Ben Kuiper chose to be a Titan.
The University High junior forward is a home-schooler who started his high school basketball career at Freeman.
“My parents wanted me to go to Freeman,” he said. “They liked that it’s a smaller school. There are something like 1,700 students at U-Hi; at Freeman there are 250.
“Me? I wasn’t so happy with the drive. It was a 20-minute drive to school every morning.”
And then there’s basketball.
Kuiper went through a one-year growth spurt that saw him step on the basketball court for the Scotties’ varsity as a 6-2 freshman.
“I grew 8 inches in one year – it was pretty dramatic,” said Kuiper, who added 2 more inches for his junior season. “We were pretty small at Freeman. I think the coach called me up because I was one of his taller players.”
Kuiper played with the U-Hi summer league team after his freshman season, and he made the decision to stay closer to home in the Spokane Valley.
“I think my parents were good either way, Freeman or U-Hi, in the end,” he said. “I liked Coach (Garrick) Phillips a lot. I liked the players. I just knew I wanted to be part of that program.”
The adjustment from Class 1A basketball to Class 3A was fairly easy, he said.
“I played on the varsity at Freeman as a freshman and I played junior varsity at U-Hi – they’re fairly comparable,” he said. “And having played varsity before made the transition to playing varsity this year easier. There’s a difference in the intensity of practices and games when you’re on the varsity. And, of course, there’s a big difference in talent.”
While Kuiper plays basketball for the Titans, he’s really only on campus for basketball practice. He’s part of the Running Start program and takes classes at Spokane Community College.
Kuiper has been a solid contributor this season as the Titans rebuilt after last year’s third-place state tournament finish. Against Rogers, he and 6-6 center Brett Bailey combined to score 61 points in a come-from-behind win.
Of course, Bailey scored 47 of those points.
“It has been so much fun to play alongside a player like Brett this year,” Kuiper said. “I sometimes think we don’t fully appreciate just how good of a player he really is because we see him every day in practice. But he is so much better than everyone else.”
Bailey is definitely a role model in the program, Kuiper said.
“He’s always positive, he’s a tremendous leader and probably the most genuine guy I know,” he said. “You would think that a player as good as he is, who gets as much attention as he does, would be cocky, but he’s the most humble guy you’ll ever meet.
“He definitely sets an example for us all.”
Kuiper and the Titans play at 6 p.m. in a loser-out, winner to the Tacoma Dome, playoff game today at University against Enumclaw.
“There are so many emotions going through me this week,” Kuiper said. “We’ve had a couple pretty intense days of practice. We started out a little loose after winning district, but then Coach Phillips reminded us that this could be the last game for guys like Brett. I don’t think any of us want that to happen.”
Enumclaw is one of those West Side teams that is very good, but doesn’t get the kind of attention that teams from the Metro League and Kingco Conference get.
“They’re going to present a challenge for us,” Kuiper said. “They’re really tall. They start a 6-8 guy and they have three 6-4 guys to go with him. That’s a bigger team than we’re used to playing.
“But at the same time, we’ve played teams like Gonzaga Prep and Central Valley in our league. I think that’s got us pretty well prepared.”
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