PANTHER PROFILE: Kehlmann finding a niche with the Runnin’ Panthers

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Liberty Hill senior Clayton Kuhlmann (#12) blows by a La Vernia defender for the bucket. Kuhlmann finished Tuesday’s game against Hyde Park with 8 points in a Panther win. (Alex Rubio Photo)

Liberty Hill senior Clayton Kuhlmann (#12) blows by a La Vernia defender for the bucket. Kuhlmann finished Tuesday’s game against Hyde Park with 8 points in a Panther win. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By KEITH SPARKS

Although a veteran in the sense that he’s a senior, Clayton Kuhlmann has only been a Panther for two years. His family moved from Pflugerville to Liberty Hill as a sophomore by recommendation from family members. Kuhlmann’s cousin, Chad Leath, who plays for the junior varsity basketball team, has lived in Liberty Hill his entire life.

Kuhlmann, who was in the middle of his sophomore year at Hendrickson High School, wasn’t ecstatic about the move initially. Today, however, he wouldn’t change a thing.

“It was tough at first for me,” Kuhlmann said. “Obviously, I didn’t want to leave, but I love it now. It was a good move.”

The biggest difference between the basketball programs at Hendrickson and Liberty Hill, according to Kuhlmann, is the team aspect. Hendrickson tends to rely on individual talent and athleticism, while the Panthers are more accustomed to moving the ball and getting each other involved.

“The basketball there is a lot different,” Kuhlmann said. “Here, our coaches are amazing. It’s a lot more of a team game. When I moved here, it took a while for me to really settle in as more of a team player, with the idea of the program winning in mind, but the coaches really did a good job of helping me transition, and the players, too.”

While the Panther basketball team doesn’t typically rely heavily on athleticism, Kuhlmann’s game stands out from the rest in that regard. He’s one of the few players on the team that identifies as a true “slasher,” who gets most of his points by driving into traffic and forcing the defense to meet him at the rim. Kuhlmann’s athleticism is part of what allows him to do that, which is something he said was necessary to play at Hendrickson.

Kuhlmann began attending Liberty Hill the second semester of his sophomore year. One might expect a teenager switching schools in the middle of his sophomore year to have a difficult time transitioning from one team for another. That wasn’t the case for Kuhlmann.

“My first day was the day before school actually started,” Kuhlmann said. “We had a practice, the first day before the second semester of my sophomore year, and they welcomed me with open arms. The JV kids, even the varsity kids, were real nice, and they made the move a hundred times easier than it should have been.”

After losing their first game of the season against Austin High, the Panthers now find themselves in the midst of a three-game winning streak, thanks in large part to an improved work ethic and toughness, according to Kuhlmann.

“I think we’ve improved the most with our work ethic during the game,” Kuhlmann said. “We play harder and faster. During fall league, we had issues with that. I think we’re a lot tougher than we were. Last year’s team was really tough, and we had a lot of injuries and adversity. I think, at the beginning of this year, we weren’t as tough as we should have been.”

One of Liberty Hill’s biggest struggles as a team thus far has been outside shooting. While you can expect the Panthers’ jump shooting to improve, you’ll likely continue to see Kuhlmann making his biggest impact as a slasher in the paint.

“I really like to play inside more. I’m more of a, kind of a slasher. I’ll shoot a three every once in a while, but I benefit the team more by staying off the three-point line,” Kuhlmann said with a laugh. “I’m not the best shooter in the world. Coach has told me, he’s helped me to realize that I need to be helping the team in other ways, other than shooting a lot of threes.”

The Panthers will play host to a number of teams this weekend at the Liberty Hill Boys Basketball Tournament. Expect the Panthers to come out with a sense of urgency in order to continue their current win streak and defend their home court.

“We had a bad first game against Austin High,” Kuhlmann said, “and we’ve been rolling since then. I think we need to keep the train rolling, play really well, and if we can continue to win against the teams that are here, that will boost our confidence. We need to go out and get some Ws, and especially just defend our home court.”

Kuhlmann is currently in the process of deciding between Texas Tech, Texas A&M, and Texas. He has already been accepted into Texas Tech, is awaiting confirmation of whether or not he has been accepted into A&M’s engineering school, and has yet to hear from the University of Texas.

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