ELKHART — Kyle Sears might be the best basketball player the Memorial Crimson Chargers have gone against this season.
Yet, he hasn’t been able to stop them from bettering a won-loss standard that he helped establish 10 years ago.
In fact, he has contributed to them bettering it.
“Don’t remind me,” Sears kidded this week as the 22-1 Chargers continued preparations for Saturday’s Class 4A Michigan City Regional.
“Actually, it’s funny,” Sears said, “because I said all along that this team was going to make a run at that record. Of course, I called a couple of my buddies from that team and said, ‘Hey, did you see what this team did?’ and they’re like, ‘Yeah, we saw,’ but, really, I couldn’t be happier for these guys.”
Sears is in his fourth year as a Memorial assistant coach.
In 2001-02, he was a senior starter on the Charger club that posted the program’s best winning percentage until this season at 20-3.
Sears then went on to star at Bethel College and play two years professionally, including one with the Elkhart Express, before settling in as a teacher at Jimtown Intermediate, where he is in his fourth year.
He can’t seem to stop competing, though.
“That’s a major reason that coaching fits me we well,” Sears said. “I don’t know where it’s going to take me, but as long as I’m this competitive, I gotta keep coaching.”
Memorial head coach Mark Barnhizer is happy to take advantage of the 6-foot-5 Sears remaining competitive.
“Kyle brings a lot of energy, not only as a coach, but by also being out there playing,” Barnhizer said of Sears, who scrimmages against the Charger starters in practice.
“Last week, he was Franko House, Lucas Grose and Nate Ritchie,” Barnhizer said of star players from Concord, Warsaw and Northridge, respectively, that Memorial faced during the sectional, “and he may be better than those guys, because he’s older and has kept playing. It’s just something that really helps a program to have a young coach with his energy.”
“I don’t know about that,” Sears said with a laugh when told that Barnhizer compared him favorably to those other players, “but I do like to think that if our guys can guard me, they can guard most guys in the area. It’s hard to imitate different guys just because the way they play is so different, but it’s a fun challenge.”
Sears says he was merely “an average high school player,” but his stock soared while at Bethel, where he scored 1,417 career points.
“Part of it,” Sears said of his relatively late basketball ascension, “was I didn’t play AAU. Part of it was I played three sports in high school (football and baseball the others), which I wouldn’t trade for anything, but when I started playing only basketball, that really honed for me what I was trying to do. When I got to Bethel, I saw what the college game was going to take, my work ethic got better and Coach (Mike) Lightfoot really pushed me and helped me get quite a bit better.”
Now Sears is trying to help the Chargers get better.
“I like still being involved with teenage guys,” Sears said, “helping them progress as basketball players and, really, molding them for what’s coming in their life.”
He says the current group reminds him some of that 2001-02 club, which was coached by Steve Johnson and featured an across-the-board-strong starting five in seniors Clint Adell (16.9 points per game), Quennel Young (14.4), Sears (8.9), Erik Smith (8.7) and Tristan Miller (8.3), plus reliable reserves Trent Osborn and Scott Murphy.
“The major similarities between the two teams are a lot of seniors, guys who play together, have a lot of fun playing together and play hard,” Sears said. “The major difference would be we played (3-2) matchup zone and this team presses everybody. The other difference is just — hey, this team’s won more games.”
The ’01-02 Chargers lost only in the Northern Lakes Conference Tournament final to host Warsaw and twice by three points each to South Bend Washington. The second loss to Washington came at the Michigan City Regional, where Washington then lost 70-62 in the final to eventual Class 4A state champ Gary West.
Barnhizer says Sears will be “an outstanding head coach someday” if he chooses to pursue that path, while Sears says “I’m very happy here right now. It’s just every enjoyable.”
It’s also something of a family affair. Kyle’s dad, Craig — who is also Memorial’s softball coach — is the basketball team’s statistician, assisted by Kyle’s mom, Karen, while Kyle’s wife of five years, Kara, and children, 3-year-old daughter Payton and 19-month-old son Ethan, are also typically seated near center court at games.
Kyle Sears hopes there’s a few more games left to this season.
“I’ve got a good feeling,” Sears said. “These guys listen well, prepare well, pay attention to the scouting reports, so I expect big things from this group. They’re ready to go.”