MONROE — Long before his potential as a stretch-four forward caught the attention of college basketball scouts, Colby Kyle was showcasing his unique blend of height and athleticism on the soccer pitch.
Kyle took up the sport at age 3 and went on to play select soccer until high school, primarily as a centerback. He still holds a strong passion for the game and considers it his favorite sport to watch.
But his athletic trajectory took a turn in fourth grade, when he decided to give basketball a try.
“People always said to my parents, ‘Hey, you’ve got to get him into basketball — he’s tall,’” Kyle said. “I went out and played Boys and Girls Club in fourth grade, loved it (and) made our feeder team in fifth grade.
“And around seventh (or) eighth grade, I kind of realized I could go somewhere with it.”
Kyle dedicated himself to basketball and developed a complete all-around game, which was on full display last season during an exceptional junior campaign. The versatile 6-foot-8 Monroe forward averaged 16 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks per game, earning him a Class 4A all-state honorable mention.
Then after a strong showing on the AAU circuit this past summer, Kyle committed last month to play Division I basketball at Princeton University.
“Colby’s as good as we’ve had in our league in a long time,” said Glacier Peak coach Brian Hunter, who has spent nearly two decades coaching in Wesco. “He’s a unique player because he can dominate the game on both ends. He’s a really complete big man.”
Kyle possesses rare athleticism and agility for his size, which he credits to his soccer background.
“I think it’s helped my footwork, being able to move quicker laterally and forward and backward,” he said. “And I think it’s mentally helped my vision — seeing the floor.”
One of Kyle’s greatest strengths is shot-blocking, an area he’s excelled in ever since stepping onto the hardwood. The Monroe senior standout is a feared rim protector whose towering length and quickness often lead to multiple emphatic swats per game.
“Most players that block shots come over and rotate from help side — they’re not actually guarding the player that they block the shot of,” first-year Monroe coach Ben Williams said. “He’s so quick that he can block the shot of the guy he’s guarding. … He has long arms and his timing is just really good.”
During the early portion of his basketball career, Kyle played primarily as a post on offense. But in recent years, he’s trained with former Mariner coach Dexter Griffen to develop a perimeter game that complements his interior prowess. Most notably, Kyle has extended his shooting range and improved his ability to attack off the dribble.
“He can obviously finish with the best of them,” said North City AAU coach Andrew Grinaker, who has been coaching Kyle since he was in seventh grade. “There will be plenty of highlight reels this year of him dunking and getting to the hoop.
“But that’s now just one part of his game. He’s no longer one-dimensional. He’s got the ability to hurt you from the inside and the outside.”
The result is a well-rounded offensive arsenal that creates a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses.
“Not only is he strong, but he has a very quick first step,” Grinaker said. “So I think the challenge is (that defenses) will put somebody with a little bit more size on him to try to stop him from backing down. And that’s when he faces up and is able to take advantage of his quickness.
“And when they try to put somebody (on him) that’s a little bit quicker, then he relies on his strength to kind of bully the defender a little bit. So I think he’s learned to size up his defender and figure out what he should go to in order to take advantage of the matchup.”
Williams said Monroe plans to fully utilize Kyle’s versatility.
“He can jump-hook and drop-step and do all of the Kevin McHale moves down by the basket,” Williams said. “But he can put the ball on the floor from the perimeter, too. And he can attack from the high post and the short corner, and be the guy who’s initiating the plays (with) his passing.”
Kyle’s expanded skill set also made him a more attractive college prospect, given basketball’s growing trend toward single-post offensive sets.
“If you’re not going to be a traditional post — which would be someone maybe a little bit taller and heavier than Colby — then you really need to be able to handle the ball, defend on the perimeter and knock down the open 3,” Grinaker said.
As a strong student, Kyle also was recruited by fellow Ivy League schools Dartmouth and Columbia. In addition to elite academics, he ultimately chose Princeton because of the basketball program’s culture and winning tradition. Last season, the Tigers went unbeaten in Ivy League play and reached the NCAA Tournament.
But before he heads east to New Jersey, Kyle is determined to lead the Bearcats to the Tacoma Dome for just the program’s third state appearance since 1953.
Over the past three seasons, Monroe has twice fallen one win short of the state regionals. The most recent near-miss came this past winter, when the Bearcats reached the district title game before seeing their season end with back-to-back losses.
“It’d mean a whole lot to me, and (to) us as a city,” Kyle said of reaching the Tacoma Dome. “Our football team has had success, (and) I think it’d be amazing to follow that right back up with a successful basketball season (in) getting to the dome.
“I went and watched the whole state tournament last year, and I just felt like we should have been there. It (was) definitely dissatisfying, but it also creates that sense of hunger to get there.”
Williams raved about Kyle’s character and leadership ability, praising the example he sets for the rest of the team. Grinaker echoed a similar sentiment.
“Everyone that’s interacted with him just speaks volumes about his character,” Grinaker said. “It’s one thing to have the skills and the talent to play at the next level, but his character is something that will live with him forever.
“Just the way he handles himself and makes sure everyone is involved, it’s more than just basketball to him.”