After sitting out for an entire season per NCAA transfer rules, former Villanova big man Markus Kennedy enters this season better than he has ever been.
"It made me so much more aware of the game," Kennedy said. "My basketball IQ is higher than it's ever been just from seeing how stuff works from a coach's stand point. Seeing how quick the rotations have to be and how every possession matters.
"As a basketball player, I took all that time I was out just to get better. I've been working on my jump shot, on my handles, getting my body right, everything – just making sure I'm the best player I can be."
Although the 6-foot-9, 245-pound power forward took advantage of his time away from the court, he was still very much affected by the team's performance last year and at times felt helpless outside of practice.
"It was tough especially with the season that we had," Kennedy said. "Even though I wasn't playing, I'm still a part of the team so those losses I felt just as much as everybody else on the rest of the team. It hurt."
But this year Kennedy says he's relieved to see first hand that his team is headed in a different direction compared to last year's, and he's ready to do his part in laying the foundation for the type of program he envisioned SMU being when he chose it as the best school for him.
"Coach Brown had a little bit to do with it I guess," Kennedy said laughing. "We're building something great, that's all it is. We're building a powerhouse and a legacy. History, we're about to make history down here and it's something I wanted to be a part of."
If there is one word most commonly used to describe Brown by his players it is perfectionist. Because of this, the head coach has no problem coming down hard on his team when they make mistakes.
Kennedy easily adjusted to Brown's style of teaching because he knows that there's wisdom in his words.
"I love the game," Kennedy said. "And you have a hall-of-fame coach that's known for winning, assistant coaches that are known for winning and a program that needs to be known for winning – why not listen to him and take in everything he says?
"Why not be aware and conscious that he knows what he's talking about? That was the big thing for me just taking in as much as I can. There's no way that he's not going to make sure that I get to where I want to be if I do what he says."
As a projected starter, Kennedy knows he has worked hard enough and earned enough trust from the coaching staff to play big minutes this year and have an impact from a purely production standpoint.
But with a young team in only the second year of a major makeover, Kennedy says his role on the team goes far beyond the basketball court.
"My role is to bring the heart and the passion to the game and to make sure that everybody is ready to go every single night," he said. "That's a role that I love and it's more important to me than my role on the court.
"When we're ten points down with five minutes left and the team is looking at me, I've got to be able to look back at them and tell them that win or lose we're going to get through this. That's more of a family than just being able to go out and get double-doubles and score."
Kennedy doesn't believe he's the only one bringing the passion and charisma to the team. There are a number of core players that the team will feed off of when it's crunch time and as time goes on Kennedy is convinced that everyone will take on that role.
"You know when you're on the court with them they're going to dive on the court for that last loose ball, they're going to take that hard foul if they have to, they're going to hit the two free throws at the end, they're going to knock down the big three," he said. "And the goal is to make sure everybody's like that."
With the season kicking off this Friday, the redshirt sophomore says it's go time and he and his team will be ready to play and poised to win.
"I'm a way better basketball player," Kennedy said. "I'm more confident and I'm ready. It's no more holding back, it's no more being conservative on the court – it's now or never and I'm ready to go."
Hoops Feature: Markus Kennedy
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