His teammates call him “KG” – though he was a youngster when former NBA star Kevin Garnett was enjoying his prime – and his parents call him Jamal.
Lately, UH-Hilo’s men’s basketball team has called on Kaleb Gilmore to step up in the absence of starting guard Jordan Graves, and he’s delivered.
“Since he stepped into that role, he’s brought a lot of really consistent shooting,” fellow Kalaheo (Oahu) alum Kupaa Harrison said. “He’s been ready for this moment, which is great to see.”
Gilmore, a fifth-year senior, never doubted his moment would come at his third college stop, even after he played in just 10 contests last season in his first year at UHH, averaging 3.9 points per game.
“I sat out, I was on the bench, you just have to put your head down and keep working hard, and you’ll get your opportunity,” Gilmore said.
This preseason he was an afterthought, but his chance came when Graves went down in the Vulcans’ eighth game of the season. In his past four games, Gilmore has continued to come off the bench but he’s played key minutes, delivering 12.8 points per game on 63.3% shooting, including 11 of 19 in from 3-point range.
“He’s really helped us shooting the basketball, and the great thing about Kaleb is he continued to grow,” coach GE Coleman said. “He’s been through adversity and fought threw it, and now he’s making winning plays.”
Fresh of a 4-1 homestand that vaulted the the Vuls (7-6, 5-4 Pacific West Conference) above 500, they pay a visit to the hottest team in the conference, Azusa Pacific, on Thursday.
The Vulcans have it in them, Gilmore said, to make a run to their first PacWest tournament.
“We have a different level, we just haven’t reached it yet,” he said. “We know we have a different level, we have to find it in ourselves to get there.”
Finding it at Azusa will be tough, Coleman said.
The Cougars (12-3, 7-2) have won seven in a row since road losses and UHH and Chaminade, and their latest conquest was a 95-62 rout of conference front-runner Concordia.
“We will have to play our best game of the year for us to have a chance, hopefully, in the last 5 minutes,” Coleman said. “They’re absolutely dominating people.”
UHH plays Fresno Pacific, which the Vuls have already handed at home, on Saturday before returning to Hilo to open a four-game homestand.
Gilmore and Harrison, the Vulcans’ leading scorer, were teammates on the Kalaheo team that won the 2015 HHSAA Division I championship. Gilmore, a 6-foot guard, was the star of the state final, scoring 30 points in 53-46 win against Iolani before starting his college career at Chaminade, where the name Gilmore means something.
Kaleb’s dad, George, is a member of the school’s Hall of Fame and is perhaps the best player in program history. George Gilmore averaged 31.4 points per game his senior year in 1992 and was the NCAA Division II National Player of the Year before embarking on a pro career overseas.
Kaleb Gilmore lasted two years at Chaminade, playing in 11 games.
“I didn’t feel pressure,” he said, “I just think it was me being on the island feeling at home. I didn’t want to feel like I’m at home.”
He spent the 2018 season at Jacksonville College (Tex.), averaging six points and two assists a game, and last year he spent most of his time cheering his teammates on from the bench.
The past four games, many of those same teammates have been cheering “KG” on.
“I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “Just keep pushing. Things aren’t going to go your way all the time. There are going to be ups and downs. You’re going to win some and lose some.”
He has an attitude that dad can appreciate.
“I feel like everything is going in when I shoot it,” Kaleb Gilmore said. “You can’t think anything else.”