SURREY — It takes but a second to step outside the box, and that’s what both Dylan Kinley and I are doing on a weekday afternoon, chatting about perception, reality and how, in the end, what matters most is the wiring between the heart and the brain.
Do you know his full story?
I didn’t until recently.
What I’ve known for the past two seasons in watching this spring-loaded, super athletic, ultra-intuitive guard with Surrey’s Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers is that he is as smart and as natural a basketball player as your apt to see anywhere in our province.
Last season, as a Grade 11, he scored 51 points in a game against Abbotsford’s Yale Lions at the Fraser Valley AAAA championships.
Over the weekend, against the same school in the championship final of its own invitational tournament, he scored 53 points en route to leading his team to the title and, in the process, was named the tourney’s MVP.
Yet what I’ve recently discovered is that all of that talent pales in the face of his greatest gift: A level of empathy and understanding so enormous that it challenges you, at every turn, to re-consider your definition of the word ‘impairment’.
“I have dyslexia and I am completely open about it,” says the 6-foot-3 senior point guard of the challenges he faces in several areas of learning. “I am in Grade 12 but my reading level might be more like Grade 7. But people have always been there to help me, and so I like to give back at what I am good at.”
Of course that has meant taking a leading role in games with the Panthers, but it has also meant paying forward anything he can to help teammates in need.
“For me, what makes him stand out is the balance he strikes between excellence and kindness,” says Tweedsmuir senior varsity head coach Drew Gallacher, who has been re-united with Kinley this season after last coaching him as an eighth-grader during the 2013-14 campaign.
“Really, he has the perfect combination,” Gallacher continues. “Off the court, he is a model citizen, empathetic to mankind. And yet Dylan has this fire in his belly. When he steps between the lines, he is so fired up. And the way he moves and controls his body in the air, you just can’t teach that. That part of him, it’s like he’s a freak of nature. But he puts so much time into skill development that his muscle memory is just unreal. He is that competitor who will never quit.”
For Kinley, nothing about getting to his senior season has been easy, yet his arrival as one of the province’s fast-rising elite stars should bring anyone with even a shred of a underdog DNA to their feet.
“My mom likes to joke that the reason they took something away from me was to give me a boost in another thing,” adds Kinley of the contrast between, say reading and the ability to digest even the most complicated basketball concepts.
“When I am on the court, I see every option,” he continues. “All of it just flows through my head. It’s hard to explain.”
But easy to applaud.
ME AND A MENTOR ON THIS KID NAMED KINLEY
On a Sunday morning in mid-December, I got a call from a coach for whom I hold a massive measure of respect.
Since the 1980s, when I first began my quest to learn about the game of basketball as a reporter, Bill Disbrow has helped me both see and understand the game.
Always, our talks come down to what makes this game so beautiful, and that is to understand and appreciate how simple it all really is.
On that morning, we got around to talking about his current team, Vancouver’s St. George’s Saints, and how they had pulled out a 97-90 overtime win over Lord Tweedsmuir the night before.
Last season, St. George’s met and defeated Tweedsmuir in the opening round of the B.C. AAAA championships.
I had watched that game, and then a week before Disbrow’s call, had again watched Kinley play several games at my own tournament, the Tsumura Basketball Invitational.
“We were very impressed by him last year,” said Disbrow. “He understands the game. He is great passer. A great shooter and scorer. He takes it to the rim well. He finds open guys and he gets the ball to them with perfect touch. That is something not many guys can do.”
Gallacher, himself a veteran coach, is well versed in the history of Disbrow’s man-to-man pressure defence. Yet he noted that Disbrow took a different approach when it came time to guarding Kinley.
“They doubled Dylan every time he touched the ball,” said Gallacher. “That shows you what Bill thinks of him because he usually just plays high pressure (defence).”
Added Disbrow: “It’s kind of like (Bill) Belichick would do, in that you take their best player out of the game. We tried to get him to give it up because it then becomes difficult for him to get it back. (Lord Tweedsmuir) has a lot of very good players, but they are not (Kinley).”
That is just the truth.
“The (government) has delegated that he can get support so he will be able to play (next season at the university level),” says Gallacher.
PAYING IT FORWARD
Back in October, I was inspired to write a story about the struggles that Lord Tweedsmuir wide receiver and guard Thomas Box has had to overcome, leaving more than half of his brothers and sisters behind in the South Sudan, fleeing the strife of his native country for a better shot at success in Canada. (Click here to read Box’s story)
And when I spoke to Kinley, I was heartened to hear that among the teammates he has developed a special bond with, one of them is his fellow senior Box.
“Thomas has been my ride-or-die since Grade 7,” says Kinley, of the figurative term to ride out any problems a friend may have or die trying. “I know his whole back story. He has opened up to me and I have always tried to help him out. He’s like a brother to me.”
And Kinley would also include his mentoring role Jake Gallacher, the son of the head coach.
“For me, I remember him being a real gym rat when I coached him (in Grade 8),” remembers Drew Gallacher, who guides the senior team this season along with Bill Ruby, another of the province’s true veteran bench bosses and a longtime fixture in Surrey high school circles.
“Any time he had a bad day, he would go into the gym and shoot and it would ease the pain of his obstacles,” the coach added. “Back then he would be competing against guys three-to-four years older than himself, and he would walk out of the gym feeling great.”
If his dyslexia has made tasks like reading and spelling a special challenge, perhaps there is something to what he and his mom Kim often joke about, that he has been given gifts in other areas of his life.
“Dylan has paid it forward to all of the kids, including my own son,” continues Gallacher of passing his basketball wisdom on to teammates. “He helps others because of the pain he has endured through school, and when you watch him, you see that he treats everyone on our team, all the way to our 12th man, exactly the same way. ”
BULLIED BUT UNBOWED
It’s heartening to see that despite the figurative stones he’s had tossed in his direction, that Dylan Kinley keeps finding a way to put compassion at the top of his list.
His story reminds me of current UBC Thunderbirds’ freshman volleyball player Coltyn Liu, who as a toddler suffered numerous injuries including brain trauma when he was struck down inside a shopping mall by a vendor pushing a metal crate.
The Van Tech star went on to become of B.C.’s great high school sports success stories.
I led Liu’s story off by writing: “Coltyn Liu’s greatest gift has always been the fact that his optimism rivals his grit.”
Like Liu, Kinley has had huge obstacles to overcome, and that’s not including the ones he’s had in the classroom.
“In Grade 4, I changed schools to get more help with my dyslexia,” Kinley begins. “There was a kid who was a year older that knew about the program I was in. He figured I was dumb, and one day at lunch, he physically tried to bully me. I shied away. I told my mom about it, and I was home-schooled for two months after that. I was terrified. I didn’t want to leave my house. I just stayed home and played basketball.”
The best part?
“I later went back to the same school and I stayed the course,” he says.
And proved that, through the sheer power of belief in himself, that he could flip the script and begin to embody, to so many others, the feeling of empowerment.
Yes, Dylan Kinley started life without so many of the gifts we take for granted.
Yet the most amazing part of it all, is that he never took for granted that the gifts he was given in lieu.
Instead, he’s used them to write his own story, a story that the rest of us would be challenged to tell any bit as well.
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