Losing your best player is always tough, but when that player is the reigning conference player of the year, it is a whole different story.
In the quarterfinals of the 2015 Atlantic Ten Tournament, Davidson found themselves down one point to La Salle, 66 to 65, with less than 10 seconds to go. Having already won the regular season title, many experts thought that Davidson had to win at least one game in the conference tournament to solidify their tournament résumé and earn an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament (if they did not win the conference tournament). Davidson’s first ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament as an at large team was on the line.
Brian Sullivan passed the ball to Tyler Kalinoski about 40 feet from the basket with just four and a half seconds left on the clock. Crowd on its feet, Kalinoski paused for half a second, drove into the paint with his left hand, and launched a 6 foot floater that rose over the outstretched arms of two La Salle defenders. The buzzer sounded and zeros appeared on the clock as the ball fell through the hoop after a short dance across the iron. Kalinoski had just delivered an incredible game winner that launched Davidson to the NCAA Tournament. Those final two points gave Kalinoski 18 on the night, and capped off an unbelievable run for the Davidson senior.
That was the last game Tyler Kalinoski would win at Davidson, as a semifinal loss to VCU and an early tournament exit to Iowa would follow. That floater in the lane was the final victory of an incredible ten game stretch where Davidson did not lose a game, clinching the conference title and an NCAA Tournament berth in the process. In that ten game stretch, Kalinoski averaged 17.6 points, 4.2 assists, and 5 rebounds per game. That, as well as being the most important cog in Bob McKillop’s basketball machine, made him deserving of the conference player of the year award. Kalinoski was a fan favorite for much more than his calm demeanor and smile – he was the guy that you wanted handling the ball down the stretch in a tight basketball game. He was the one you wanted at the line to sink the game winning free throws, and the guy everyone knew was willing to step in and take a charge on defense to salt away another win.
While all of these accolades and performances were incredible and keyed Davidson to one of the best seasons in their storied history, that was last year. This year, Tyler Kalinoski is having almost a greater affect on the Davidson Wildcats basketball program: by not being there. This season, Kalinoski is suiting up for Élan Chalon, a team in the first division of French basketball. While the red and white uniforms may be familiar to Kalinoski in color, the name on the front is entirely different. While Kalinoski has surely been adjusting to life in Europe, Davidson is adjusting to life without him.
Tyler Kalinoski affected the game in all areas – he was Davidson’s best scorer and rebounder, took care of the ball, and was never out of place on defense. Replacing that kind of player is difficult, and made even more so when both of your incoming freshmen are sidelined by injures before the season even starts. In his senior season, Tyler Kalinoski was in the top ten in the conference in EIGHT major statistical areas, including minutes played, three point percentage, and free throw percentage. He also had the highest offensive rating of anyone in the conference – what that pretty much means is that he was the most efficient player, and his play backed that statistic up.
This season, Davidson misses him. Mired with season ending injuries to three key players, the Wildcats have had to lean on senior guard Brian Sullivan and junior guard Jack Gibbs to pick up the minutes and points that Kalinoski vacated. Faced with several tough non-conference road games against California and North Carolina, and a neutral site game against Pittsburgh, the Wildcats lost control of the games for periods of time. Plagued by inconsistent shooting, turnovers, and bad defense, Davidson lost all three of those games by hefty margins. However, no Bob McKillop coached team stays on the mat very long – the Wildcats picked themselves up, and followed two of the losses with big wins. Davidson, who has started the conference season 1-1, will surely remain competitive in the Atlantic Ten this season. Even if it means playing with only seven scholarship players due to injuries, Davidson will still compete for a chance of repeating as conference champions.
While Brian Sullivan and Jack Gibbs have surely stepped into Kalinoski’s shoes in terms of leadership, his presence on the court is sorely missed in Davidson, North Carolina. However as the season progresses and the team matures, Kalinoski’s presence will not become as missed anymore, and the fans who pack Belk Area will begin looking towards the current roster to find their next Kalinoski.