"It feels good," said Brandan Kearney regarding his team's march to the city title game. The comment was one part joy, one part relief, and one part vindication. He'd fought through a year wrought with naysayers and increased expectations, and still performed admirably. To top it off, his team is in position to accomplish one of its goals.
Along the way Kearney learned that performance fuels hype. He then learned hype fuels expectation. Then he discovered that expectations fuels pressure. With age comes the ability to better handle every stage of that chain. Unfortunately for athletically precocious youngsters like Kearney, the same amount of time to pick up those lessons doesn't exist -- and he knows it.
"Of course there is pressure, especially after you have a good summer and you come in playing for (Southeastern coach) Mark White," said Kearney. "He already has a lot of eyes on him. That means there are eyes on you too. I've been handling it well. Last year I felt pressure, but this year it has kind of been more on me because I'm a sophomore, I'm getting recruited by Michigan, and all of the attention I was getting over the summer. I've been handling it well though."
White has molded his fair share of players during his coaching career, and taking it easy his protégés has not been a part of the recipe for success. It certainly hasn't been part his strategy in helping develop Kearney, but the talented youngster both understands and appreciates that approach.
"He is going to always bring the best out of you," Kearney stated regarding his coach. "That's the good thing about him. Night in and night out, in practice and in games, he tries to bring the best out of his players."
White wasn't successful at bringing out that kind of effort during his club's lopsided 70-48 loss to Detroit Pershing in early January. When the two teams played three weeks later, though, he saw to it that history didn't repeat itself.
"It wasn't the way we prepared for the first game," Kearney explained. "We prepared well. We just executed the plan better the second time. The second time we didn't turn the ball over as much."
The end result was a 78-75 victory for Southeastern. Both games set the stage for the rubber match that will take place Friday evening at Calihan Hall in the Detroit Public School League finals.
"There is a little talking going on when we play, but it's just competing," said Kearney. "It's real fun. Real fun because they're good and we're good. It's just fun competing them guys. It's some talking, but it's mostly two good teams playing against each other."
Kearney helped power his team to the finals with a 12 point, 19 rebound, six assist effort versus Henry Ford last Friday. The ability to affect the game in multiple ways is the trait that best defines Kearney's game. It's also the trait that his father Derrick has worked hard to instill.
"I like doing everything on the floor," said Kearney. "My dad has been comparing me to Pippen. That's what I've been focusing on in practice and games. That's my whole mindset."
That frame of mind came in handy at various points during big numbers in the scoring column were infrequent (mostly due to lack of shots). A well placed message from Michigan headman John Beilein also served as a little positive reinforcement.
"Beilein told us not to worry about whether Brandan is getting shots or scoring a lot of points," said Kearney's father Derrick. "He said he's not even worried about that. He loves Brandan and he loves his all around game. He told us that."
The words were appreciated more for their affirmation of the youngster's being on the right track with his game than for any assurances that Michigan still coveted him greatly. Frankly, Kearney hasn't dedicated much time to thinking about recruiting, and that includes talking to good friend Trey Zeigler about the process. The time for such thoughts will come around again very soon.
"I've been just focusing on the season," he explained. "After the season, I'm going to get back to (recruiting) and start talking to (Trey) again. The only game I've been to is Michigan. Other than that I've just been to U of D and to an Eastern game with friends."
GoBlueWolverine will have more on Kearney in the coming days.