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Normal West spotlight

Normal West juniors Richard Simpkins (23, left) and Kyler Stork (33, right) have developed into key juniors on the Normal West basketball team after getting cut in junior high.

NORMAL — Richard Simpkins and Kyler Stork easily could have walked away from basketball when they failed to make the cut in junior high.

Instead, they both rededicated their commitment to the game.

"My mom always told me in junior high to keep trying when I didn't make the team," said Stork.

"I didn't really listen to discouragement," said Simpkins. "I just worked hard and kept developing my game to get me where I am today."

Where Simpkins and Stork are today sees them as high school juniors with key roles on the Normal West basketball team. Stork, a 6-foot-5 center, averages 7.1 points and a team-high 4.2 rebounds per game, while Simpkins checks in with 6.6 and 3.9 marks as a 6-3 forward.

"Both of them, they're getting better and I think they're going to be really, really good players," said West coach Brian Cupples, whose junior-dominated team carries a 10-9 overall record and 1-3 Big 12 Conference mark into Friday's game at Urbana. "Kyler gives us some scoring, rebounding and size. Richard gives us good length and athleticism and he can knock down open shots."

Simpkins and Stork admitted needing to bounce back from the initial sting of those junior high cuts.

"Yeah, but I stuck with it and played over the summer and developed my game," said Simpkins. "I've worked harder and I've seen Kyler work very, very hard. We just love to play the game."

"It was kind of tough at first; when you don't make a team, you do get discouraged. After a while, you refocus and try to get better over the summer," said Stork. "I never really gave up on it."

Stork, who's seen a growth spurt of five inches since starting high school, emerged for the Wildcats over the past week. He grabbed 10 rebounds off the bench in a loss to Normal Community on Friday, then totaled 48 points in West's three wins in the Rockton Hononegah MLK Tournament.

"Kyler's come miles. He's a sponge; anything you tell him, he tries to do," said Cupples. "He just gives us more of a scoring threat. We always knew it was kind of there; he just had a knack."

After honing his outside game, Simpkins now wants to improve his ability to drive the lane and attack the rim. Cupples said Simpkins' talents continue to progress toward what he feels is a very high ceiling.

"He's not even close (to his potential). Richard's best years are ahead of him. He's still got things to learn and some skill development to come," said Cupples. "He has such ability, such athletic gifts, that he's just got to keep spending time with it."

Simpkins said he's benefited from a strong rapport with Wildcats' catalyst Josh Robinson, who leads the team in scoring at 16.6 while also dishing out 4.5 assists per contest.

"He's like my brother and I love him. He runs the court so well," said Simpkins. "We have a good connection because we played over the summer. We have good chemistry together."

Cupples sees the development of Simpkins and Stork as a good lesson for all players, including junior high stars who might be inclined to rest on their laurels.

"There are kids that maybe are sitting on the bench or kids that got cut, didn't go out or whatever," he said. "They stick with it. They really have a love for the game. It really is a tribute to them and to their families."

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