He is not the type of young man to grab his jersey and demand attention. He doesn’t do the flamboyant look at me antics that land people on Sportscenter. He won’t remind you that he played and did well at an NBA top 100 camp. He doesn’t wear around his hoodie from playing and leading Team USA in basketball. There is nothing about Michigan State sophomore Brandan Kearney that says look at me. It isn’t how he was raised and it isn’t how he lives.
From Detroit, Kearney knows what the love and passion of basketball is all about. Detroit is a basketball crazy town. He was raised there and he shares it. He loves the game of basketball, but he doesn’t come with an attitude that says he has to convince the world of it. He knows it.
The son of Derrick, a former college basketball player, he gets the love of basketball and a devotion to family. The son of Lea, he has her commitment to education (she is a teacher) and a genuine heart that puts people first. From both he has a loving and caring disposition and a toughness that says we don’t need to impress you.
People have made assumptions about Kearney that are usually wrong for years. Being the Cousin of UM football great Braylon Edwards, most assumed he would attend the University of Michigan. He didn’t. With such great skills that brought him so much early attention people thought he would be arrogant. He isn’t. With his quiet demeanor people assume he is self-centered; he is far from it. With a smile like Magic, he doesn’t flash it on cue like someone doing his ten thousandth Coke commercial. He is genuine. His chiseled body and that previously mentioned smile make you think he could be on a Hollywood movie set and his gentleman approach to people could make you think basketball doesn’t matter. You would be wrong. Watch him interact with people and you would think he is too soft because he listens.
People seem to constantly be wrong about Kearney. He doesn’t fit the mold of what people expect. That isn’t Kearney’s fault. We are so used to people telling us how good they are, showing off to convince us how good they are and demonstrative to show us how good they are. Not Kearney.
Prior to his arrival at MSU he joined me on Spartan Nation Radio several times. This warm young man is truly a gentleman. He is fun to interview because he actually listens to the question before trying to answer. He thinks. When you ask him a question he ponders it and doesn’t look for ways to dodge it. It is as if he really wants to search inside and find the right words.
I asked him about his family. They are close. Unlike so many of America’s families, his is tight and they are knitted together in a way that would make any parent want that for their own. So I asked him a simple question. “Do you realize how lucky you are to have such a close family that loves basketball like you do, but they aren’t trying to live their life again through you?”
I waited for what seemed like minutes, but was really only seconds. Kearney’s response may shock you. It told me real quick that this wasn’t your typical world class recruit and player. He said, “I don’t mean this disrespectful Mr. Carpenter, but I don’t like the word lucky. That maybe sends a message that you have nothing to be thankful for. I like to say I am blessed or fortunate because I am. I look at a lot of my friends or people that don’t have a great family or family situation and I do. Brandan Kearney isn’t lucky, I am truly blessed.”
That Spartan Nation is Brandan Kearney. If you watch him around fans he can take forever. He will listen to each and every little kid tell him their stories. He interacts with young and old with a smile. He takes every second to listen and make them feel important. It isn’t because of ego; it is because he really does care.
Some athletes can stop to give an autograph and totally forget the youngster five seconds later and remember nothing that the young person told them. Kearney can stop and give them an autograph and forty days later tell you what they told him, the shirt they wore, and any other information that they shared. Why? He cares about people.
Last year at Michigan, Kearney played great defense and nailed two big three pointers. As we walked out of Crisler Arena folks reminded him that he was in Braylon’s world. “You should have come to Michigan” and “Braylon is the best athlete in your family.” I asked him after the way he played if that bugged him? Kearney looked at me and said, “No. Braylon is a great athlete and I am proud of him being in my family. If they are talking good about my family, I am good with that.” That’s Kearney. On his biggest night of his young collegiate career he didn’t mind one bit that you were bragging on his family, even if it wasn’t him.
When some of his coaches and teammates questioned him last year (as a freshman) about his toughness, they quickly got a lesson in reality. This young man raised in a wonderful family carries a toughness that would make anyone in the D happy with. He is a gentle and he is a gentleman, but that DOESN’T mean he isn’t tough. It doesn’t mean he isn’t a fighter and he isn’t afraid of conflict, he just isn’t looking for it.
As he continues to develop his Coach has begun clamoring that he must shorten his bench. With a roster full of stars, Kearney has emerged as one of those players whose minutes will increase. Izzo told me mid last week that Kearney has emerged as one of the players who will see more playing time.
In fact, Izzo said when I asked if he thought Kearney would emerge from the shortened bench, “Yeah I do. Kearney will fit into our rotation. He had a great week of practice. I need some people that have some passion with what they do. I am looking for someone that I want to know it is important to them. Kearney has stepped up and I am not disappointed in him at all.”
Assistant coach Dane Fife who is considered a master at player development heaped high praise on his young pupil. Fife told me when asked, “I am pleased with his willingness to get better and that improves with maturity. Those things have worked hand in hand for Brandan. He is growing up and willing to get better. He is accepting what he needs to do.”
So what things has Kearney been doing to get better? This may surprise you. “I just want to focus on winning and making me and my teammates better. I need to put this on me. I need to get up extra shots every time I have spare time. I am coming in every day. I am putting up 500-600 extra shots a day.”
He went on to add, “Definitely, I was real good at defense last year. This year there have been a few times I made some mistakes and I want to eliminate those mistakes. I want to make the most of every second I am on the court and do more with what I get. I need to shoot the ball with more consistency not just in practice, but in the game. I don’t want to be a great practice player; I want to be a great player whenever I am on the court. Practice or games, and that means I have to hit open shots, defend and get rebounds and that will determine my minutes. It’s really on me.”
His success prior to arriving at MSU both for Team USA and with the NBA 100 proves that Kearney carries great respect nationally, but he doesn’t talk about that. If his parents have done one thing with their son it is teaching him personal respect for the game he loves.
Some guys play basketball, Kearney loves it. More importantly, he respects it. He doesn’t like to talk about himself. Ask him questions about him and he gets quiet; almost shy. Ask him about his teammates and he gets loud and proud. Being a good guy is wonderful, but it doesn’t get steals, it doesn’t shut down opposing threes, and it doesn’t nail crucial three pointers.
Kearney has the character to be great. He also has the talent to be great and all the God-given skills to be great. Can he become that? I asked him and his answer by now won’t surprise you. “To be a great basketball player it isn’t about a stat sheet. It is about the win and loss record. If you are more concerned about winning and you will do whatever you have to, to make sure that your team wins. That, winning will show up in the stat sheet. I don’t want to be a player that thinks about his stat sheet. I want to be a player that thinks about doing whatever he has to for his team to win. Defense, rebounding, scoring you just have to do whatever it takes to win.”
If Michigan State is going to make a Tom Izzo patented late season NCAA run, Brandan Kearney will have to be part of that mix. His defensive toughness, his versatility and ability to distribute the basketball, and his scoring prowess must continue to emerge. He has the ability, now he needs consistency.
I fully expect it and so should you. Brandan Kearney is a super gentleman. He is also a super basketball player who is working hard to prove it. When he does it will show up on the stat sheet, but it will happen quietly. He won’t tell you how great he is. He won’t do the look at me things that ESPN sees, but it will show up in wins and losses.
In a surprising struggle to beat Loyola Chicago I bet you didn’t notice Kearney played 23 minutes, had five assists, three rebounds, and one steal. Exactly. He isn’t flash, but he is sizzle.
When you see Brandan and you ask for an autograph, he will tell you thank you and he means it. Want to get him to talk? Ask him about his teammates or family. When he tries to get you to talk, he means it. He is listening. He will talk on the court.
Kearney lives and breathes that the most important stat is wins and losses and he is right. For the Michigan State Spartans to get plenty of those WINS stats, he has to put more on the regular stat sheet. He knows it. When most college students are sleeping or out late at a party, he is in the Breslin shooting an extra 500-600 shots every day. Game day or not, practice day or not, Kearney isn’t being followed by cameras. He is in the gym. Working. Grinding. It isn’t sexy, but it is substantive. Just like his character.