Shawn Kirkeby knows that there is a not-so-subtle difference between being viewed as a basketball player, or merely a tall person who plays basketball.
At 6-feet, 10-inches and 230 pounds, the choice is up to him.
There was a time when the latter description was appropriate.
But that is rapidly changing.
Kirkeby, a Buena High senior, has become one of the dominant players in the Southern Section 4-A Division.
In Ventura County, Don Mac Lean, Simi Valley's 6-10 All-American center, is perhaps the only player who can have a greater impact on the outcome of a game. In the Channel League, Kirkeby runs second to only Paul Johnson, Santa Barbara's 6-5 forward, in that department.
The numbers--18.2 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3 blocked shots a game--reflect only a portion of his value to a Buena team that began the week ranked seventh in the 4-A Division with a 16-2 record, 9-0 in the Channel League.
And consider this: There are no statistical categories for the layups he turns into air balls by his mere presence on defense.
On offense, he is just as intimidating.
"Just him being there as a threat is a big asset," Buena Coach Glen Hannah said.
Hannah, whose teams have won two league titles in his six years as coach, says opposing teams have tried a variety of defenses against Buena, none of which has worked. If Kirkeby doesn't beat them inside, guards Jeff Oliver and Mike Sandoval bomb away from three-point range.
"One team used a box-and-one against Oliver to try and take him away. That opened up the inside and Shawn went crazy," Hannah said. "Another team used a box-and-one against Shawn and we beat them on the outside."
And so it goes. Pick your poison. And Kirkeby doesn't mind at all that he doesn't always get to deliver the death blow.
"I only scored eight against Ventura and we still won," he said. "That's fine with me. Other people pick up the slack. We're winning as a team. "
But that team, which was 15-8 last season, wouldn't be quite as imposing without the big guy in the middle, says Coach Chris Taylor of crosstown-rival Ventura.
"I think he's the basic difference between their team this year and last year," Taylor said. "If you let them enter the ball to him down low, you're in trouble. He's going to score on you 80% of the time.
"We contained that pretty well, but I think we paid so much attention in doing so that we lost track of some other guys."
Kirkeby played for Buena last season but not nearly so well. Injury and illness did to him what opponents have failed to do this season--stop him cold.
First, he suffered a fractured thumb. Then he was struck with the Asian flu, which kept him bedridden for two weeks. Finally, he got walking pneumonia. As a result, Kirkeby played in only 15 of Buena's 23 games and averaged 6.2 points.
"Last year was really a wasted year for him," Hannah said.
It also is one of the reasons college recruiters have yet to beat a path to his doorstep.
Cal State Northridge, Cal Poly Pomona and Idaho State have expressed the most interest, along with Columbia, which was quickly eliminated as an option because it is expensive and doesn't grant athletic scholarships.
"I get a lot of calls from colleges that just aren't sure about him," Hannah said. "They're wondering where he fits in."
There is no question Kirkeby has several qualities recruiters look for in a center. He is a good passer, has decent range and a nice shooting touch.
Still, he could run better, lose weight and move his feet more quickly on defense.
"His best years are ahead of him," Taylor said. "He can be dominant now, but not in an all-around sense like MacLean can. But Shawn's going to mature later. He'll only get better as time goes on."
His cause should be aided by the fact that doctors say his growth period is over. This might be considered bad news to most players, but not to Kirkeby who was 6-1 as a freshman, 6-3 as a sophomore and 6-7 last season.
"It was hard for me to catch up with my growth," he said. "Just this summer, I went to two camps and noticed some of the clumsiness going away."
Buena lists him at 6-10, although he appears to be two or three inches shorter. The reason, Hannah says, is that Kirkeby slouches. "It surprised me," the coach said. "But with his shoes on and when he's standing straight--it's legitimate. It's the way he carries himself. He's so hunched."
If his posture improves as fast as his game, he'll be standing tall soon.
"He knows he has a lot of work to do, but he's come a long way already," Hannah said.
Part of that work will take place in the weight room. Kirkeby has some muscle to add and 10 pounds of fat to lose.
"I've lifted weights before, but I usually just do it for a month or so, then slack off and quit," Kirkeby said. "I'd rather shoot for two hours."
Until now, he's been able to get by almost on height alone. But he knows it won't be that way in college--even if he fails to secure a Division I scholarship.
"I know I have some work to do," he said. "That people say I could get a lot better doesn't bother me. I must be doing something right or they wouldn't be talking to me at all.
"The thing is, I'm willing to put in the hours because I love playing basketball. Right now, it's No. 1 on my list."