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One heady player: Concordia's Kory Kirwan

by: PHOTO BY CHRIS OERTELL - Concordia University sophomore Kory Kirwan posts up New Hope Christian's Bryce Sullivan during a men's basketball game in Portland on Nov. 13. Kirwan, who was the Pacific Conference Player of the Year during his senior season at Glencoe, is using his smarts on the basketball court to flourish in his second season of college basketball at Concordia.Concordia trailed Corban 68-67 with time running down in the second half of their Cascade Collegiate Conference basketball game on Jan. 12.

As the Cavaliers brought the ball down court, forward Kory Kirwan set a screen for guard Willy Ligon. Ligon got open and fired a shot. As soon as he had set the screen, Kirwan was already thinking about getting the rebound.

“I tried to get into good rebounding position just in case,” Kirwan says. “I have confidence in Willy, but just in case something happened, I tried to get into good rebound position.”

Ligon’s shot rimmed out.

With inside position on his man, Kirwan leaped up and grabbed the rebound. Before he descended back down to the floor, Kirwan put the ball back up, sending it through the hoop with 1.3 seconds left to give the Cavaliers a 69-68 win.

Kirwan having the presence of mind to not only set the screen, but to put himself into position for a game-winning rebound and put-back does not surprise Concordia coach Brad Barbarick. Kirwan, a 6-foot-5 sophomore out of Glencoe High, may not be the biggest or the most athletic player on the court every night. But, his basketball IQ sets him apart from the competition.

“He’s really cerebral and he’s very smart,” Barbarick says. “He’s an extremely good student. That translates well onto the basketball court. He’s very, very strong. He’s an undersized post at the college level, but he makes up for it with his strength, his toughness and his smart play.

“Because of his strength and his cerebral play he makes up for some of his lack of athleticism and quickness by doing other things.”

From an early age, Kirwan made playing basketball more than just a physical act.

“I just grew up that way,” Kirwan says. “I’ve been playing basketball since I was four or five years old. I always knew that I wasn’t going to be the most athletic kid out there. I had to do other things to step up my game and play more of a cerebral role.”

Kirwan eventually became a star for Glencoe.

“I loved playing for Glencoe and going to Glencoe was awesome,” Kirwan says. “Everybody around there was really supportive of all the sports. It was really nice to have all of that support.”

Basketball was not Kirwan’s only love growing up. He was also a talented first baseman on the baseball diamond and a defensive end and tight end on the gridiron. Eventually, Kirwan decided that basketball held the brightest future for him.

“I was busy all year round,” Kirwan says. “I loved all the other sports. My senior year I didn’t know which one I wanted to play or which one I wanted to do. The best opportunity just happened to come out of basketball. I took that opportunity and embraced it. I had to say goodbye to some of the other sports, but overall, those have helped me keep athletic and think all the time and do things with competition.

“Sometimes I get those days where I still wish I was playing baseball or I wish I was playing football. But I’m happy with the decision I made to stick with basketball.”by: PHOTO BY CHRIS OERTELL - Concordia sophomore and former Glencoe star Kory Kirwan (33) goes up for a rebound over David Clarke of Oregon Tech during a men's basketball game on Dec. 22.

His senior year, Kirwan was named the Pacific Conference Player of the Year and was one of the top scorers in the state. That made him a hot commodity for the Concordia program.

“We really liked him because he was a big scorer,” Barbarick says. “We knew he was tough, we knew he was really, really smart. We worked really hard to recruit him and felt like he fit really, really well in our program. That certainly has been the case. He’s been a tremendous fit and he’s a great leader on our campus.”

Barbarick made a good impression on Kirwan and eventually convinced him to join the Cavaliers.

“Coach Barbarick and I talked a little bit and we kept talking,” Kirwan says. “It overall ended up being the best fit for not only basketball, but for school, too.”

In his first year at Concordia, Kirwan appeared in 28 games and made two starts. He averaged 2.4 points and 2.2 rebounds per game and had a then career high of 11 points against the College of Idaho.

“He had a real solid freshman year,” Barbarick says. “It was a pretty good jump for him as far as his athleticism.”

There were still a lot of adjustments that Kirwan had to make.

“It was definitely an adjustment,” Kirwan says. “You don’t really take into account the speed of the game when you move from college to high school. In high school you’re the most athletic kid out there, the most skilled player.

“It was a little different being the top guy in high school and then coming here and being one of the bottom guys who does all the laundry. You’ve kind of got to take your lumps and eventually you grow in the program and you hone your skills a little bit and it works out.”

As a sophomore, Kirwan has felt much more comfortable on the court.

“I’ve been a lot more confident in myself,” Kirwan says. “I had a year here and I wasn’t really a new guy anymore. My approach to it has been a lot different. I’ve been able to log some good minutes and be a consistent player for our team who is trying to help us win.

“It’s been a pretty good growing year from last year. I had to step in to a bigger role with minutes and more of an older player role with some new guys coming in. It’s been a different role for me this year, definitely.”

So far this season, Kirwan is averaging 8.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.

“He’s been playing marvelously,” Barbarick says. “He’s really competed well this year. He’s one of our key guys.”

There are still some things that Barbarick wants Kirwan to work on over his last two and a half seasons at Concordia.

“We’d like for him to be a little more athletic,” Barbarick says. “I don’t know if that’s going to translate into this season. But, in the offseason he’s a guy who is going to continue to work to get a little more athletic and a little quicker. Those are the things that he’ll need to continue to do to continue to be really successful.”

On the court, Kirwan has goals of the Cavs someday competing for a conference championship. His goals and expectations for himself in the classroom are just as lofty.

During his first three semesters at Concordia, Kirwan is averaging a 3.57 GPA, which includes a 3.86 mark last semester.

“It started with my parents,” Kirwan says. “If you didn’t get an ‘A’ in your classes, you weren’t going to be doing too well in their eyes. They’ve always expected a lot from me in school because they knew that I was capable of it. They did little things like making me do my homework before I did anything else after school and that’s just always the way it has been.

“Now, I have to continue that and they’re still pushing me and behind me. It’s nice to have my parents behind me in my school work because that helps out a lot.”

Kirwan is majoring in biology with the hope of going on to medical school.

“The medical field was something I grew up with because my mom was a nurse practitioner,” Kirwan says. “She’s always talked about that with me and it’s always intrigued me. I’ve grown up around it, I’ve liked it and it seems like it clicks in my brain.”

Kirwan is the kind of player who can change the course of the game with both his talent and his mind. He is also the kind of student athlete that can change the face of a program.

In all of that and much more, Barbarick says that Kirwan is a complete package.

“He’s a marvelous young man,” Barbarick says. “He’s really given us a lift with not only his play on the court but with his character and his academics. He’s extremely bright and hard working. Those are the kind of guys who you like to coach.”