Perhaps just as important as the education one receives in college is the opportunity to make lifelong connections that extend beyond four years on campus.
Sometimes those connections find you before you even start your first class.
That’s the case for Princeton-bound basketball player Colby Kyle.
Kyle, who just finished a decorated basketball career at Monroe High School, is set to become an Ivy Leaguer in the fall, but still had an entire summer in the Pacific Northwest to work on his game and prepare himself for the increased physical demand of playing basketball at the Division-I level.
The problem for the 6-foot-8 forward was finding a level of competition that would truly push him.
“(The coaches at Princeton) like for all of us to be doing some sort of pick-up (games) at some point,” Kyle said. “There wasn’t really anything going on besides just the pick-up at the local YMCA, (and) the pick-up (there) just wasn’t quite up to par.”
That’s when Kyle and his coaches at Princeton turned to Mike Washington Jr., who played at Princeton from 2012-2016 and graduated from Oak Harbor High School, to use his connections in the area to help get Kyle into the highest level of competition offered in Washington over the summer — The CrawsOver Pro-Am League, which is ran by Seattle hoops legend and three-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford.
“When the coaches called me to see about getting him on the team, it wasn’t something I thought twice about,” Washington said. “This case is special for me because not only is he from the Northwest, not only is he from the Seattle area, (but) he played in Wesco. I have a very similar background to him.”
Washington got in touch with his friends from the area, including Chicago Bulls guard and Bothell High School graduate Zach LaVine and former college player Glen Dean. Kyle landed on the Bellingham Slam, the team LaVine plays for when he’s able to make an apperance at the pro-am.
“Already I can tell it’s just gonna be a really good bridge for me from high school ball to the college level,” Kyle said. “Just seeing the increase in pace, the physicality and the overall IQ level is definitely gonna help. It’s very advantageous to me as a player to get the opportunity.”
Washington, who lives in New York City, had never met Kyle but had heard about him through his father, Mike Washington Sr., who coached his son at Oak Harbor and is now the head boys basketball coach at South Whidbey High School.
Washington Sr. also who helped connect Kyle and his AAU coaches at North City Hoops with Princeton in the first place.
“It’s been kind of a cool relationship,” North City AAU coach Andrew Grinaker said of Kyle’s connection with the Washington family. “We heard that (Princeton) might be interested in Colby originally, and I reached out to Mike Washington Sr. and asked him if he would pass along any coaching numbers from the staff at Princeton that he got to know because his son played there. He shared one of those phone numbers, we reached out and they kind of started recruiting him from there. It’s kind of cool to see that local sort of connection to help out with something that’s so far away.”
When the younger Washington found out Kyle was interested in Princeton, he began to follow Kyle’s play on the court.
“I had heard that we had another Wesco kid coming to Princeton and I was pretty excited,” Washington Jr. said. “I wanted to be a part of that, not only for him, but as part of the Princeton basketball family.”
Now Kyle is getting a chance to test his skills against some of the best basketball players with ties to Seattle area. Crawford, Spencer Hawes, Dejounte Murray, Jaylen Nowell and Martell Webster are just some of the several former and current pro and college players that are competing at the pro-am, which began play July 7 with games at Seattle Pacific University.
“I’m hoping some of it will rub off on me and I’ll pick up a couple pointers from some of the guys that really know what they’re talking about,” Kyle said.
Along with getting the benefit of being exposed to the speed and physicality of playing against so many guys that have competed at the highest levels, Kyle wants to show the basketball hotbed that is the Seattle hoops scene extends north of the 206 area code.
“A lot of me wants to just prove that there’s more to basketball in Washington state than just the Metro and the South Puget Sound League and all that,” Kyle said. “Some of us Wesco guys can really play.”
Kyle got his first opportunity to show he can hang with best when he helped the Slam beat a team that featured Nowell, an All-Pac-12 Freshman Team selection this past season at the University of Washington, a performance that included drawing a foul and scoring over the Huskies’ star on a baseline drive.
“It was cool, but I’ve also always known that I’m capable of playing at that level,” said Kyle, who added that not having the Pac-12 label doesn’t mean he can’t go head-to-head with guys that do.
S/O to @colbykyle11 for his first appearance in the Pro-Am #Crawsover (@JCrossover) league today. Strong day playing for Bellingham Slam including this And-1 over Pac-12 All Freshmen Jaylen Nowell. #northcityfam #IvyLeagueBoy pic.twitter.com/NQXKSYzXsf— North City Basketball (@NorthCityAAU) July 16, 2018
That can-do mentality and confidence is something Slam player-coach Tyler Amaya highlighted.
“I love his attitude,” Amaya said. “He comes ready to play, comes ready to compete, he doesn’t back down from anybody, he’s got a really nice shot and he’s shown the ability to get to the hoop and finish on some pretty bigger, athletic guys.”
With a 4-1 record so far, Kyle and the Slam look primed to make the league’s playoffs, which run into the final weekend of August.
But after that it’s time for the soon-to-be college freshman to head to a school that most people don’t get into with a basketball experience that most don’t receive.
He’s got the Washington family to thank for giving him a hand along the way.