Following a record-breaking year and overall career, the American Southwest Conference named men’s basketball player Kyle Schleigh their male Athlete of the Year on June 11.
Schleigh becomes the first athlete in the history of UTD to win the award and only the third basketball player in the history of the conference to do so.
The award, which is given to the best athlete out of all the sports, caps off a tremendous senior season that saw Schleigh lead the Comets to a conference championship and an appearance in the Sweet Sixteen. This season he scored in double figures in 28 out of 31 regular season games and ringed in the first triple-double in the history of the program.
Along with his solid statistics, he also earned All-American honors and played in the Reese’s All-Star game, which features the best players from across the country at the Division III level.
Despite all of his success, the award still came as a surprise to Schleigh.
“To be honest, I wasn’t expecting it,” he said. “There’s a ton of great athletes in the conference. It’s a prestigious award; I’m pretty honored.”
Those who knew him best were not as taken aback by the announcement.
“It didn’t surprise me,” said Matt Medell, senior guard for the basketball team. “I don’t really keep up with too many of the other sports, but he was by far the best player in the ASC as far as men’s basketball is concerned.”
The award also acts as the bookend to a stellar career for Schleigh. He leaves UTD as the all-time leader in points, field goals, rebounds, steals, blocked shots, and minutes played, among other stats. He also finished as sixth all-time in points scored in the ASC and third in rebounds.
That type of success, however, was not always foreseen, especially in the early stages of Kyle’s career.
“Honestly, when I first saw Kyle play in high school, I was sort of lukewarm about him, and that might be generous,” said head men’s basketball coach Terry Butterfield. “My assistant coach, Travis Carruthers, was really the driving force and kept telling me ‘no, no, no, this is a guy we need to try go and get.’ Obviously he turned out to be a lot smarter than I was when he said that.”
Butterfield’s doubts had to quickly be put to the side when a senior on the team suffered a major injury that forced Schleigh to be thrown into the starting lineup as a freshman.
From there it became clear there was a bright future ahead for the rookie, as Schleigh went on to start 23 out of 28 games and rack in three double-doubles and scored in double figures twelve times. That year, he was named the ASC East Division Freshman of the Year for his performance.
That trial by fire proved to be not only important for Schleigh’s career as an athlete, but also as a leader.
“One of the things that I was always frustrated by was that Kyle just wanted to fit in and be one of the guys,” Butterfield said. “He didn’t want to really go out on a limb and be a take-charge guy at the beginning, but as time went on it became very clear that he had the ability to do that.”
His leadership blossomed over the years as Schleigh went on to be named to the All-ASC team his sophomore year and averaged 15.9 points per game.
“I was very impressed, actually,” Medell, who was a freshman that year, said. “He was our best overall player offensively and defensively. He guarded the best player from the other team every game and he was definitely our go-to player on the offensive end and outside of that he’s our best rebounder, so he could do it all.”
Medell, who often roomed with Schleigh when the team went on the road, was able to see a side of him that few got to see. He said that off the court, Schleigh often cracked jokes with his teammates and had a good time.
Their relationship created a level of trust between the two off the floor that translated to their performance on the court.
“This last year, he had a hand in voting Nolan Harvey and I to be team captains over a couple of other seniors,” Medell said. “As soon as that happened, we had a talk, the four captains and the coaches, and Kyle was the first to say ‘Hey, my senior year, I want it to be the best year for me, and in order for that to happen, you need to play well too.’”
His teammates kept their end of the deal, with Medell and Harvey averaging 15.2 and 13.9 points per game, respectively. Even through that individual success, Schleigh’s teammates continued to look to him for leadership, which was often more laid back than what one would expect from somebody of his caliber.
“He’s definitely more of the mellow type than the vocal type,” Medell said. “But when things are going bad and he needs to step in and be vocal, he definitely does. He’s more of a leader by example, and he’s going to do everything the right way.”
Now that Schleigh has graduated, his production on the floor and leadership will be something that will surely be missed by the Comets as they look forward to next season.
“He was all things to our program so obviously it’s going to leave a huge void,” Butterfield said. “He could take you inside; he could knock it down from the outside; he had size; he had quickness; he had a lot of skills.”
As he looked back on his career, Schleigh noted that he always sought to do the best for others around him rather than simply put up the most points.
“Coming in, I wanted to be the guy who was going to work hard on the court and work hard off the court,” he said. “When people think of Kyle Schleigh at UTD, they’ll think he got all these records and everything, but I want them to also think he treated everyone with respect, he worked incredibly hard, he was a great leader, things like that, as opposed to all the points and getting all the rebounds.”