Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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NEW YORK – Sean Evans counts D.J. Kennedy as his closest friend on the St. John’s basketball team.
But now Evans and his teammates will have to move forward into the NCAA tournament without their fallen brother after Kennedy suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the first half of St. John’s 79-73 loss to Syracuse in the Big East tournament quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden.
“I don’t think it’s going to feel the same because we lost one of our brothers if he doesn’t get to play,” Evans said. “D.J.’s a big part of this team. This hurts me I think as much as it hurts him because me and D.J. are real close on and off the court.”
A starting senior forward from Pittsburgh averaging 10.7 points and 5.7 rebounds, Kennedy injured his right knee while sustaining contact with a Syracuse player with the Johnnies trailing 12-5 at the 14:25 mark.
He immediately called for the trainer and was helped off the floor by two teammates, keeping his right leg off the ground. He was examined later by team physician and orthopedist Dr. Answorth Allen at the Hospital for Special Surgery. Following surgery, Kennedy’s recovery time could be between six and eight months.
“I’ve wanted to play in the NCAA Tournament since I picked up a basketball in grade school, and this is a real blow,” said Kennedy. “I am disappointed on a personal level, but I am happy that I will be with my teammates on the road during the tournament, supporting them the way they always support me.”
Said Johnnies coach Steve Lavin: “This is a tough time to lose both a leader and vital member of our team. D.J. Kennedy has consistently influenced the game at both ends of the floor throughout our successful season. We will miss his leadership, versatility and experience. Our basketball family is determined to bring an inspired effort to pay tribute to D.J. Kennedy for his outstanding contributions to our program. Our players recognize we would not be participating in the NCAA Tournament without D.J.’s efforts. He will continue to add value as we continue our postseason journey.”
St. John’s (21-11) will have to wait until Selection Sunday to see where they are placed in the NCAA tournament.
“It’s going to be devastating but we still got to play a basketball game at the end of the day and we’re going to play as hard as we can for him,” said senior guard Dwight Hardy, who led St. John’s with 22 points on 9 of 17 shooting.
“He’s very versatile. I just think now that we’re going to have pick up the slack. Somebody else is going to have rebound a little bit more. Somebody is going to have to score a little bit more. Everybody on this team for now on, it’s time to add value. Add more value than we’ve been having.”
St. John’s is a deep squad that features eight seniors in the rotation. Without Kennedy, younger players like sophomore guard Malik Stith, who contributed five points, and freshman forward Dwayne Polee, who went scoreless, will have to step up.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim can relate to losing a key big man in the Big East tournament.
A year ago, the Orange lost Arinze Onuaku to a quad injury during Syracuse’s tournament game against Georgetown. Onuaku never played in the NCAA tournament, as the Orange lost to Butler in the Sweet 16.
“You look at Georgetown, they haven’t won a game since Chris Wright went down, I don’t think,” Boeheim said. “They certainly haven’t done a lot. You can’t absorb a loss like that, especially if you have three key guys. You can maybe lose a guy if you have great depth and he’s not a key guy.
“Last year we did have good depth so we were able to survive a little bit and win a couple games. And we could’ve won the third game in the tournament but it’s difficult to lose a guy like that, there’s no question.”
Lavin said it was difficult to put Kennedy’s loss into perspective, but that his team must endeavor to move forward.
“What I tried to focus on in the locker room with the kids was our objective of goals [of making the NCAAs] that we put on the board in our very first meeting at Taffner Field House we’ve reached,” Lavin said, “and now we’re not satisfied and we want to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.