When Nooksack Valley prep basketball star Kyle Impero decided to leave Western Washington University after redshirting the 2011-12 season — his freshman year — all indications suggested he’d played his last basketball in Whatcom County.
Impero, like many promising young prospects, had dreams of playing big-time Division I ball.
The 6-foot-4 guard who dazzled nightly in high school, displaying his penchant for scoring in myriad ways seemingly had the capability to play at college’s highest level. His track record at Nooksack Valley spoke for itself.
Impero averaged 26.9 points per game as a senior, leading the Pioneers to a sixth place state finish. The Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association selected him Class 1A’s Player of the Year, and he was an Associated Press first-team all-state player. Impero poured in 30 or more points 10 times, including a 49-point outing against Bellingham. He became a must-watch for county basketball fans.
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But in an odd set of circumstances, Impero has never strayed from Whatcom County since leaving the Pioneers in 2011.
“At Western, when they won the national championship my freshman year, after that I just kind of wanted to go to a (community college) to get my chance to go D1,” Impero said in a phone interview. “My plan was to go to a CC for one year, and I didn’t know what CC I’d go to. I ended up going to Whatcom.”
Impero picked up right where he left off at Nooksack Valley. His first year at Whatcom he averaged 20.4 points and 7.2 rebounds — strong numbers but not the 25 points per game WWU coach Tony Dominguez told him he’d need to garner serious interest from a Division I school.
So Impero stayed at Whatcom a second season, a year in which he averaged 28.3 points per game and was selected the NWAC North Region MVP.
Still, Impero wasn’t courted by the big schools he aspired to play for.
“I would say yeah,” responded Impero when asked whether the lack of interest put a chip on his shoulder, “just because others before me or the same year in the same NWAC Division that were around the same stats (got interest) from Seattle U, Portland, Portland State, and that was frustrating. But it was like, ‘Oh, OK, I wonder what they are doing? What I am not?’”
Even after Impero left the Vikings to pursue a Division I dream, he never forgot what he left behind.
“Leaving it wasn’t, ‘Oh, I didn’t like Western.’ I really liked it,” Impero said. “I liked the program, and I liked how we went about stuff and how we did it and the atmosphere.”
So when the big Division I schools didn’t come calling, Impero said coming back to Western became a no-brainer.
And Dominguez and his staff were more than thrilled to welcome him back.
“I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason and everyone ends up where they are supposed to be,” Dominguez said in a phone interview. “We didn’t plan on him coming back. We recruited other guys, and it was great he decided to come here. It was unexpected to be honest.”
The addition was a nice boost to an already solid recruiting class, but Impero’s first year playing a predominant role for Western has been up and down.
His start to the season was hampered by an ankle injury, and Impero’s been moved in and out of the starting lineup to accommodate different matchups.
One of Impero’s biggest adjustments has been transitioning from a player who averages 28 points a night to taking on a reduced scoring role. With a number of athletes who can score at Impero’s pace, his heavy scoring load isn’t needed.
Following WWU’s 88-68 Great Northwest Athletic Conference win over Montana State-Billings on Thursday, Jan. 8, Impero was averaging 7.5 points per game, 4.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 22.9 minutes per game.
“I knew coming in getting recruited we had a bunch of good guys. I knew I wasn’t going to average 25 or anything,” Impero said. “It’s nice knowing any night a guy can go for 20 and the next night a different guy goes for 20 and the next night it could be me or the next guy.”
Impero admitted he hasn’t quite hit his stride yet. Dominguez has seen flashes, when Impero scored a season-high 18 against Hawaii-Hilo, but the WWU coach said confidence building is central to his junior sharpshooter’s success.
“He has a great ability to score but hasn’t caught fire yet,” Dominguez said. “Young kids get that swagger, get that confidence and quite honestly that is what’s missing from Kyle right now. Even though we have all been frustrated with areas on our team, I see tremendous success for Kyle. When his confidence level goes up, he will be the guy he was last year.”
Even though Impero’s scoring numbers haven’t been outstanding, he’s given a big lift to the Vikings, Dominguez said.
The Western coach raved about Impero’s maturity and his willingness to take on any role asked of him in order to benefit the club. Also his ability to play the one, two or three spot offers Dominguez a ton of flexibility.
With the rest of this season and one more next year, Impero will have plenty off opportunities to add to the strong basketball reputation he’s already established within Whatcom County.