D.J. Kennedy puts positive spin on fate

NEW YORK -- D.J. Kennedy took the court for St. John's one more time Monday afternoon.

Wearing a gray team sweatsuit and dragging along his injured right leg, the senior forward limped out onto the floor at Carnesecca Arena to join his teammates at the pep rally preceding the school's first NCAA tournament appearance in nine years.

The few hundred fans in attendance cheered loudly as Kennedy made his way to the middle of the court, slapping five with all his teammates.

Kennedy told reporters afterward that the fans and their support have really helped him deal with this most disappointing turn of events.

"The fans have been great," Kennedy said. "They're keeping me positive, and keeping me in good spirits."

Kennedy -- St. John's leading rebounder (5.6 rpg) and third-leading scorer (10.4 ppg) -- tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on a drive to the basket less than six minutes into the team's Big East quarterfinal against Syracuse on Thursday.

"I knew right away. Once I went down, I felt a pop," Kennedy said. "The crazy thing is, my whole life I've never been hurt. This is my first time ever."

That's right -- after playing in all 129 of his team's games over his first three-plus years at St. John's, the first one Kennedy will miss is the school's first NCAA tournament game since 2002, against Gonzaga on Thursday night in Denver.

"When I woke up [the next morning], I thought it was a dream," Kennedy said. "I thought I could get up and get out of bed and go to the gym. But once I tried to stand up, reality set in.

"If there was a way I could play out there, I would be playing with a torn ACL. But the doctor told me, there's really nothing I can do."

Kennedy's teammates have been amazed at how well he is handling the injury, especially given the circumstances.

"I don't know how he's doing it," senior guard Paris Horne said. "Especially just being around D.J. and knowing how he is, and knowing how he cares about the game -- this [NCAA tournament] opportunity don't come around for everybody. ... He's a better person than I am."

Kennedy said he hasn't watched any basketball on TV, or read any newspapers, since Thursday. "I'm just trying to stay positive," Kennedy said. "I feel like everything happens for a reason ... I'm sure God has a plan for me ... Maybe something better's gonna happen in life for me, down the line."

The other St. John's players, including his eight fellow seniors, plan to pay tribute to Kennedy by stepping up their play in the Big Dance.

"You just feel for him, being that close to something we've worked so hard for," Horne said. "Just to see it taken from him and him not being able to play with us, it just hurts. But we're also not going to forget about D.J. We know he's in our corner and is gonna be there rooting for us, and we're just gonna use it as motivation."

"I don't think one guy can pick up what D.J.'s done. D.J. has done so much for this team," said senior guard Malik Boothe. "I think everybody's gonna have to step up. Some guys are gonna have to contribute more on the offensive end, other guys are gonna have to step up with the rebounding and the defensive end."

A very humble Kennedy said he has confidence his teammates can get the job done.

"To be honest, I feel like with me or without me the team can go as far as we would if I was on the court," Kennedy said. "One thing about us, we have a lot of experience. We've got a deep team, so I definitely feel like my teammates can go far."

At the end of the pep rally, after senior forward Justin Burrell addressed the crowd briefly, thanking the fans for their support all season, Lavin spoke to them as well.

"I represent the thoughts of our entire coaching staff when I say that this journey with the Johnnies has been an experience we'll never forget because of the young men standing right here next to me," Lavin said. "They've written their own chapter in the history of St. John's basketball that will never be forgotten."

D.J. Kennedy was a big part of that. He finished his Red Storm career 12th in school history in scoring (1,504 points), 11th in rebounding (781 boards), and is one of only three players in St. John's history to amass 1,450 points, 750 rebounds and 150 steals -- the others being Malik Sealy and George Johnson.

On Tuesday, Kennedy will drag that injured right leg onto a plane, and fly with his teammates to Denver. But the Pittsburgh product has already accomplished what he came to New York City to do.

"Before I committed here, my dream was to turn this program back around, be part of that team that turned the program back around and made the NCAA tournament," Kennedy said. "So I'm going out on a positive note. I feel like I did everything I can to turn the program around and make the NCAA tournament my senior year.

"Unfortunately I can't play in it, but I captured my dream."