Des Moines – Her son would swish another 12-foot shot, and she would coax him closer. “I’d try to get him into the lane, to take a 10-footer,” LeeAnna Kalscheur said. “He’d always back up.”
For Gabe Kalscheur, “back” proved to be the right direction. On Thursday, the Gophers freshman scored a game-high 24 points in his first NCAA tournament game, making five of his 11 three-point attempts as Minnesota beat Louisville 86-76.
Kalscheur is the best shooter and defender on a team that has won 22 games and will face Michigan State on Saturday in Des Moines. He honed his stroke while practicing with his mother, a standout basketball player for Cal Poly Pomona and Nebraska.
When they lived in Eden Prairie, they’d hit the courts at Life Time Fitness. When they moved to Edina, they kept their Life Time membership and wore out the hoop in the driveway. LeeAnna turned Gabe’s two-handed push shot into the work of living art that promises to make him one of the great shooters in Gophers history.
“She’s a big influence,” Kalscheur said on Friday after the Gophers’ practice at Wells Fargo Arena. “She’s always been there for me. I was chunky when I was little. I was a post. Then she taught me how to shoot.”
“As a youth, he just had fun with it,” LeeAnna said. “When he got older, he had a nice, high release because of the way he learned to shoot, and because he was so strong. I always challenged him to be committed to his form.
“Even now, he does ask me to go get shots up with him, but that’s just Gabe. I give him the credit. He has grown to the point where he can self-correct when needed. Even the best shooters in the NBA, like Michael Jordan, relied on someone for support. Everyone has a shooting coach.”
Gabe’s just happened to drive him all over the Midwest. When he was in fourth grade, he played on a traveling team that competed everywhere from Fort Wayne, Ind., to Lawrence, Kan.
Kraig Kluge, a friend of the Kalscheurs, coached his son, Kyler, and Gabe. “Some of my earliest and fondest basketball memories are of those times,” said Craig Kalscheur, Gabe’s adoptive father. “The funniest part was that our team had six players. They’d show up with six kids, one coach and a clipboard, and they’d win all of these tournaments against teams with 10 kids and fancy uniforms and multiple coaches.”
Kalscheur burnished his winning résumé in high school, helping DeLaSalle to three state titles and averaging 23.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists a game as a senior. Dave Thorson, who coached DeLaSalle and is now an assistant coach at Colorado State, capitalized on Kalscheur’s shooting and pushed him to become a better defender.
“When he was younger and won all of those youth basketball state tournaments, it was his defense that helped win those games,” LeeAnna said. “He has a knack for it because he cares about it. I feel like Dave Thorson helped refine and hold Gabe accountable for that.”
The easy story line regarding Kalscheur is that he was overlooked in recruiting because he’s not the kind of jump-out-of-the-gym athlete who makes coaches drool. What is true is that the Gophers were surprised at just how skilled and polished he was once he stepped on campus. What may not be true …
“Is that he wasn’t highly recruited,” LeeAnna said. “I feel like that story has not been told. It was a family decision not to advertise all the schools that recruited him. He had schools from the ACC, the Big Ten, a lot of different conferences looking at him.
“It’s not his style to tweet everything out. If you’ll notice, Gabe isn’t on Twitter right now. We didn’t want to make public the teams he didn’t choose.”
Kalscheur plays like a major recruit, blending outside shooting and intelligent defense with the ability to drive the lane and finish, as he did on two important possessions in the second half against Louisville. After he hit a three-pointer in the game, Kalscheur backpedaled and played air guitar, with his buddies on the bench strumming along.
Daniel Oturu calls him “Agent,” an homage to Gilbert “Agent Zero” Arenas.
Tre Jones, the Duke point guard and brother of Tyus from the Apple Valley basketball family, calls him “Klay,” as in Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson.
Dupree McBrayer calls him “a workhorse,” and Gophers coach Richard Pitino said he can’t keep Kalscheur out of the gym.
When Craig Kalscheur married LeeAnna, they quickly arranged for Craig to adopt Gabe. Wasn’t a hard sell. The first time Craig drove to LeeAnna’s house to meet Gabe, the 8-year-old pulled every piece of athletic equipment he owned out of the garage, ready to compete all over the cul-de-sac.
“We can talk about how we may have helped Gabe,” Craig said. “But so many times, all we had to do was follow his lead.”