with his friends.

“Just getting to know everyone even more. We’ve played as a team for a couple of years now and it’s just fun playing basketball with your friends in front of a great community that’s always there to support you,” Kirk said. “It’s just fun and refreshing to know that every night you’re going to have fan support and you’re going to have fun playing basketball with your friends.”

Kirk’s efforts at state also earned the senior a pair of additional accolades, as he was named to the All-State All-Tournament team and All-Academic team.

Kern said Kirk has grown a lot both on and off the court and it’s been a pleasure to watch him grow into the person he is today.

“He’s definitely grown as a student and through everything you’ve seen on the football field and basketball court, a tremendous work ethic has gotten him to where he is,” Kern said. “Just watching his personality develop from the time he was an elementary kid; he’s still a very quiet kid but the sense of humor I’ve started to see from him the last two or three years and watching him become an adult has been a pleasure.”

Kirk said Kern and the rest of the staff at RTR have impacted him in a lot of ways and the support has been fantastic.

“With the staff and everyone around here, RTR is a great atmosphere and a lot of support both in education and sports,” Kirk said. “For example Kern is both a math teacher and a coach. He’s taught me math and other life skills that can translate to basketball and in basketball things like hard work can translate to the other. RTR has a great support system on all levels.”

Kirk added his teammates have also had a big impact and they were able to create a contagious positive atmosphere.

“They’re a very special group. The amount of heart and work they put in is unbelievable,” Kirk said. “It’s just contagious; for example, in the weight room everyone wants to come in because it’s such a fun environment and they’re always willing to bring people up and tell them what to do, which is nice and awesome.”

Next season, the Knights will begin their quest to defend their Class A title. Kern said if they’re going to make another deep run to the state tournament, it’s going to start this summer with his returning players but added he hopes what they were able to accomplish this year has inspired and made an impact on future generations.

“Like I said at state, you hope that something like this builds more than just a year and has more of an impact on some of those fourth, fifth and sixth graders than it necessarily does on the guys who are coming back,” Kern said. “I think for the guys that are coming back having been a part of it and having seen the work that our senior class has put in, hopefully they see that and put in the work this summer. This is going to be a big summer for a lot of those freshmen, sophomores and juniors so hopefully they can build on what they saw from our senior class and have a successful year next year.”

Kirk said they just need to continue to play with heart and put in a lot of hard work as well as having some fun along the way to have another successful season.

“Just give it your all and all your heart. Hard work will pay off, that’s how we got there and no one on our team is 50-point scorers,” Kirk said. “Everyone just put in a lot of hard work and heart and you work well together and make sure you have fun, you’re going to have a fun and successful season.”

While Kirk hasn’t officially decided on whether he’ll continue his athletic career to the collegiate level he said he’s definitely going to miss the people around the community and is appreciative of the supports and all the things they were able to do for him.

“Definitely the people. They were just so supportive throughout and they’re always there for you,” Kirk said. “They’ll do anything you want if you ask them and they’re always willing to help. A lot of things that I’ll continue in my life I learned from the people around here and what they’ve experienced.”