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Learning the Ropes

Updated: Apr 10, 2020

Patience is a virtue.

Colin Kenney was probably in first or second grade back at St. Patrick School in Chesterton, just figuring out how to do a crossover dribble, when he first heard the old phrase from his parents or maybe a teacher.

About a month after his first season of college basketball at Furman University, Marquette Catholic's all-time leading scorer understands that advice more than ever.

"The biggest thing I realized was I had to be patient, keep working and learning while I wait," Kenney said. "At this level, everybody's a star where they came from. You can't go out and expect to win on pure talent. At Furman, there's a culture behind everything, what's expected of you, a whole new way to do things. It took me a year of development to get adapted. You don't understand the culture until you're in it, get the grasp of it, commit yourself to it and start to apply it."

It's been a while since Kenney wasn't a significant contributor on a basketball team. Even as a freshman at Marquette, he averaged 5.5 points per game for a sectional champion team. The 6-foot-1 combination guard appeared in 19 games for the Paladins, scoring 20 points, something he'd done a time or two over the years in a single half of a game. 

"It's hard on a lot of student-athletes, what we ask from our guys in their freshman year," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "It's a transition year. If you ask Colin, he'd probably say he didn't have quite the freshman year he was hoping for, but we think he's come along well and is right on track. A lot of guys make a big jump from their freshman to sophomore year. We had two sophomores who started who could hardly see the court as freshmen. It's really a matter of figuring out the commitment level. One of the good qualities Colin has is he's pretty self-aware, and he has a good grip on what he has to do better." 

Though Kenney didn't come in expecting to make an immediate splash, the modest minutes were a big change for someone unaccustomed to sitting and cheering.

"Looking back at year one, it was good for me, seeing how the older guys do it, to learn the stuff I need to know that will help me later in my career," he said. "The game's a lot faster. Every play matters so much. You have to be locked in on defense all the time. The little things are important. When I came in, I wasn't really comfortable in the surroundings. As I continued to get more confident in the system, I started to have fun with it, just going out on the court and being more poised." 

For one of the few times in his career, Kenney's primary in-game job was to provide vocal backing for the guys on the floor. Not that he didn't have a lot to yell about as the Paladins won 25 games. 

"The main thing about the culture at Furman is everybody's supportive of each other," he said. "It's about picking up your brother. It's always fun to get hyped, get energetic for big plays. I realized what my role is on the bench and I hope somebody will do that for me when I'm older."

With leading scorer Jordan Lyons a senior and another guard, junior Tre Clark, transferring, Kenney sees a potential path to the core group, where he could serve as the primary back-up at both backcourt spots.

"We've got five guys back who played a ton of minutes and seven guys competing for reserve spots," Richey said. "I never try to dole out minutes in the spring, but I think Colin has a chance to fill whatever role he wants to go after. The biggest adjustment for him was, in high school, he had to do everything with the ball in his hands. He's really good at it, but at this level, it's so much more of how you play without the ball, learning to move, cut, to complement the system. I think we'll see him grow due to his confidence, the swagger that he definitely has."

Furman was on the fringe of NCAA tournament consideration until an upset loss to Wofford in the opening round of the Southern Conference tournament. They were in line for a trip to the NIT, awaiting the completion of other conference tourneys, when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, ending everyone's seasons. Kenney left the scenic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the Greenville, South Carolina campus to return home to Chesterton in mid-March, and is completing spring classes online.

"During the season, we only have three classes, so it's not too taxing,"  said. "It's weird, definitely an adjustment. There's a whole new way to do things, but I've adapted pretty quickly. It's good it wasn't first semester. I was able to get a feel of actually going to class. It was really fun to have that whole college experience. It was a lot different than doing everything virtually."

With his basketball options limited, Kenney is trying to stay sharp with some light lifting, running a couple miles a day and working on his ball handling.

"Hopefully, I can get back in the gym at Marquette soon," he said.

While the coronavirus has everything on hold inside and outside the sports world, Kenney, like everyone, is eager get to back to a semblance of normal. In his case, that means basketball.

"I feel like I learned a lot from the experience," he said. "My first year's done, I've fully adapted. I've gotten quicker and stronger. I'm prepared for the next step, for sure, to have my role continue to get bigger and be a more impactful player." 

Furman freshman Colin Kenney, right, eyes a bigger role next season after a season of learning.

(Photo courtesy of Furman Athletics)

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