MAPLEWOOD, Minn. — Once he reopened his college search last week, Antwan Kimmons didn’t take long to find a fit.
The senior point guard from suburban St. Paul’s Tartan High School was granted release from a scholarship with Idaho State after Bengals’ coach Bill Evans’ contract expired. He quickly connected with a University of Northern Iowa basketball recruiting pipeline responsible for a decade of success.
Kimmons — a 6-foot point guard who averaged 21.8 points per game while finishing as one of 10 finalists for Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball and Bob McDonald Award — announced Wednesday that he plans to further his academic and basketball career at UNI.
“I asked for my release and UNI just came flying in,” said Kimmons, who attended the Panthers’ basketball camp annually with his Tartan team. “They offered me so quickly.”
While familiar with the coaching staff and school, Kimmons hadn’t been a major recruiting target for UNI until point guard Tray Croft’s recent decision to transfer created an opening for a backcourt addition. He is the fifth player to make the jump from Mark Klingsporn’s Tartan program to Cedar Falls, continuing a relationship with UNI head coach Ben Jacobson that goes back 25 years to Jacobson’s tenure as an assistant at North Dakota.
Current UNI assistant Erik Crawford transferred from Bowling Green to UNI for the 2003-04 season, beginning a string of 10 consecutive years in which a Tartan player was a starter on the Panthers’ roster. Eric Coleman, Kwadzo Ahelegbe and Marc Sonnen followed suit, forming a Tartan quartet that combined to reach five NCAA tournaments during a decade that included eight seasons of at least 20 wins.
Sonnen helped train Kimmons over the past year, and Crawford reached out during the recruiting process.
“(Sonnen) has been working with me all year,” Kimmons said. “I talked to him after I got offered. He’s just been telling me it’s great there, and same with Crawford. They had an amazing experience.”
In addition to comfort with UNI’s coaching staff, Kimmons is excited about the ability to play close to home. Aside from the University of Minnesota, UNI is the closest NCAA Division I school to Kimmons’ hometown of Maplewood.
“Being that close made it so easy,” Kimmons said. “I couldn’t describe the feeling knowing that they were offering me and it being that close to home.”
Family is important for Kimmons, the middle of three siblings. Anthony Kimmons is scheduled to be released from incarceration soon and will be able to watch his son compete for the first time since his sophomore year of high school.
“Me and dad are super tight,” Antwan Kimmons said. “It’s not like he’s never been in my life. He’s always been in my life and he’s the reason I am the way I am today.
“He always taught me discipline, and gave me advice on how I should carry myself. That man is special to me and I can’t wait until he can see me play.”
Kimmons credits his mother, Emmalee Bunch, as a source of strength.
“She’s been the backbone,” he said. “Wherever I went, she was going to be there supporting me. … She was really excited that I was going to be close to home. She’s been nothing but supportive to me, and she’s always been that way.”
What Kimmons may lack with his smaller 170-pound frame, Tartan’s legendary coach feels he’ll make up for with speed, a great vertical and quick lateral movement on defense.
Klingsporn has now sent 19 players to Division I schools over his 39-year coaching career. He says Kimmons possesses a motor that reminds him of the passion NBA star Russell Westbrook brings to every single possession.
“I love all my guys that have played for me,” Klingsporn said. “I’m not sure I’ve had a kid that’s played harder than him (Kimmons) — ever.”
Averaging six rebounds, five assists and three steals, Tartan’s coach says Kimmons is an unselfish player who could care less if he ever scores a basket. In the same breath, Klingsporn points out that Kimmons might go up against a bigger kid and try to dunk it on him. He broke a single-game school scoring record held by Iowa State’s Jake Sullivan twice this past year — tallying 41 and 45 points for a 25-3 team that competes in Minnesota’s largest class.
“Antwan is a really, really tough guy,” Klingsporn said. “He does not back down from anything, anyone, at any time. He has no fears, but also plays with a huge smile on his face all the time. He has so much fun playing basketball.”
Also a standout in football, Kimmons says he never takes an opportunity to compete for granted.
“I want to win all the time and I hate losing,” Kimmons added. “I’m going hard until the final buzzer. I don’t care if it’s a pick-up game, all-star game, charity game, whatever it is, I’m trying to win.”
Through conversations with UNI’s coaches, Klingsporn believes there will be an opportunity for Kimmons to contribute immediately if he prepares himself and performs the right way.
“Whatever role they want me to play, I’m going to do the best for the team,” Kimmons said. “If it’s defense, I’ll do that. If that’s being on the bench and cheering on my team, then I’ll do that.”