Kalscheur’s air-guitar celebration in tune with his shooting stroke
DES MOINES, Iowa — Gabe Kalscheur’s wicked air guitar riff came midway through the second half of the Gophers’ 86-76 victory over Louisville on Thursday, March 21.
His impromptu solo was in celebration of the fifth and final 3-point shot he made as he racked up a game-high 24 points in Minnesota’s first NCAA tournament win since 2013.
“Dude from Minnesota KILLINNNN,” tweeted rookie Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young, a nod from last year’s college basketball sensation to the first star of this year’s March Madness.
It was one of many social media praises heaped on the U’s freshman sharpshooter from Minneapolis, who produced one of a series of actions that went unbeknownst to Gophers coach Richard Pitino until after the game.
“Did you really do that?” Pitino pounced when he heard about Kalscheur’s celebration. “Act like you’ve been there before!”
Seated to Pitino’s left during a news conference Thursday, Kalscheur blushed and fell silent, knowing his coach can be quick to playfully razz his players.
Without the freshman’s best game, which included a career-high eight rebounds, Pitino likely would not have walked away with his first NCAA tournament victory, and 10th-seeded Minnesota (22-13) probably wouldn’t be heading into a second-round game against No. 2 seed Michigan State (29-6) on Saturday night at Wells Fargo Arena.
“He can do whatever he wants if he hits five 3s,” Pitino finally decided.
Kalscheur was the king of Wells Fargo Arena on Thursday, but his mother, LeeAnne Kalscheur, remains the queen of the court near the family’s cabin in Seeley, Wis.
LeeAnna Hiestand grew up in Moorhead, Minn., and was all-state at Shanley High School in Fargo, N.D., averaging 24 points and 18 rebounds per game. She played two years at the University of Nebraska before transferring to Division II school Cal Poly Pomona.
As Gabe grew up, he and LeeAnna played one-on-one anywhere. The family bought houses in Eden Prairie and Edina with flat driveways so that they would better suit a basketball goal. They would play at LeeAnna’s parents cabin in Park Rapids, Minn., and parks anywhere.
“You always have a basketball and a pair of shoes in the car,” LeeAnna said.
“She beat me a lot when I was younger,” Gabe said Friday. “But then I grew up and had to beat her.”
But LeeAnna, showing the competitive streak that helped her become second-team all-conference at Cal Poly, didn’t want Gabe to have the sweet taste of victory once he reached 14.
“I didn’t want to hurt him,” LeeAnna joked.
But seriously, “he was stronger, quicker,” LeeAnna said. “He could shoot. I couldn’t just go around him. I just had a feeling that he could beat me. It was time to be done.”
She retired from their one-on-one games on top in Seeley before her coaching could be used against her. She had worked with Gabe to ditch his two-handed shot in fifth grade and continues to provide tips. They often take shots at the LifeTime Fitness in Eden Prairie, where Gabe focuses on quality looks, not reaching a certain quantity.
“If something is not going right, she will tell me all the time,” said Gabe, who is shooting 41.8 percent from 3-point range. “She is like my shooting coach.”
“Gabe has become better and better at self-correcting himself on his shot, if something is a little off,” LeeAnna said. “He has to go back and shoot his shot at the height of his jump. Never going back on his heels but with his chest straight up. When shooters start missing, they are leaning back or they are drifting.
“You reduce the chances of overshooting and pushing the shot. It’s just all about being committed to the moment in your shot, when you go earn it.”
When Kalscheur, who averages 10.3 points per game, has had success this season, Pitino will talk about his work ethic and professionalism. That continued Thursday.
“He has a beautiful stroke,” Pitino said. “… Doesn’t matter what you do, that guy doesn’t take the day off. He sneaks into the gym. He’s a throwback, and he deserves success.”
While Kalscheur’s shooting receives the most praise, his work on the defensive end has drawn the most similarities to his mom, whose offensive range extended to midrange jump shots.
“One of my teammates at Cal Poly would say, ‘Oh, I see where he gets that defense,’ ” LeeAnna said. “If you are really athletic and you commit yourself to that, it can be super fun.”
After a standout career at DeLaSalle, Kalscheur has experienced big moments this season. In the Vancouver Showcase in November, he scored a career-high 25 points in a win over Santa Clara, then the next night, he drained the game-winning trey against Washington. He made at least three 3-pointers in 11 of 20 regular-season Big Ten games.
And though he has been a starter for all 35 game this year, he also appeared to hit a freshman wall at times. Moments when Pitino has called for Kalscheur to battle through and find his own shot.
Given his shooting outburst Thursday, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo certainly will move Kalscheur higher up on the Spartans’ scouting report for Saturday’s game. With Jordan Murphy and Amir Coffey combining for nine points in the Gophers’ 79-55 loss to the Spartans in East Lansing on Feb. 9, Kalscheur had a team-high 17 points.
That also wasn’t the first time Kalscheur came on Izzo’s radar. “I watched him in AAU tournaments and the kid can flat out shoot it,” he said Friday.
On Kalscheur’s Howard Pulley team, Tre Jones, Duke’s point guard from Apple Valley, gave him the nickname of “Klay” after Golden State’s all-NBA shooter Klay Thompson.
“I love watching Klay; he’s really smooth with it,” Kalscheur said. And he likes the Portland Trail Bazers’ C.J. McCullum: “He’s really good with it, too. Those two guys I watch a lot of.”
Kalscheur saw Lance Stephenson of the Lakers do the air-guitar move awhile back, and then watched his former DeLaSalle teammate Sacar Amin do it with Marquette a few weeks ago.
But in the Gophers’ practice Friday, Kalscheur wasn’t working on another celebration to bust out Saturday.
“There is no better peer pressure than seeing somebody like Gabe,” Pitino said. “When you break from practice, you can either go to the locker room, the training room, you can shoot half-court shots and mess round with your teammates. Gabe Kalscheur will go straight to the corner and do a shooting routine, doesn’t matter. He did it (Friday).”