GIBSONS — Plug his given name into one of those on-line origin sites, and in the case of Elan Kimpton-Cuellar, you get more than a little foreshadowing.
In fact if you’ve not only measured the literal ways in which the 6-foot-5, 205-pound Grade 12 forward with Gibsons’ Elphinstone Cougars has grown over the last two seasons, but also figuratively blossomed on the basketball court, then the fact ‘Elan’ can be roughly translated as ‘Tree’ makes a lot of sense.
Owing to the fact that he’s played at smaller Double-A program, had a massive growth spurt between his Grade 10 and 11 seasons and then a subsequent season-ending injury just weeks into the 2017-18 campaign, Kimpton-Cuellar was pretty much an anonymous face to university recruiters just five months ago.
Yet in one of those rare cases of everything coming together late in his senior season, it has been a healthy, sculpted and confident Kimpton-Cuellar, recently signed by Kamloops’ Thompson Rivers WolfPack, who is looking like one of the true sleepers nationally in the graduating high school Class of 2019.
Earlier this month, prior to the Single-A vs. Double A B.C. high school all-star game at Surrey’s Semiahmoo Secondary School, Kimpton-Cuellar was eye-catching enough in the pre-game warm-ups alone, showcasing as natural a dunking ability as you would have seen anywhere over the course of the 2018-19 B.C. boys high school season.
Once the game started, as part of a balanced attack in a 121-71 victory for Kimpton-Cuellar’s Double-A team, there were at least four dunks, a feather-soft three-point release and tough takes off the bounce into the paint as part of an impressive 14-point outing.
But at the heart of it all, there is an unmistakably lively, athletic basketball body, the kind whose growth, when projected over a five-year U Sports window, makes coaches drool.
“I have never seen anybody with that much untapped potential and he has not even scratched the surface yet,” says Bob Hoy, one of his coaches at Elphinstone and a late 1980s standout at North Delta’s Seaquam Secondary. “He can jump through the gym. He can dribble. And he’s gone on a tear several times this past season where he has hit nothing but threes. If he continues to develop that shot, people aren’t going to know how to handle him. Physically, he’s already got a man’s body.”
Back in January, in a game played at North Vancouver arch-rival Seycove, Kimpton-Cuellar built a quick head of steam at the three-point arc, then proceeded to emphatically dunk over two Seyhawks players with such authority that the gym went silent.
“Jaws just dropped,” Hoy said of a play that directly led to a 94-50 win. “That dunk just finished them.”
So how does a player, whom Hoy can remember as being unable to touch the rim two seasons ago, so drastically re-invent himself?
“I was short, but then in between my Grade 10 and Grade 11 seasons, I started to grow,” Kimpton-Cuellar says, estimating a spurt of somewhere around six-to-seven inches over that period. “That got me to about 6-3 and I’ve grown a couple of inches more since then. But I had so much knee pain.”
He also had a second of misfortune during a Dec. 5 game, just weeks into his Grade 11 season.
In what would end as a convincing 68-38 loss to North Van’s Carson Graham Eagles, Kimpton-Cuellar suffered an injury that would wipe out one of the most fertile growth periods of his entire career.
“I jumped up to block a guy and I landed awkwardly,” says Kimpton-Cuellar. “I wound up breaking my right ankle.”
Yet instead of retreating into his own pity party, Kimpton-Cuellar did everything he could to make that recovery period as productive as possible and it paid off exponentially this past season.
“He trained the whole year,” said Elphinstone coach Shane Heuring, “and that really built his strength. He was always a good athlete, but that just added to his explosiveness. He had been pretty scrawny and lean but being able to work out for a full year, he just started to fill out.”
Then, after a summer spent getting his legs back under him with a talented VanCity Basketball club team, Kimpton-Cuellar — was ready to prove himself over his senior season as a player who had been truly re-invented.
He went on to average 21.3 points and 10 rebounds per game over the course of this past campaign, one in which Hoy comically remembers having to constantly remind his star forward of what he was actually talented enough to accomplish.
“He started the year relatively slow because he still didn’t understand the things that he was capable of doing,” says Hoy. “I would tell him ‘We could use a dunk here’ and he would just go out and do it. It was the same thing when he was wide open from three. That is what I mean when I say he is untapped. When it all comes together with his confidence, he can go as far as he wants.”
Kimpton-Cuellar credits his talented teammate, three-point shooting ace Gus Goerzen, a special player in his own right, for helping him refine his shooting game from distance.
“Gus is such a great shooter and he’s been able to help me so much,” begins Kimpton-Cuellar, “and I have been able to get my athleticism up by working out, and that has helped me body people inside a lot more.”
There are bound to be hurdles at the next level,
TRU coach Clark himself told gowolfpack.ca upon Kimpton-Cuellar’s signing: “We don’t want to put all kinds of pressure on anyone coming out of high school. First year players come in here and not only are they trying to get a sense of where they fit in on the basketball team but also how life in university works. (But) he has the ingredients to be a good basketball player. We will see how he picks up on training, team concepts and all the different aspects of being a student-athlete.”
In the end, however, this is a story of a player just now coming to grips with his next-level skills package.
“I can remember in Grade 10 how he wasn’t able to touch the rim.” Hoy adds. “He could shoot and dribble, but nothing close to this.
“What the heck happened?”
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