AP NEWS

Justin Kier has big-time game with small-town roots

March 8, 2018 GMT

There are not too many levels of separation between George Mason guard Justin Kier and Steph Curry, the NBA All-Star guard with the Golden State Warriors.

Kier grew up in Grottoes, Virginia, a small town of about 2,800 people a few miles outside of Harrisonburg in the Shenandoah Valley. Grottoes is also the hometown of Dell Curry, 53, the father of Steph and the author of his own NBA career from 1986 to 2002.

“I grew up just down the street from Dell’s mother. I met his sister at Kohl’s in Harrisonburg when I was in high school and I got a picture with her,” Kier said.

The George Mason sophomore played at Spotswood High and one of their rivals was Fort Defiance, the alma mater of former Virginia Tech star Dell Curry. Kier remembers watching Steph Curry on television during a memorable Davidson NCAA tourney run 10 years ago.

Kier got his chance to appear on an NBA court for the first time in his college career when Mason opened play in the Atlantic 10 Conference Championship on Thursday at Capital One Arena, the home of the Washington Wizards.

The No. 5 seed Patriots faced No. 13 UMass, who beat La Salle on Wednesday.

“It should be exciting,” said tri-captain Kier, standing courtside before practice Wednesday in Fairfax. “Hopefully we make it to the championship game (Sunday). It is going to feel like home for us.”

Kier has made a significant jump from his freshman season at Mason, when he averaged 27.7 minutes, 5.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-4 guard is averaging 33.3 minutes, 11.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He is third on the team in scoring and second in rebounding, assists and steals.

“He has grown a lot from a leadership perspective,” said junior guard Otis Livingston II, the team’s top scorer at 17.5 points per contest and a second-team all-conference player. “He is talking more; we are the vocal leaders. He has shown a lot of improvement in a lot of areas.”

“Justin’s development has been really good and really pivotal for our team,” said Dave Paulsen, the third-year Mason coach. “Now he is our second-leading scorer in conference play.”

Mason is 15-16 overall and 9-9 in the Atlantic 10. The Patriots had won three straight before a loss at home Saturday to Richmond in the regular-season finale.

In the three wins before that sophomore Ian Boyd hit a winning shot in the closing seconds to beat, in order, Saint Joseph’s by three, UMass by two and VCU by one.

“I am glad it has been him out of all of us,” Kier said of Boyd. “He is humble. He loves the spotlight, even though he won’t tell you he does. I am glad it was him. We have had a lot of fun with that.”

And Mason will now take a win any way it can. “We loved those buzzer beaters but after the first or second one we were saying ‘Let’s try not to get to that (point).’ Let’s get a bigger lead,” Kier said.