Dec. 20, 2011
For Ryan Kilmartin, the chance to walk on to the Tennessee basketball team was a dream come true. After spending a year at Appalachian State, the Charlotte, N.C., native never dreamed he'd be at a high-major Division I program.
But rewind a few years and that feeling gets magnified.
In the sixth grade, Kilmartin went out for the middle school basketball team. However he was cut and did not make the roster. But he was more determined the next year and went out for the team again.
Even more determined than before, Kilmartin went out for the team in eighth grade. But the fate was the same. Cut, again.
Ninth grade: same deal. But prior to going out for the team his sophomore year in high school, Kilmartin hit a growth spurt and his basketball career would never be the same. He continued to work and made the team as a sophomore and he started every game from there on out.
Most kids would not have continued to come back year after year. However, an experience from Kilmartin's past would not allow him to quit.
"I think it's a mentality from when I did tae kwon do when I was younger," Kilmartin said. "It's instilled in you not to quit. Don't fear anything, you can accomplish anything. That was a big part of my life. No matter what it is, I just have a really hard time quitting anything.
"Once you quit one thing, it makes it easier to quit the next time."
Kilmartin started tae kwon do when he was six-years-old by mere chance. While waiting at a pizza restaurant, Kilmartin and his younger brother noticed a dojo nearby.
"We noticed the studio next door and said, `What's going on in there? That looks pretty cool,'" Kilmartin said. "There was a unity about it and I felt like I should do it. It definitely helped me to get where I am today."
The fit was instant and before long, Kilmartin was raking in trophies on his way to a No. 1 world ranking in his age group. He won junior Olympic titles, North Carolina state titles and, because his mother is Welsh, he even worked out with the British Olympic team.
"The whole experience was incredible," Kilmartin said. "I had so many great opportunities but really the best part was the respect that I learned. I learned to respect people and how to treat people."
That lessons Kilmartin learned from tae kwon do are still affecting him today. Many of them are helpful when he is on the hardwood.
"That respect helped me early to learn whatever the coach says goes," Kilmartin said. "Coach Martin knows better than me what I should be doing out there. Everything he tells us on the basketball court correlates to real life. He is teaching us about basketball but also about life."
From the dojo to Thompson-Boling Arena, Kilmartin is soaking up life's lessons.