From the first made bucket fifty seconds in to the game for the NBA D-League Champion Rio Grande Vipers to his last appearance on the floor with 17 seconds left, D.J. Kennedy put on a command performance.
The 2011 St. John's grad and Red Storm star led his team to the championship over the Santa Cruz Warriors in Hidalgo, Texas, winning the best-of-three game series in two. It was a solid end to a season, despite Kennedy wanting more from his basketball odyssey.
For Kennedy, it was the continuation of his journey just below the radar of NBA rosters, where he does a little bit of everything, and hopes that some NBA team will give him an extended chance at the top level. But he appreciated the championship, calling it "a blessing."
"You have to have faith in yourself," Kennedy said to NBADL reporter Anthony Oliva. "I knew if I kept pushing, was working hard and stayed patient that the opportunity [for an NBA call-up] would present itself."
The opportunity did not present itself; but Kennedy certainly stayed on GM's radars with his performance, and will look to get to an NBA summer league in the coming months.
Kennedy led the Vipers with a game-high in points with 27 and a game high in assists with six, displaying the versatility he's had since high school; he also added 7 rebounds, second on the team to former Georgia Tech wing Glen Rice Jr.
It wasn't a pretty game, with both teams shooting under 23% from outside the arc.
"Pack the paint. Pack the paint," forward Glen Rice Jr. said. "That was our main objective. Make them make some tough shots, tough 3s, but no layups."
"We're a bunch of quick, athletic guys," Kennedy said. "Everybody crashes the boards and we play defense personally. Teams might be bigger, but we don't back down."
Reflecting on his trade from the Erie Bayhawks - who he played with last year and started the season with - to Rio Grande, D.J. Kennedy told Oliva that "at first I was confused and frustrated... I was playing good out in Erie – good group of guys, great staff – and then the trade came and it kind of threw me off a little. At first it took me a little while to get into a rhythm. I really wasn’t in it, but I was able to get through it."
His teammate Rice lauded Kennedy's skill set, saying "you can see he plays point guard for us a lot of the time and he’s also getting rebounds down with the big guys battling and he’s picked up some of the scoring since [Andrew] Goudelock left. He’s an unselfish player and those are the best players to play with."