Tyler Kolek is ready to fly like an eagle at a Big East school.
Via his personal Twitter account, the Cumberland native announced Wednesday night that he’s taking his four years of eligibility – thank you, NCAA – and heading off to play for head coach Shaka Smart and Marquette University. Kolek also considered Providence, Oklahoma, and Penn State. Until recently, he also contemplated a return to George Mason where he earned Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year honors as a freshman this past season.
Of all the coaches who Kolek heard from, and there were plenty, the bond he formed with Smart proved to be the strongest.
“He was the first person who called me from their staff. He offered me the first time I talked to him,” said Kolek. “I built a great relationship with him in a short amount of time.”
Asked how often he heard from Smart, Kolek answered, “Pretty much every day if not twice per day. It was constant.”
Kolek entered the NCAA transfer portal on March 17 but also left the light on in terms of heading back to George Mason. The Patriots fired Dave Paulsen, the head coach who represented a major reason why Kolek committed to the Atlantic 10 school out of St. George’s. Smart was officially introduced as Marquette’s new coach on March 29 after spending the previous six seasons at Texas.
Kolek made it clear early on that he wasn’t going to hop into the transfer portal only to hop back out a few days later. He was going to take his time and listen to what perspective suitors were saying to him via Zoom, text messages, or phone calls. An estimated 35 head coaches reached out directly to Kolek. Many of them hailed from power conferences and didn’t even know his name when he was a coming-of-age high school prospect who could shoot and handle the ball with the best of them.
“The first time around, I made the best decision possible to succeed on and off the court. That process took over two years,” said Kolek, looking back at his commitment to George Mason. “The transfer process was shorter and less longwinded, but you’ve got to have the same process and mentality going in. It’s about putting yourself in the best position to succeed.”
Even though Paulsen was gone from George Mason, Kolek was willing to give the program’s new head coach, Kim English, a shot. Kolek was on Mason’s campus as recently as this past weekend.
“I wanted to get a feel for the new coaching staff and see how it goes. The workout regimens and practices, they all felt great,” said Kolek.
Ultimately, there was a feeling that proved too tough to ignore.
“I felt such a good connection with Coach Smart and went with that,” said Kolek. “There was no chance to see the schools. I had to go off relationships and was able to build a good one with [Smart].”
The Sept. 2019 night that Kolek committed to George Mason, he noted that there were times during high school when he felt he wasn’t good enough to play at the Division III level. Fast forward 2½ years later and he’s officially a Big East player.
“It’s wild to think about,” said Kolek. “I grew up going to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center with [PC Friar] season tickets. Having the chance [at Marquette] to be in that atmosphere and energy every single night, it’s crazy.”
Kolek put up several eye-catching numbers during his first and what proved to be his only season at George Mason. Beyond the 10.8 ppg on 36-percent shooting from three, he averaged over 30 minutes per game. Asked to share some insight to how Smart plans to use him beginning with the 2021-22 season, Kolek cited the strong bond he formed with his new coach.
“Nothing is guaranteed, but Coach Smart has given me confidence,” said Kolek. “Basically, I’m a freshman all over again. I can’t wait to get to it.”
Kolek hopes to get out to Marquette by the end of May.
“Coming out of high school, I wouldn’t have been someone they would have been looking at,” said Kolek. “Putting in the work, I’m blessed to be where I am right now.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03