Marlee Kyles likes to set goals for herself, but it wasn't always that way.
When Kyles entered Larkin High School as a freshman she really didn't have any goals or direction when it came to basketball -- she just knew she liked playing the game.
As observers watched Kyles as a freshman and sophomore, her talent and potential was evident. There were, however, things she had to overcome to become an elite player, many of those things within herself and away from the gym.
"I was a hard-headed kid and I was angry about all the wrong things," says Kyles, a lifelong Elginite who will turn18 o March 24. "I had to step back. After the St. Charles North game my sophomore year (when she was ejected for letting her emotions get out of control), I just said 'If you want to be the person you want to be you have to change.' I was so frustrated and I was letting all this other stuff come into my happy place. Basketball is my happy place and I just had to step back and realize that."
Her junior year things started to really change. Steve Knapp became Larkin's new coach, very possibly the best thing that could have happened to Kyles. She started playing for the ultracompetitive Mac Irvin Fire AAU team out of Chicago. And, she realized she had the potential to play at a high level in college.
With Knapp and Irvin now guiding her, Kyles came into her senior year driven to achieve goals -- things like setting the Larkin all-time scoring record and maybe, just maybe, reaching the 2,000-point mark for her career. Her college choice had been made and she knew what she wanted to accomplish her senior year.
Kyles did achieve those goals as well as being recruited to play at a high level Division I school. And for her efforts and accomplishments, she has been selected the Honorary Captain of the Daily Herald's 2016-17 Fox Valley All-Area Girls Basketball Team.
When all was said and done this season, Kyles averaged 28.9 points per game as well as 9.7 rebounds, 3 assists and 3.2 steals. She shot 40 percent from the field and made 75 3-pointers. She had a high game of 50 points against Woodstock and scored 40-plus three times, 30-plus 10 times and was held under 20 just four times in the 25 games she played this season (she did miss five games with a concussion).
Signed to play at Arizona, Kyles finished her Larkin career with 2,039 points thus becoming just the eighth girl in the Daily Herald's Fox Valley coverage area to eclipse 2,000 points.
But scoring points is just one part of the game if you want to play at the Division I level, and Kyles learned this season more than any other how to broaden her game.
"She really learned this year to shoot the ball off the dribble," Knapp said. "Last year she didn't do it much, she had to be open or get a screen. This year she could take the ball up the court, break a press, shoot a 3 in someone's face and knock it down. Her hesitation dribble became phenomenal, too, where she could just shot fake, hesitate and go to the rim and score.
"What really goes unnoticed is how unselfish she really was. She was the best passer on our team and was always looking to get her teammates involved."
Gimmick defenses, double teams, triple teams -- they mattered little to Kyles as she became more mature as a player and person.
"It was a big challenge," said Kyles, a first team All-State selection by AP. "I struggled some with it but in those kind of games I was able to keep my cool and stay calm. It made me a better player. I'm going to the next level and everything this year was preparing me for the next level."
Maturity became one of Kyles' strongest assets this season and with that came the senior leadership Larkin needed to be competitive.
"I matured in the leadership role," said Kyles, the youngest of Keith and Debbie Kyles' four children. "I knew in every situation I just had to stay calm, Leadership was big for me this year as was confidence. I had a great AAU season and I was much more confident this year in my shot and everything I did."
"The great thing for her was that we had such great senior leadership her junior year from girls like Sam Wahl, Vanessa Soto, Megan Chwee and Sarah El Rahmany," Knapp added. "They left a big impression on Marlee. As a player I don't know if I could have handled everything this year the way Marlee did. She's going to play at a major DI school and I think she wanted to start representing Arizona now. The Arizona coaches did a fantastic job recruiting her and keeping in touch with her and Marlee kept her composure 98 percent of the time this year."
Kyles credits many for her development from a green freshman who just liked to play basketball to becoming a Division I scholarship athlete.
"First and foremost I thank God," she said. "Then I thank every coach I've ever had whether they've been a good coach or a bad coach because they've all helped me reach my potential. My family has always pushed me and helped me and been there for me. My brothers (Keyvon, Keith Jr. and Andrew) -- they're the reason I'm so tough right now. And I thank my trainer (Jerome Johnson), my fans and everyone who believed in me."
The next stop for Kyles is Arizona but before she heads west she reflected on her four years as a Larkin Royal.
"I'm really going to miss the girls and coach Knapp. He and I really formed a great bond and I love him," she said. "The girls gave me their all and made me have more fun with the game and I needed that."
Knapp won't even try to fill Kyles' shoes next year because, as he says, "I don't think there will be another one like her."
Getting to know Marlee Kyles
Favorite pre-game meal: Peppermints
Favorite music: Country
Favorite song: Body Like A Back Road by Sam Hunt
Favorite movie: Love and Basketball
Favorite college sports team: Arizona
Favorite pro sports team: Cleveland Cavaliers
Favorite class in school: Math
Role model: My mother
The game I'll never forget: When I scored my 2,000th point on a free throw. I thought I was going to miss.
Quote to live by: "What God has for me is for me."