If Kyle Juhl’s freshman year of basketball wasn’t a fairy tale, it was at least something Walt Disney would have admired.
As a 15-year-old at Harlan Community, he scored seven key points in his first state tournament game, sharing the court with older brother Adam and the huddle with father Kelly, an assistant coach, as the eighth-seeded, unrated Cyclones shocked top-seeded and unbeaten Vinton-Shellsburg 67-56 en route to a second-place finish in Class 3-A.
However, that’s where Juhl’s personal basketball nirvana ended. His sophomore year crashed to a halt in the fifth game, thanks to a torn ACL. As a junior, the Cyclones were caught in sub-.500 Glenwood’s magical run to its first state appearance in 63 years.
Now a senior, Juhl wants to put a proper bookend on his prep basketball career. The 6-foot-5, 180-pound UNK recruit is the leader for the Cyclones (12-2, 8-1), who are rated fourth in the state in 3-A and second in western Iowa (4-A/3-A), and stand one victory from at least a share of the Hawkeye Ten title.
“I think Kyle is one of the most truly all-around players we’ve had here at Harlan Community that I’ve coached,” said coach Mitch Osborn, in his 19th year at the school. “He’s our best player. Our guys know he’s our best player, and the other team knows he’s our best player.”
Kyle is the youngest of Kelly and Julie Juhl’s three sons, following Jarod, 22, and Adam, 20, who both play at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. This is the seventh straight year a Juhl has been on a Harlan varsity basketball roster. They all have gone from waterboys to integral parts of the program.
Kelly Juhl has been alongside Osborn for more than 20 years, dating to their days together at Pomeroy-Palmer, where they won a 1-A state title in 1994. Kelly Juhl started coaching this year’s seniors when they were in about fourth grade, with his wife occasionally helping when he wasn’t available.
“Obviously Kelly is very instrumental in all our success,” Osborn said. “He’s been a head coach, and he’s like having another head coach on your staff.”
That knowledge has trickled down to his sons.
“Kyle’s a coach’s son, you can tell,” Osborn said. “He’s got that mental part of the game also, as far as scouting and thinking through things. When Kyle says something on the floor, you usually listen, because it’s usually right.”
This season, Kyle is averaging 16.4 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 1.7 blocks, while shooting 49.2 percent from the field and 31.3 percent (21 of 67) from 3-point range.
He spends most of his time inside, where he combines good footwork with a soft touch and an ability to feel where his defender is.
“We use him a little more in the post because we’re lacking size,” Osborn said, “but he can play positions one through five. And he’s a tenacious rebounder.”
Said Glenwood coach Curt Schulte: “Kyle is very tough to defend. He can post you up and take you deep on the perimeter. He gives opposing teams matchup problems. He can shoot, rebound, defend and is a great team leader.”
Kyle threw for 1,539 yards and 18 touchdowns with five interceptions last year at quarterback, leading Harlan back to the playoffs and earning second-team all-Western Iowa honors. He also has been a part of three state baseball teams at Harlan, helping the Cyclones to a runner-up finish in 3-A last summer.
But Juhl said he never considered playing anything other than basketball in college. He also had an offer from Northwest Missouri State at the Division II level, and strong interest from Wayne State. At Kearney, Kyle will join former prep teammate Trey Lansman, a 6-7 sophomore who averages 15.8 points for the 11-8 Lopers while shooting 50.6 percent (39 of 77) from 3-point range.
“It just felt like the right place,” Kyle said. “Really good people there and really good coaches.”
Said Osborn: “He fits their system just perfect.”
For now, Kyle’s primary objective is getting Harlan back to the Wells Fargo Arena, where he shined as a skinny freshman. The ACL injury and the loss to Glenwood have only fueled his desire.
“I don’t want to feel that again,” he said. “I’m just trying to make it back to state, and that pushes me every single day.”
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