‘DK’ delivers in crunch time for GV

GVL / Robert Mathews
Darren Kapustka

GVL / Robert Mathews Darren Kapustka

Jay Bushen

Late-game heroics don’t spontaneously take place in the final minute — they’re the byproduct of a process.

That process began more than 100,000 shots ago for sophomore guard Darren Kapustka of the Grand Valley State University men’s basketball team, and by now, he’s a stone-cold sharpshooter with ice water in his veins.

Kapustka, one of the first players off the bench for GVSU, has shown a knack for knocking down the big shot late in games so far this season, and he is one the team’s most dangerous perimeter shooters along with junior guard Ryan Sabin.

“He’s always been a clutch player,” Sabin said. “He doesn’t shy away from big moments, which is huge, especially being a bench guy. He doesn’t lack confidence at all, and that helps the team out a lot. If he has a shot, he’s going to take it — and we love that.”

Opposing teams have been doing everything in their power to blanket Sabin with time winding down, which has led to big opportunities for Kapustka, who averages a team-high 2.5 points in the final five minutes of GLIAC contests so far this season.

He and Sabin have both connected on 4-of-8 attempts from beyond the arc in those situations, but Kapustka holds a slight edge in free-throw shooting percentage after sinking 14-of-17 (.824 percent) in crunch time.

Head coach Ric Wesley said it all starts with preparation.

“He puts in a lot of time,” Wesley said. “He gets a lot of extra shots up and has his whole career. It’s not by accident that he makes those shots. He’s a guy we expect to make every one he takes because you see him do it at a high rate in and outside of practice.”

Kapustka has been doing it for years.

He said he used to shoot 100 free throws a day in high school and has carried a similar habit over to his collegiate career. He and the starting guards are usually some of the first players in the gym an hour before practice starts.

“He looks for his own shots and he knows he needs to shoot them,” Sabin said. “When he goes up, you know it’s going in. He loves it at the end of the game, too, which is great.”

Kapustka’s first opportunity to be the hero just so happened to take place in his hometown.

GVSU opened GLIAC play against Ashland University this season in a game played at Grand Rapids Community College due to a scheduling conflict. Kapustka felt right at home and broke a 62-62 tie by delivering the game-winning layup with 12 seconds left before ending the game with a steal on the other end of the floor.

His next game-winning performance also came with 12 seconds remaining.

GVSU was tied 80-80 with Lake Erie College when an opposing player inexplicably fouled him. He knocked both free throws, grabbed the defensive rebound on the other end of the court, then sealed the game with two more freebies for an 84-80 win.

“Guys like that have to have swagger,” Sabin said. “It’s not really a quiet confidence or a cocky confidence — it’s a cool confidence.”

Kapustka’s third game-winning effort was served up cold for No. 12 University of Findlay.

This time it was a 74-74 game with 20 seconds left on the clock. Fifth-year senior guard Rob Woodson drove the lane and kicked it out to Kapustka who, with a hand in his face, buried a 3-pointer right in front of the GVSU bench.

He also helped the Lakers upset No. 23 Lake Superior State University by connecting on some key free throws down the stretch after Sabin went off for a career-high 28 points.

“We all trust each other,” Kapustka said. “Sabin hit some huge shots last week, Woodson has hit some huge shots this year. We can all hit them — it’s just whoever gets the opportunity.”

Kapustka, who averages 6.9 points in 20.1 minutes per game, has had to work hard to earn his opportunities.

The 5-foot-9 guard is the shortest player listed on the team’s roster, a factor his coach hardly took into consideration when recruiting him.

“Size is certainly one of the variables, but he has so many other things going for him like his ability to handle the ball or shoot the ball,” Wesley said. “He’s got a great work ethic. He’s probably the best student in our program, and he’s got so many positive traits and brings so much to the table.”

As long as the student athlete continues to focus on the process, he’ll have plenty of more opportunities to be a hero in a Laker uniform.