Best Kept Secret
The overlooked Brandan Kearney is prepping for the next level.
by The FANalysts, Phife Dawg and The Gambler
Brandan Kearney is no tight ass. If he was, he would probably do a Kanye West and throw a tantrum if he is not voted Michigan’s Mr. Basketball this season.
Former Detroit Osborne coach and sports guru Champ McCullough feels Kearney would be justified in those actions if he didn’t win it. Winning Mr. Basketball in a basketball-rich state like Michigan, however, makes the award subject to the same politics as The Heisman trophy.
The voters have their favorites. And the favorite players are usually the players the national publications have anointed as the next big hood hoopster. Words like academic excellence and unselfishness are rarely mentioned. Those traits usually don’t captivate fans or get you the Slam cover. It might, as in Kearney’s case, even garner you some “unfair” criticism.
Maybe not as fantasy friendly as some would like, Kearney’s skills were still good enough to get him scholarship offers from elite programs such as Ohio State, Kentucky, Michigan and Georgetown, before signing with Michigan State last Wednesday, on national signing day.
“Brandan is a future NBA lottery pick, “said McCullough whose eyes lit up like Gucci Mane’s mouth when discussing the 6-6 point guard. “He is unselfish. He can rebound, pass, defend and shoot the three. He has an NBA wingspan [81 inches]. He is the consummate team player and leader, but with the type of skill set that makes him a potential star by the time his body and game becomes NBA-ready.”
It would seem the versatile Detroit Southeastern guard has all of the qualities one would look for in a future pro:
—Pedigree. His dad, Derrick Kearney played two years with former NBA great Karl Malone at Louisiana Tech University. His cousins are former Houston Oiler and Detroit Lion Stan Edwards, and former Wolverine and Jets Pro Bowl wide receiver Braylon Edwards. Also, like Edwards, Kearney is destined to be Paid in Full. How can he not? His dad is a good friend of Hip-Hop legend Rakim.
—Performing with and against the nation’s best players is old hat for him. Kearney is a 2009 member Team USA, helping them go 5-0 and capture gold in the 2009 FIBA Americas U16 Championship June 17-21 in Mendoza, Argentina. He was also named to the 2010 USA Youth Olympic Games Team in Singapore. In both instances he was the lone Michigan player to make the squad. If that’s not elite, then The Gambler doesn’t know what it.
—Kearney’s a proven winner. As a sophomore he averaged 11 pts, 4 dishes and 6 boards per game, leading Detroit Southeastern to the city championship game. He won The AAU National Championship with Team Detroit, summer 09’ in Las Vegas. He also participated in the NBA’s Top 100 camp in Virginia. And not that it matters, but in this age of billion- dollar -ball dreams and talent over character, Kearney’s 3.4 GPA shows his solid maturity and intelligence. Now we’re talking height, skill, smarts and prime athleticism.
Despite Kearney’s lofty accomplishments, there are still cats frontin’ hard on him. It isn’t his skills that are the problem, either. (Nor is it his favorite basketball mag!–Ed.) He is multi-faceted and has a basketball I.Q. that is through the roof. He is a facilitator who is also an accurate shooter. Most of his points come off of made shots rather than the free throw line, where most high school basketball stars make a living.
“My shot selection is great,” said Kearney. If you look at my best scoring games, like the 33 points I scored on [Chicago] Julian H.S. last season, I only went to the line a few times. Most of my buckets came on a variation of perimeter, mid range and close range shots.”
Ironically, in this age of one-on-one superstars playing five-on-one games, the main criticism of Kearney is basically that he is not a gunner. His national ranking is affected by the fact that he looks to get “other guys going first,” as Kearney explained. Some scouts say he lacks that killer instinct to take over a game. Others say he is inconsistent, complacent about winning and disappears at critical moments.
My FANalyst partner Phife Dawg feels Kearney’s passiveness is misinterpreted. We were in Atlanta this past weekend celebrating Phife’s 40th birthday. In between the guest DJ’ing by superproducer Just Blaze, birthday well-wishes by Young Jeezy and former Colts star Edgerin James, we talked Kearney.
“He is just preparing to play at the next level,” said Phife. “He has a natural floor awareness. Reminds me of a Rajon Rondo. But Kearney is a better shooter. In college, he should blossom, surrounded by other studs. He already has the understanding that making others better is a winning formula. No prima donna issues. He also has the potential to be more assertive offensively. Either way you slice it, those are next level qualities.”
Some national pubs had him ranked as low as 35th at his position at the end of a stellar junior season, in which Kearney did it all, averaging 16 pts, 6 dimes and 8 rips per game. Kearney is no Kanye, so he is not gonna grab the mic and state his case at an inappropriate time. He ain’t sweating it. He says he is working hard on his game. He will always use his haters as inspiration, but reacting to the slights is something he chooses to avoid, which is further evidence that Kearney can make the tough decision on and off the court. Don’t get it twisted though. Just because he isn’t a cocky ball hog doesn’t mean Kearney is not confident.
“All I can do is play my game and improve,” said Kearney, a huge King James fan. “I am going to gain more weight and make my presence felt in every aspect of every game, including scoring more if I have too.”
His confidence was also on display when he chose to break family tradition, shun Michigan and sign with hated-rival MSU. How did cousin Braylon, a diehard Wolverine, take it? Kearney says Edwards didn’t influence him one way or another and offered solid advice as “he often has throughout my young basketball career.” Kearney says Edwards is always available for guidance, but the controversial Jet left the ultimate decision up to Kearney. Edwards even went as far as to suggest that MSU may be a better fit for Kearney, particularly with The Wolverine basketball program still reeling from the effects of past probation, scholarship losses and poor recruiting classes.
Kearney said he is looking forward to being pushed by Tom Izzo and the truck-load of ballers already at MSU. But for the time being, he has immediate business in the D. It’s not battling Eminem either. It’s trying to win a state championship, and have his skills acknowledged. Kearney is one of four players who signed with The Spartans, ranked No. 2 in the country this season.
All four are perimeter players, so Kearney will have to earn his PT. Playing time will be up for grabs next season, as MSU will lose three key guards: Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers and Mike Kebler. Kearney’s all-around game will surely help him get some major burn.
“This class brings a lot of what we’re gonna be losing,” Izzo said on MSU’s website greenandwhite.com. Kearney is a part of the overall optimism that comes with this year’s recruiting class. If Branden Dawson, a 6-6 wing and top-20 player, is the crown jewel of a recruiting class that is ranked No. 15 by Rivals.com, No. 17 by ESPN and No. 18 by Scout.com, then Kearney is the best kept secret. Izzo went as far as to compare him to former MSU star and NBA All Star Steve Smith.
Unfortunately Izzo doesn’t have a vote for Mr. Basketball. So what will it take for Kearney to make it three Michigan Mr. Basketball’s in a row for the Spartans. [Derrick Nix 09’, Keith Appling 10’]? Appling was relatively unknown nationally, until he broke out for 49 points in the Class A State chip. Maybe Kearney will have a breakout game in a big spot as well. Then he’ll be the toast of the town. But rather than dropping 49 points, Kearney’s stat sheet will probably read something like this: 27 points, 15 rebounds, 10 assists and 6 steals. He’s surely capable. “That’s for the voters to worry about,” insisted Kearney, wins are most important for me. I can intellectually break down a defense as well as athletically.”
The moral of Kearney’s story is, it’s all perspective. Sometimes people overlook what they need for what they think they want. This year Kearney is trying to give them both.