ST. LOUIS Kyle Weems will go down as one of the greatest players in Missouri State history. And that's saying something for a guy who's left even more of an imprint off the court.
His list of accomplishments are impressive 2011 Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year and second-leading scorer in Missouri State history to name a few but so is his reputation away from basketball.
"He's a model citizen," says Missouri State coach Paul Lusk. "He's a very, very good kid."
Weems serves as a perfect example for everything a student-athlete should be, both on and off the court. He's stuck through three head coaches and an NCAA tournament snub while helping the Bears to their first regular season Missouri Valley Conference title last year.
Whenever his career ends, whether it was Friday night with a 72-64 loss to Evansville in the Missouri Valley Conference quarterfinals or perhaps in the CBI or CIT postseason tournaments in a few weeks, Weems will have cemented a legacy that will be tough to top in Springfield, Mo.
But despite his 23-point, 10-rebound performance in the losing effort Friday, the senior still wished he had done more.
"It's tough because I kind of feel like I failed to get one of my goals and that was to hang a banner in my four years," Weems said. "I feel like I let Missouri State down and the city of Springfield down. They definitely deserved it."
But it almost didn't end this way.
When his second head coach took a new job last spring and four starters graduated from a 26-9 team that narrowly missed qualifying for the big dance, Weems had a decision to make.
Scheduled to finish his undergraduate degree before the fall semester began, the fifth-year senior could have transferred to another school and been allowed to play out his final year of eligibility without having to sit the usual year.
And bigger schools came calling. He received interest from nearby Big 12 powerhouses Kansas and Kansas State, no doubt both intriguing possibilities due to their proximity to his home in Topeka, Kan. Oregon and California were also interested, as were a number of other big-time programs.
But Weems wasn't about to bail on his teammates, school and community.
"He chose to stay and we're very thankful for that," Lusk said. "But I think he did that because of what he has inside. He has a lot of substance, a lot of character and a great family. He's been a joy to coach and work with.
"It's been hard for him with three different coaches and that certainly can't be easy but I'm proud of the way he conducts himself on and off the floor."
Said Weems, "Missouri State has done a lot for me and I didn't want to leave them. I didn't want to leave my teammates.
So the reigning MVC Player of the Year stayed one more year, instantly becoming the face of a program that lost three double-digit scorers and underwent their second coaching change in less than five years.
Missouri State went 7-5 in non-conference play this year as they searched for a new identity under Lusk, a former assistant coach at Purdue. Weems certainly did his part, averaging 14.3 points per game on 39-percent shooting in the 12 non-conference games.
When the calendar shifted to conference play his final season of MVC play the MSU leader upped his game to a new level. He had 31 points and seven rebounds in the conference opener, a 77-65 upset win at No. 19 Creighton.
He increased his scoring to 17.8 points per game in conference play and improved his shooting percentage as well. He led the Bears to a respectable 16-14 regular season record and a 9-9 record in MVC play, earning them the No. 6 seed in this weekend's MVC tournament in St. Louis.
He did everything he could to continue the Bears season for another day Friday, scoring 14 points in the first half on two long three-pointers. He finished 8 of 16 from the field in a team-high 38 minutes.
Whether his career at Missouri State ended Friday night or not, his basketball career has plenty left. He will travel to the Portsmouth Invitational April 11-14 to show off his skills for NBA scouts. If he doesn't stick in the NBA, a lucrative overseas career awaits.
But wherever his next stop is, he'll never forget his five years in Springfield.
"I'll be part of Missouri State for the rest of my life," Weems said. "I really feel like that's my second home. Everybody there is my family. I've been blessed with a great opportunity to spend five years of my life there. But if it's the NBA, it's the NBA. If it's overseas, it's overseas. I still feel like God has a plan for me and I'll just keep getting better and basically wherever the wind blows me I guess."
Said Lusk: "Kyle's going to have an opportunity to play basketball and make a living doing that. If it's in the NBA, then that would be absolutely terrific. If it's overseas, then that would be terrific.
"He'll have an opportunity to go play. He's got his degree. He'll be successful with whatever he does. He was a very good kid. He was fun to coach. He's been great great for Missouri State and great for the Missouri Valley."
And Missouri State was great to him.