Richard Kuzma, the leading scorer on the Jefferson boys’ basketball team, has been working for months to find a way to put the ball in the basket for a competition. The catch? The senior guard isn’t allowed to shoot the ball himself.
Instead, Kuzma has been working with his teammates on Jefferson’s robotics team to design a robot that can shoot a ball through a hoop for the regional competition. It’s an ironic twist for Kuzma, who turned down opportunities to attend MIT and Caltech in favor of playing basketball at the Naval Academy.
But of more immediate importance to Kuzma, who boasts a 4.27 grade-point average and scored 2340 out of a possible 2400 on the SATs, is his own shooting ability. He will put the robot aside Monday night when the Colonials travel to T.C. Williams for their first Virginia AAA Northern Region playoff game since 1997.
“At the beginning of the year, this was one of our big goals,” Kuzma said.
For many students at Jefferson, a science and technology magnet school in Fairfax County that is considered to be the top public school in the country, admittance to MIT or Caltech is the ultimate goal.
Kuzma visited several schools, including MIT, West Point, Caltech and Southern California, where he had a National Merit Scholarship. But in the end he felt most comfortable at Navy, where his father and uncles played basketball in the mid-1970s and early 1980s.
“I’m definitely interested in math and sciences, and coming from T.J., the exposure we get to it and the ability to pursue what you want in-depth really pushed me along that road,” said Kuzma, who attended basketball camp and a weeklong summer seminar at the academy. “MIT definitely had that, and the Naval Academy also had that. The programs are different but it wasn’t something where I was limiting myself if I really wanted to do math and science.”
Kuzma averages 19.3 points for the Colonials (8-16). At games, his classmates call him “quarter” and hold up a 25-cent piece with “In Kuzma We Trust” written across the top because Kuzma once said he believed he could and should score 25 points whenever he wanted.
Kuzma holds the program’s career, single-season and single-game scoring marks.
He led Jefferson with 24 points in a 66-62 upset of South Lakes in the first round of the Liberty District tournament that secured the region berth. He also has 35- and 37-point performances this season.
At 6 feet 3 and 170 pounds, Kuzma almost certainly must get bigger to play consistently for the Midshipmen.
“We’d like to see him grow a couple more inches and put on about 20 pounds,” said his father, Chuck Kuzma. But his coaches said he has the skill set to succeed at Navy.
“He’s a tremendously smart basketball player,” Jefferson Coach Mark Gray-Mendes said. “He understands the game on both ends of the floor and he has a strange ability to be able to get by defenders using hesitation dribbles and things of that nature. He knows how to play.”
Kuzma’s success both academically and athletically has come as a result of his ability to manage time, he said.
He wakes up at 5:30 a.m. to prepare for his hour and a half commute to Jefferson from his home in Leesburg, and often doesn’t return home from practice until 9:30 p.m.
He is president of Jefferson’s National Honor Society and plays AAU basketball for a team in Loudoun County.
He does community service and also worked one summer as an intern for Congressman Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), who served with his father in the Navy on the USS Hoel.
“T.J. makes you a lot of times prioritize,” Kuzma said. “You might not be able to get everything done, but you put some things ahead of others.”
To Kuzma, though, basketball is one thing that is always put near the top of the list. Making a robot that can shoot hoops will never replace knocking shots down himself.
“I do enjoy the academic side, but I get more of a rush playing basketball and being in that competitive atmosphere,” Kuzma said. “It pumps you up a little bit more and challenges you to push yourself and get 100 percent out of all you’re doing. I love the academic side and engineering and being a part of that team, but basketball has been my biggest love since I was a little kid.”