A Culmination For Kennedy

From an injury that ended his college career to NBA D-League champion in just two years, it's been a long road for D.J. Kennedy.

McAllen, Texas -- In a little over two years, D.J. Kennedy has come a very long way.

From the time his teammates picked him up off the Madison Square Garden floor after he tore his ACL in the 2011 Big East Tournament – causing him to miss his one chance at playing in the NCAA Tournament – to now, Kennedy’s lived a life of ups and downs.

For starters, he rehabbed from his untimely injury, watched himself go unselected in the 2011 NBA Draft and then joined the Erie BayHawks in the NBA D-League. From there, he earned a Call-Up with the Cavaliers in 2011-12, but was then traded to and later released from the Memphis Grizzlies, which resulted in him ultimately going back to Erie, where he was playing until this March.

For a NBA D-Leaguer grinding in hopes of making an NBA team, he covered all the bases. And on Saturday night, he was covered in champagne.

Kennedy led his newest team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, to a NBA D-League title after he scored a game-high 27 points to go with a typically robust stat line of seven rebounds, six assists and three steals in RGV’s 102-91 win over Santa Cruz in Game 2 of the NBA D-League Finals.

“It’s a blessing to be honest with you,” Kennedy said of winning the championship. “I’ve been through a lot this year.”

While Kennedy’s career has seemingly been in a constant state of flux since that fateful night in March 2011, one of the biggest curveballs he faced in that span may have been the trade that sent him to Rio Grande Valley from Erie in early March.

“At first I was confused and frustrated,” Kennedy said. “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.

It ended up becoming a blessing. Great group of guys, and I was able to win a championship.”

Kennedy was thrust into a bigger role – much like the featured one he was playing in Erie – with RGV once 2012-13 NBA D-League MVP Andrew Goudelock was called up from the Vipers to the Los Angeles Lakers. In the five games that Goudelock did not play this postseason, Kennedy averaged 22.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 5.8 points.

Despite those impressive numbers, Kennedy’s value as a teammate may have been revealed even before Goudelock got the Call-Up.

“The window opened for him a little more with Goudelock's Call-Up to have to do a little bit more, but again, I think that's a credit to him that he was doing what was required of him when Goudelock was here,” Rio Grande Valley coach Nick Nurse said. “It just maybe wasn't as noticeable since the shots were down and the points were down a little, but he was still doing all the other things.”

Those “other things” include just about everything a player can do on the basketball court. At 6-foot-6, Kennedy does, as Nurse says, “everything above average.” He may not have a true position -- and that may be holding him back from sticking with an NBA team -- but that didn’t make him any less valuable to Rio Grande Valley’s championship run.

“D.J. is the complete package, that’s the kind of player he is,” Rio Grande Valley guard Glen Rice Jr. said. “You can see he fills up the stats. 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 Goudelock left.

He’s an unselfish player and those are the best players to play with.”

One of the times where Kennedy’s scoring was needed was in a tone-setting stretch in the first half on Saturday night. After struggling with his outside shot in all of Game 1 and in the early part of Game 2, Kennedy hit a jumper off the dribble from the left elbow with 5:51 left in the second quarter and proceeded to score nine points in a two-minute span, including a 3-pointer, which upped the Vipers lead 13.

It was that kind of moment, on this team, on this kind of stage that Kennedy had been patiently waiting for. It was what motivated him as he rehabbed from him injury and it’s what has helped him cope with the frustrations of not receiving a Call-Up this year despite a stellar campaign.

“You have to have faith in yourself,” Kennedy said. “I knew if I kept pushing, was working hard and stayed patient that the opportunity would present itself.”

Saturday night was the culmination of that glass-half-full philosophy. And, this time, the only thing that came up empty was that bottle of champagne.