By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
Kale Schmidt got a taste of the big time 21/2 weeks ago, when he got off the bench, checked into the first half of a game at Gonzaga’s McCarthy Indoor Arena and played 14 minutes in front of 6,000 rabid GU fans.
Schmidt scored a season-high six points in that game — albeit an exhibition that didn’t count on either team’s record — then went back to the bench of the Lewis-Clark State men’s basketball team, for which he’s played just 47 minutes in the unbeaten Warriors’ first 12 games.
But that’s OK with Schmidt, who already has proven he’s not that interested in the big time.
A track and basketball star who grew up on a lake in the rural Seven Lakes area near Stanwood, Schmidt got his taste of the big city when he spent one year at the University of Washington on a track scholarship in 2010-11. He proved he belonged at that level, posting the third-highest heptathlon score in school history, and yet something about UW just wasn’t working out.
Actually, two things. Schmidt didn’t like the idea of a big school in a big city, and he also didn’t like how much he missed playing basketball.
“I wanted to get back into the game,” said the 6-foot-3 shooting guard, who helped lead Stanwood High School to the 2010 state basketball tournament. “I missed the team camaraderie with basketball over track, which is more of an individual sport.”
And so Schmidt, having set himself up as a big part of the future of the UW track team, is now balancing both sports at tiny Lewis-Clark State, a four-year school in Lewiston, Idaho, with an enrollment of fewer than 4,000 students.
“I wouldn’t really read into it too much,” Schmidt said of his decision to leave UW for LCS two summers ago. “There’s a right school for everyone and a wrong school. I guess I just wasn’t ready for that big of a school, for that big of a campus at the time. If I was to go there (to UW) now, I would be ready for it. But now that I’m here, I plan to finish off school here and my athletics and go from there.”
A kinesiology major — UW didn’t offer that program — Schmidt looks back on his decision with just a slight tinge of regret. He misses his friends and the heightened track competition at UW, and he’s gotten so little playing time on the LCS basketball team that he sounds like he’s considering making this his final season on the hardwood.
Schmidt understands that track is his best sport — he won the state decathlon title in 2009 and finished second in 2010 — and the tightrope of competing in both basketball and track has been a tough one to balance.
“I knew it would be hard,” said Schmidt, who had just one day off between basketball and track seasons last year and is still looking for his first break, a four-day hiatus over Christmas, of the 2011-12 season. “I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy endeavor. Coming into last year, I was really excited. This year, I’m really excited to do both but I also realize that it’s really hard on my body.”
Schmidt has been on quite a ride with the LCS basketball team this season. The Warriors have won 12 consecutive games, the best start in school history — the exhibition loss to Gonzaga notwithstanding — and as of the middle of last week were one of just four unbeaten teams in NAIA men’s basketball. He’s enjoying getting to know his teammates on a roster that has 12 transfers, including former Mountlake Terrace grad Jacob Champoux, a North Seattle Community College product who plans to accompany Schmidt on his drive back to this side of the state for Christmas break.
But Schmidt also has been fighting a nagging hamstring injury that limited his track participation last season, and there’s a part of him that wonders just how far he could have gone had he stayed at UW.
“In the end, I like my decision and the decision I made to transfer over here,” he said via telephone from Lewiston last week. “It’s definitely easier to go to a smaller school from a big school than from a big school to another bigger school.
“I do have some regrets transferring — being at a higher level of a track program; the level of competition (in NAIA), it isn’t as big. But it’s what I expected when I came over. All in all, I like the decision I made, and it was the right decision for me in the end.”
Schmidt could count on one hand how many times he played basketball while at UW. His highlight came when he showed up for a pickup game at the rec center and ended up running with current Huskies Scott Suggs and Desmond Simmons. Now that he’s at LCS, the former Stanwood track and basketball star is getting more practice time on the hardwood — even if his minutes in games are rare.
But there was that trip to Spokane, where Schmidt got to play 14 minutes and test his skills against the 12th-ranked team in the nation.
“That,” he said, “was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”