How Mik Kilgore lifted the spirits of Temple guard Nate Pierre-Louis
"If there's a million of you on the court, we'd win a national championship,'' Kilgore told him one day.
Nate Pierre-Louis, sophomore guard for Temple, didn't grow up steeped in Owls lore. That's not what they teach you on the courts in Central Jersey.
When Pierre-Louis got to Temple, there were older guys around the program sometimes, and this one older guy was around a lot. It's just that the name, Mik Kilgore, didn't resonate with Pierre-Louis.
"I met Mik like the first week I got here last year,'' Pierre-Louis said this week. "He was always there, and I never really knew who he was. Then they told me he actually played here, and he was really good. He was always around with a smile."
Pierre-Louis said he took the time to look up Kilgore. Sure enough, the man started every game he played for Temple, played in an NCAA Elite Eight, scored 1,471 points, and is in the top 20 of Temple's career scoring and rebounding lists and the top 10 in assists.
Pierre-Louis learned none of that from Kilgore himself. He was the just this 6-foot-8 guy who was around the weight room a lot, who was buddies with Owls assistant (and next head coach) Aaron McKie, who offered encouragement when Pierre-Louis was still feeling his way. Pierre-Louis eventually found out Kilgore had gone back to Temple to finish his own degree.
Temple opened the season Tuesday, and Mik Kilgore, 48, will be eulogized in services Friday across Broad Street, after dying of a heart attack last week. Temple will do right by him, wear jersey patches and even jerseys honoring him. Players such as Shizz Alston, who knew Kilgore longest and best, will tell younger guys more about him.
It just says something about Kilgore that you didn't have to be from Philadelphia to feel his presence. Kilgore, a star for the West Philadelphia High Speedboys, didn't differentiate that way. He saw "the dog" in this new guard from Jersey, told Pierre-Louis never to lose that trait, to stay aggressive.
"If there's a million of you on the court, we'd win a national championship,'' Kilgore told the then-freshman one day.
If you're at a new school — middle school or college, wherever — and some older person you don't know stops you and says there should be a million of you, that could have an impact on your life.
Pierre-Louis had been third-team all-state his senior year at Roselle Catholic but had to earn his time last season. The minutes improved but not immediately.
"Don't let the adversity affect your dog,'' Kilgore used to tell him, as Pierre-Louis remembered it. "Stay focused."
Kilgore had another trick to keep Pierre-Louis thinking positively. Watching him play, Kilgore would yell out, "Shooter."
"That gave me confidence,'' Pierre-Louis said. "I'm not going to lie — I wasn't a really good shooter."
His playing time increased, and Pierre-Louis was Temple's third-leading scorer in conference games, averaging 9.9 points. He made the all-AAC rookie team. He came into this new season preparing to be an impact player. In the season-opening win Tuesday over La Salle, he tallied 14 points and 13 rebounds in 35 minutes and tried two three-pointers, hitting them both.
So he's off and running now. He just doesn't intend to forget that taller man with a smile who saw things in him he didn't always notice himself.
"R.I.P. OG,'' Pierre-Louis wrote on Twitter last week. "Thank you for believing in me when no one did. You will truly be missed. I will always be that dog we talked about. This season is truly for you."