Former Gallatin Green Wave basketball standout Zool Kueth is starting to find his groove on the hardwood again.
After a broken ankle sidelined him just 17 games into his first year at Tallahassee Community College, the 6-foot-7 forward is now making his name known in the junior college ranks.
However, it has not come without adversity.
“When the doctors first told me (about the broken ankle), I was down for about a week or two,” Kueth told the Gallatin News. “I talked to a bunch of people, prayed about everything, and trusted the process of therapy. It was a bump in the road, but I knew I would be back at it.”
Kueth’s positive attitude during adversity is not something out of the ordinary and made him better today because of it.
“I think when all that went down, he developed an ‘I will show you’ type of mentality,” Gallatin coach Bobby Luna said. “He did not crumble when people doubted him, and I think you are seeing him reap the benefits of that.”
Following Kueth’s first year in Florida, there was a coaching change at Tallahassee CC, and the conversation with the new coach did not go as expected. The new coach told Zool that he was planning to bring in a whole new team made up from Division I transfers, and Kueth’s best option moving forward would be to move on.
“I was not mad at him when he told me that,” Kueth said. “At least he told me the truth. The truth was he was picking up a lot of Division I transfers, and I would not get the playing time I needed to get to where I wanted to go. I respected him for that.”
So Kueth took the advice of the coach and decided to take his talents elsewhere. He had two Division I opportunities but decided he needed to fine-tune his game and stay in the junior college ranks.
“I had several schools recruiting me, but I knew the Jayhawk Conference was a great place to go and play,” he said. “I could have gone Division 1, but I knew staying in JUCO was the best decision for me.”
Kueth, decided to move West and take his talents to Pratt Community College to play for Sean Flynn and the Beavers in Kansas.
This season, Kueth played in 31 games and averaged 14.5 points, five rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. He shot 43 percent from the field, 33 percent from long distance and made 69 3-pointers. Kueth scored over 20 points on 10 occasions, with his career-high 27 coming against Southwestern College on November 11, 2019.
His play landed him on the All-KJCCC Second Team.
“I would say I had a good, bounce-back season,” he said. “I went through a lot when I was not playing; now I have the freedom on the court and the trust of my coaches.
“It was a great feeling when I got back (on the court) after my injury,” Kueth continued. “I had butterflies the whole week thinking about playing again. It took me a couple of games to get settled in, but after that, I was back to normal.”
Kueth’s highlight came in a Feb. 5 game in a 79-71 victory at Barton College. The sophomore logged 31 minutes, finishing with 21 points, two blocks, two steals, two assists and three rebounds. He shot 4-for-8 from distance and 7-for-15 from the field.
Born in Gallatin, Kueth plays for his family that still lives in South Sudan.
“It is a good feeling to represent them on a nightly basis,” he said. “I always try and play my hardest for the people that would never get this chance back home. I have a great opportunity, and so I want to do something with it.”
Now that Kueth is back to his old self on the basketball court, he is starting to hear from multiple colleges looking to add to their rosters.
“Throughout the season, I have heard from multiple schools, but I have not sat down to talk,” he said. “My main focus this season was on helping win games at Pratt. In the next week or so, I will start meeting with coaches and schools to see what is best for me.”
Winning is important to Kueth, and so the culture of whichever school lands the Gallatin product will need to have a winning edge and mentality.
“I want to go somewhere I have an opportunity to play and get better,” he said. “Education is important to me, and I want to go to the national tournament. I want a winning environment.”
At Gallatin, Kueth was a two-year starter under Bobby Luna. He graduated in 2018.
Kueth was named Sumner County Player of the Year by the Gallatin News and garnered District 9-AAA MVP and Second Team All-Mid State as a senior.
“When he came in as a freshman, he had several obstacles he needed to overcome,” Luna said. “As a sophomore, he still struggled with the ability to catch and finish around the rim and was still learning to play the game.”
Kueth started just one game in his sophomore season, a loss to Mt. Juliet in the District 9-AAA tournament quarterfinals.
“He was making progress throughout the entire season, and we started to see the improvement we hoped to see and started to feel like he would be the player he thought he could be. I think that game propelled him into his junior season.”
His junior season saw success but never blossomed into the season many had hoped. He took a big leap forward that summer going into his senior year and turned into the player that Tallahassee CC coveted.
“I would say at the end of his junior year he started to show the signs of being the player we thought he could be,” Luna said. “His skill level caught up to him. He was able to finish around the rim and shoot from the perimeter.”
Now that Kueth has silenced his doubters with solid play on the hardwood, Luna said that the upcoming junior will make the coaching staff that signs him “very happy.”
“He has progressed and become an outstanding player these last two years in JUCO,” Luna said.
“I look at his progression in two phases,” Luna continued. “I look back at him as a freshman and sophomore, and yes, it does surprise me he has come this far. However, if you look back at his junior and senior year, you see he is reaping the benefits of all that hard work he put in.”
Kueth helped lead Pratt to a 19-12 record before ending their season against Neosho County Community College in the first round of the Region VI Tournament.