Tyler Kurtz played on Richland High School’s junior varsity team as a sophomore, and came off the bench for the freshman team the season before that.
Now, the Bombers senior guard/forward is the Tri-City Herald’s All-Area boys basketball Player of the Year.
“I came a long ways,” Kurtz said. “My freshman year I was exclusively a post player. But then I worked on my game, like my dribbling and my shooting and other aspects.
“A lot of it was just working by myself, like in my driveway or in summer league games, or getting in the weight room and working at it.”
On a team comprising mostly sophomores and juniors — and that saw senior Paxton Stevens go down with an injury early in the season — the 6-foot-6 Kurtz provided Richland with a steady, veteran presence, which paced the team to a 21-7 overall record and fifth-place finish at the state tournament.
“Just the stability and quiet leadership that he gave us, he’s not a big talker, but his work ethic in practice is phenomenal,” said Richland’s Earl Streufert, the All-Area Coach of the Year. “In all the years I’ve coached, he’s in the top three or four of guys I’ve had practice-wise. He works so hard every day.”
In leading Richland to its second state placement in the past four years, Kurtz piled up individual accolades this season. He was named the Mid-Columbia Conference Player of the Year after Richland captured its fifth straight league title, and was placed on the 4A boys All-State Tournament second team.
Kurtz averaged 17.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game this season while shooting 53 percent from the field and 79 percent from the free-throw line. He scored a combined 30 points in Richland’s wins over No. 3 Davis and No. 4 Federal Way — the two-time defending state champion — in the opening rounds of the state tournament.
After graduating Steven Beo (BYU) and Landon Radliff (Walla Walla CC) from last year’s team, which failed to make the state regionals, this was supposed to be a rebuild year for Richland. With a deep state tournament run — lost by two to No. 1 Union in the semifinals — fueled in large part by Kurtz’s contributions, the Bombers are feeling good about where they stand in the coming seasons.
“There’s no substitute for that kind of success; success always breeds success,” Streufert said. “Now the expectations are on those guys to get better in the off-season and play better in the regular season, just to improve their game.”
While disappointed he didn’t get to play for a state title this year, Kurtz was still able to appreciate how important the season was for the future of Bombers basketball.
“I think it will definitely help, just having that experience at the state tournament,” he said. “Not a lot of young players get to have that, so when they make it back, hopefully next year, then they’ll have the experience and hopefully do really well.”
Kurtz will wrap up his high school athletic career running track for the Bombers. Last year he was on the state-qualifying 4x400-meter relay team and made it to regionals in the 200 and 400 as an individual.
WELCOME TO THE SPOTLIGHT
While Kurtz was rock solid for the Bombers from Day 1 this season, perhaps no one in the state had a more impressive, and eye-opening, performance at the Hardwood Classic than Richland junior forward Riley Sorn, who is also on the All-Area first team.
Tacoma crowds were eager to see the 7-3 Sorn do his thing, but the big man didn’t feel much of that pressure, embracing the Bombers’ role as an underdog with a No. 11 seed.
“No one was really thinking about us, we were kind of flying under the radar, if you will,” Sorn said. “No one was really expecting anything from us, so there was kind of no weight on your shoulders.”
In all four of the Bombers’ games at the T-Dome, Sorn was dynamic on both ends of the floor. He averaged 12.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in those contests, and set a 4A tournament record with 30 blocks.
Fans, scouts and media members alike took notice. Sorn was voted to the All-Tournament first team and was called one of the state’s top juniors during Root Sports Northwest’s broadcast of the 4A boys championship game.
On Monday, Sorn was announced as a member of the Under Armour Association’s Washington Supreme, a travel team that comprises the state’s top players to compete in premier tournaments around the country.
“Things have definitely changed,” he said. “People have been coming out of the woodwork to talk to me, AAU teams and all of these new people that want to talk to me now. I’m kind of out there, and it’s a new experience for me. It’s kind of cool, and kind of weird.”
Sorn averaged 12.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game this season.
ROUNDING OUT THE FIRST TEAM
In the past, the Herald has only had five players on each of its All-Area teams. But because of the huge success of the Mid-Columbia’s schools this season — Richland’s state placement and Kamiakin’s 3A sub-regional championship — six players were named to each the first and second teams.
Other than Kurtz and Sorn, the rest of the first team includes:
GARRETT PAXTON, JR., G, KAMIAKIN: As the kicker on the Braves football team, Paxton — like many of his basketball teammates — got a late start to his season because of the fall state championship run. He didn’t seem to miss a beat though, and finished as Kamiakin’s leader with 15.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game to help the team to an MCC-GSL 3A sub-regional championship and 19-4 record. The Braves lost their glue-crossover game at home against Bellevue, which ended their season one game short of a second straight state regional appearance. Paxton had 26 points and 10 rebounds when Kamiakin went on the road to beat Richland 74-71 in overtime Jan. 14.
ISAIAH BRIMMER, SR., G/F, KAMIAKIN: Brimmer also had a football-related late start to his basketball season, but was critical to the Braves’ success all the same. He averaged 14.6 points and 5.7 rebounds per game this season, and his combination of size (6-6) and athleticism allowed Kamiakin to play at a fast tempo and score 60.8 points per game in the regular season while giving up a league-low 48.5 points. Brimmer has signed to play football for Idaho State next year.
COLE NORTHROP, SO., G, RICHLAND: As a freshman, Northrop was fine with filling the role of sharp shooter while Beo and Radliff ran the show. He still knocked down 66 3-pointers this season (31 percent) and shot 82 percent from the foul line, but he came into his own as a more complete player, averaging more than four assists and rebounds per game while scoring 16.7 points.
BEN SEAMAN, SR., G, HANFORD: The MCC scoring champion proved to be one of the best all-around players in the area this season. In addition to the 19.6 points per game he scored, he also led or tied for the team lead with 6.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists while shooting 80.9 percent from the free-throw line. The Falcons, however, were one of the youngest teams in the conference and finished with a 6-17 record.
ALL-AREA BOYS BASKETBALL TEAM
Player of the Year: Tyler Kurtz, sr., G/F, Richland. Coach of the Year: Earl Streufert, Richland.
First Team: Kurtz, sr., G/F, Richland; Garrett Paxton, jr., G, Kamiakin; Riley Sorn, jr., F, Richland; Isaiah Brimmer, sr., G/F, Kamiakin; Cole Northrop, so., G, Richland; Ben Seaman, sr., G, Hanford.
Second Team: JR Delgado, sr., SF, Warden; Scott Blakney, sr., F, Prosser; Champ Grayson, jr., G, Kamiakin; Mitch Lesmeister, sr., G, Walla Walla; Sergio Pineda, jr., P, Wahluke; Malik Taylor, sr., G, Chiawana.
Honorable Mention: Cody Sanderson, so., G, Richland; Logan Mullen, sr., P, Walla Walla; Gunner Chronis, jr., G/P, Grandview; Jenner Norwood, jr., F, Kennewick; Leo Olmos, sr., G, Kennewick; Nate Brown, sr., Prosser; Gabe Esqueda, jr., P/C, Grandview; Ryan Wagar, jr., G, Richland; Koby Bailey, sr., G, Kamiakin; Caden Kaelber, sr., P, Chiawana; Estevan Cardoza, sr., G, Pasco; Garrett Streufert, so., G, Richland; Connor Woodward, so., G, Hanford; Brian Hawkins, sr., G, Connell; Jermaine Broetje, sr., G, Burbank; Adam Richins, sr., G, Warden; Nathan Buck, sr., G, Wahluke.