New Britain’s Kimball Goes to Bentley
Former New Britain High basketball player Tyler Kimball has displayed that the largely innate ability to latch onto a wayward shot is a stirring metaphor for her life.
Anyone can improve their shot. Height, which so commonly dictates the capacity to make plays, is a gift that only God and genetics can provide. But how can anybody explain the makeup of the game’s greatest rebounders?
Determination has plenty to do with it, and determination will be Kimball’s lasting legacy. Among the best rebounders in school history, she was felled by a torn knee ligament prior to her senior season with the Hurricanes in 2009-10, but rehabilitated as hard as she played in her three previous seasons to make a late comeback.
Although colleges lining up for Kimball’s services may have had second thoughts, Kimball went after her goal with the same tenacity that she hunted down rebounds and ignited a New Britain fast break that so often resulted in a layup by NBHS’ all-time leading scorer Symone Roberts. The formula brought the Hurricanes one Class LL state title, a second-place finish and a three-year record of 67-12 that would have been 72-7 had it not been for some forfeits.
Kimball attended Roxbury (Mass.) Community College and as the knee grew stronger, the ex-Hurricane’s game returned to Category 5. Colleges that once had her on their radar screen noticed. On March 30, Kimball signed to join the heralded Division II women’s program at Bentley University.
“It’s been a long road but finally I can see the light,” Kimball said. “It was a long shot because they usually don’t take transfers. The only transfer they had was from Columbia, which says a lot about their academics.”
Kimball, listed at 5-foot-10 but perhaps an inch or two shorter, has two years of eligibility remaining. At Roxbury, she helped lead her team to two National Junior College Athletic Association Division III national championship games. RCC went 27-4 record and earned a No. 3 ranking in the NJCAA poll in 2011-12. She was second-team All-American and first-team All-New England.
Kimball scored 778 points in three-plus seasons at NBHS. The Hurricanes won the Class LL state title in 2006-07 with Kimball a starting freshman center. Her brightest moment came in the Class LL championship game against Manchester on March 10, 2007 when she scored 18 points and had 10 rebounds in 24 minutes.
Kimball’s 3.4 GPA and the knowledge that Bentley’s celebrated coach Barbara Stevens had from scouting her at New Britain paid dividends. One of Kimball’s three NBHS coaches – Karen Byrne – may have figured into the equation because she once assisted Stevens, but Kimball has been unable to reach her former mentor t confirm her role and thank her.
Kimball was a sure bet for nothing less than Division II until the knee injury sacked her. She received feelers from the University of New Haven and Southern Connecticut State but their interest waned. Roxbury coach Mark Leszczyk pursued her.
“At first I wasn’t really that sold but he was really persistent so I committed,” she said.
“The first year we went all the way to the national championship and lost by five. At first, the plan was to come here for a year. I was trying to get more looks. I felt I deserved more than Division III.
“I got really frustrated. People asked me where I was going and didn’t have the answer for the longest time. I weighed all the options and thought it was best to stay.”
The decision was sound. Her confidence soared when she chucked her knee brace. The double-figure numbers in points and rebounds began to flow the way they did at NBHS. So did the honors.
“I was being recruited again for the first time since I was a junior [at NBHS],” she said.
Roxbury returned to the championship game and again fell short but Kimball, surrounded by taller players, ripped down 23 rebounds and scored 10 points. When Stevens decided that Kimball’s determination would fit well in Bentley’s front court, Kimball went to Waltham for a life-changing visit.
“She started telling me she knew the kind of person I am, that she knew I was a good kid,” Kimball said. “The assistant started talking about me. I started crying. They weren’t just noticing the type of player I was but also the type of person, and that’s important.
“For a Hall of Fame coach (Stevens has over 800 wins) to look me in the eye and say she’s so excited, that’s when I felt this was the place I belong and a giant weight was lifted from my shoulders. For almost four years I didn’t know where I was going. I was taking things a day at a time and now they’ve fallen into place.”
As she does on the floor, Kimball persevered and she’s received the chance she knows in her heart she deserves.
“When I was hurt I had a lot of time to sit and think,” she recalled. “I went through a lot of phases. At times I was down and sad. I could hear tone of college coaches when I had to tell them I had surgery. It made me get really low on myself.
“One day, I said, ‘No, that’s it. I’m not going to feel sorry for myself.’ I’d hear people saying it was so sad. I used it as fuel. People counted me out. I’d put in so much time and effort from the time I was 5-years-old. I wasn’t going to leave it where it left off.”