PORTSMOUTH — Throughout the history of the NAIA, and college basketball in general, there have been many players who have put together senior seasons that will be remembered long after their departure from the school they represented.
However, there are very few who accomplished not only strong personal numbers within the game, but the kind of success that helped brake down barriers from a team perspective.
With a senior season that saw Shawnee State’s Kyree Elder notch 18.1 points per game, 544 points in all, First-Team All-Mid-South Conference honors, and Honorable Mention NAIA All-American accolades from a personal standpoint — and 21 victories and an NAIA Tournament bid from a team standpoint — Elder put his skills on the radars of professional basketball organizations from around the globe.
It’s Bupa Luxol and the Malta Basketball League who will officially be giving Elder that opportunity. The Nashville, Tenn. native will get to fulfill his dreams of playing professional basketball in Southern Europe when the 6-5 swingman begins play on the island later this year.
“It means everything to me,” Elder said. “To be able to achieve a goal that I’ve been working toward since knee-high is a great blessing. I’m very blessed and fortunate to have the opportunity.”
At Cane Ridge, Elder was part of a strong 2016 class that paved the way for a culture change at the school in terms of on-court performance. The Ravens won just 23 games in the four seasons prior to Elder’s arrival at CRHS, but made a drastic turnaround from there en route to quickly becoming one of the best basketball programs not only in Nashville or in Tennessee, but in the country as well under head coach Marlin Simms.
After winning 13 games in Elder’s freshman season, Cane Ridge collected more than 20 wins in each of Elder’s final three seasons of competition, including Elder’s senior season in 2015-16, when the Ravens advanced to the Class AAA West Regional Semifinals. Elder finished second on Cane Ridge’s unit in points (14.6), rebounds (6.6), and steals per game (1.9) on a squad that featured six seniors as well as future Memphis signee/standout Damion Baugh, who was a sophomore on the unit at the time.
In a span of four years, Elder had helped take Cane Ridge from a developing program into a unit that was ranked as a top-15 squad regardless of class in the state — making it hard to believe that the same program had won just four games in a two-season span in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 campaigns.
Since Elder’s time there, Cane Ridge has won no less than 19 games — and this coming season, will feature one of the highest-regarded high school players to ever play in Nashville in Brandon Miller, a forward who is considered to be a consensus five-star recruit by national recruiting services.
“My experience at Cane Ridge was like no other,” Elder said. “There’s no better feeling than going out on the court with the guys you grew up with, and becoming one of the best squads in the city. We started a culture at Cane Ridge, and (blue-chip prospect) Brandon Miller is keeping the culture going.”
Following stops at Arkansas-Fort Smith and Texas-Permian Basin, Elder headed to Shawnee State for his senior season.
The connection and bond he had with Lindal Yarbrough, who played at nearby Hunters Lane High School in the Nashville area during his own high school playing days, proved to be critical in the Bears’ ability to land Elder and give it a go with the uniquely talented wing.
“Knowing Lin (Yarbrough) before coming to Shawnee State was a huge plus,” Elder said. “Already having a connection and a trust factor built went a long way in helping me prosper during my time at SSU.”
During the year, Elder took off from the get-go, scoring in double-figures in 10 of his first 11 contests and grabbing six or more rebounds in 12 of his first 14 affairs.
From that point, the wing never looked back, stringing together one strong performance after another to put the Mid-South Conference on notice.
He scored 20 or more points in six of his final nine regular season affairs, and helped Shawnee State sweep Campbellsville, Life (Ga.), and Pikeville during the regular season while also scoring one victory each over Cumberland (Tenn.), Lindsey Wilson, and Thomas More (Ky.) to lead the Bears to a 21-11 record and a 9-7 mark in Mid-South action.
Of all of those contests, Elder’s best performance was arguably his 28-point barrage against Cumberland (Tenn.) in Lebanon. With Elder just 40 minutes out from his hometown and a host of family and friends in to watch the showdown, the senior put on a Grade A performance, knocking down 12 of his 20 attempts from the field — including four of his eight long-range connections.
His homecoming barrage proved to be his Mid-South Conference scoring high and was the second-best scoring output of the season for Elder, only finishing behind his 31-point output against West Virginia Tech.
“Throughout my college career, I had three games in Tennessee,” Elder said. “So whenever I got the chance to put on a show for my family in person, I was going to take the opportunity and run with it.”
Beyond scoring, Elder bought into the entire team concept.
A strong isolation scorer, Elder not only averaged his 18.1 points per game on good efficiency (46.1 percent field goal mark, team-best 53 three-pointers and 36.1 percent mark from distance), but did so while finishing tops on the unit in assists (2.76) and second on the team in rebounds (6.9) and steals (1.33). He finished inside the conference’s top-10 in 10 different categories — including second in points per game — and became a First-Team All-MSC and Honorable Mention NAIA All-American honoree off of the strength of those numbers.
The wins, and the journey with his teammates to reach the 21-win mark, was what mattered the most during his college experience.
“It meant a lot to my teammates and I,” Elder said. “I know that for me personally coming into the program, we had no banners, so that was something that I wanted to bring to the school. From a team standpoint, we wanted to be that team to make it to the tournament. It was something that we talked about everyday. It was our driving force. In the end, we made it happen. I just wish we could’ve played it out, because we were nowhere close to being finished.”
With his journey to professional basketball, it’s back to square one for Elder. However, for the individual who’s worked through many great challenges as a basketball player and as a person to get to where he is, his goals, and how he will go about attacking them, aren’t going to change.
“I just want to continue to get better each and everyday,” Elder said, “And continue to work my way up.”
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