Special Trio Creating a Legacy

Nov. 12, 2014

Special Trio Creating a Legacy
By Kane McGuire

Raheem Appleby was too skinny. Kenneth Smith was too unknown. Michale Kyser was committed elsewhere.

Nonetheless, a perfect sequence of circumstances brought these three to Ruston and to the Louisiana Tech Basketball program.

When Michael White was named as the new head coach of the Bulldogs on March 30, 2011, high up on his priority list was to hit the ground running recruiting.

At that point in the spring, the pool of quality players is small and dwindling every second that goes by. Coach White was scrambling to fill his new roster and within a month he found Kyser in Lancaster, Texas, Appleby in Jacksonville, Arkansas and Smith in St. Petersburg, Florida.

"We were incredibly fortunate to be able to locate, evaluate and attract three really good players," White said. "Michale was my first signee as a head coach and if Lamar had not made a coaching change he would not have been available. Speedy and Raheem soon followed, and to this day it still blows my mind that they were available."

With Kyser now in the fold first as a long, athletic shot blocker with a high upside offensively, coach White needed a natural scorer and he found one in Arkansas.

Appleby was a scoring machine at Jacksonville High School, but many programs thought he was too frail with his lanky frame. Coach White disagreed.

Then as a former point guard himself at Ole Miss, White knew he needed a player to run his offense and defense. He needed a playmaker and a winner at the most important position on the court.


 

 

White and his new coaching staff caught wind of an unsigned talented point guard, watched his YouTube highlights, then went to his hometown and were sold.

"I do not know where I would be," Smith said on where he would be had LA Tech not wanted him. "I am in the best position I could possibly be in. LA Tech was the first and last choice for me. It was Division I. It was the only school that wanted me."

Coach White felt like all three would be very good players in the Western Athletic Conference in time and would be the building blocks for the foundation of the culture, program and system.

The stardom of the trio did not happen immediately. Appleby got hurt in fall practice and only played a whopping total of nine minutes in the first six games. Smith started just five of the first 26 games. Kyser was averaged just 13.5 minutes per game.

But after losing four straight to bring their overall record to 11-14, something clicked. The Bulldogs won five of the last six regular season games and then pulled off upsets of perennial WAC powers Utah State and Nevada in the conference tournament.

"When we got to the tournament we were playing really good, maybe because we were always the underdogs and it did not bother us," Appleby said. "I did not realize it at first, but when I saw how hard we practiced and how good we played together, it was then that I realized we could make something special happen."

The three peas in a pod have certainly made something special, as a team and as individuals.

They have combined to win 74 games in three years and are on pace to be the winningest players in LA Tech history. They have helped the program win two conference regular season titles. They have made two National Invitation Tournament appearances. They won a program record 18-straight games. They have been ranked in the top 25 national poll.

Kyser is on pace to be the all-time leader in career blocks. Smith is on pace to be the all-time leader in career assists and steals. Appleby is on pace to finish in the top 10 in career scoring.

"They exceeded my expectations by not only being good WAC players really early in their careers, but by becoming some of the best players in C-USA," White said. "They represent arguably the best passer, scorer and shot blocker in C-USA. All three have sold out to winning above all else and to becoming the best defenders that they possibly can be. They have been nothing short of incredible."

They have combined for 2,413 points, 1,114 rebounds, 747 assists and 334 steals. They have single game records. They have single season records. That is all great and all to these three, but there is a reason why they came up with one word for the upcoming season - finish.

"It is crazy," Smith said on the hurt of coming close to make the NCAA Tournament. "I was thinking about it the other day that we have lost three years in a row with the taste. Freshman year we lost in the championship. Sophomore year we were the No. 1 team. Junior year we lost in the championship.

"Now we have a learning experience. Now if we get put into the situation again, we will be able to build off of experience."

The trio has leaned on each other a lot on the court the past three years. There is a high level of trust that exists throughout the 94-feet of hardwood.

When times have been tough off the court, they have leaned on each other even more.

"I have leaned on them a lot because they guided me and kept telling me to be level-headed with everything," Kyser said. "Even when I got down on myself and I was not playing as much, they told me to keep fighting and moving forward. They told me to keep pushing which was big for my development."

Thanks to a perfect sequence of circumstances, they all came together in the spring of 2011 and have led the program through its conference climb to C-USA all while laying an incredible foundation for the future.

They have ignited a fan base that went from almost dormant to ear-deafening crowds that shake the Thomas Assembly Center to its core.

"It feels good especially knowing where we started," Appleby said. "Our freshman year we really did not have many fans and now we have a big fan base. We have given the school and the town something to be proud of."

Still, the final chapter has yet to be written in this story.

They have one more season on the horizon and according to all three ... that final chapter will be getting to the NCAA Tournament.

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