SALT LAKE CITY - To some of the media and Nevada Wolf Pack fans, sophomore Marcelus Kemp was somewhat of a mystery man entering this season, and it was no fault of his own.
Kemp broke a foot during his senior season at Garfield High in Seattle, and missed his first year at Nevada. As a redshirt freshman, he averaged 13 minutes and 4.6 a game. Then, he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament that summer, forcing him to miss all of last season.
So when practice started this season, Kemp was an unknown quantity to everybody but those closely associated with the Wolf Pack program.
Not for long. The 6-5 Kemp scored 63 points in Nevada's first three games, shooting 44 percent from the 3-point line. He immediately became a crowd favorite.
"People would come up to me and said they didn't know I was that good," Kemp said before Nevada's public practice at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in preparation for today's (noon) NCAA Tournament game against Montana. "The players knew it and the coaching staff knew it."
Kemp doesn't blame the fans for not knowing. After all, they only got to see him in short spurts two years ago. He knows they aren't watching practice, nor are they privy to summer workouts. Quite frankly it was hard to tell how good he was.
"He (coach Trent Johnson) had me on a short leash," Kemp said, recalling his first season in uniform. "I knew if I took a bad shot or made a bad play I would get pulled right out. Sometimes it's hard to play loose; take chances in times like that. Still, I made it through the first season.
"I never lost my confidence after the injuries. I knew I could play. Basketball is basketball. Once you know how to play, you don't lose that ability."
Kemp was a little sluggish when he first came back because he had to wear a brace. Once the brace came off, he was back to his old self.
Kemp said current Nevada coach Mark Fox has more confidence in him, and allows him more freedom.
Kemp has rewarded Fox with a 14.4 scoring average, including a 45 percent mark from the field and an 85 percent mark from the foul line. Nevada has had some great shooters, and Kemp ranks right up there with the best of them.
By his own admission, Kemp is a streak shooter. He has his occasional off game, but most of the time you can count on him to score double figures and shoot a respectable percentage.
In 32 games, Kemp has scored in double figures 25 times. Entering today's game, he has reached double figures in 13 of his last 14 games, including a career-best 26-point effort against Utah State in a 75-57 win in Logan. In that game he went 9-for-12 from the field, including 5-for-6 from 3-point range.
He has been a big help to junior teammate Nick Fazekas, who often is double and triple-teamed down on the block. Having Kemp on the perimeter has helped Fazekas immensely.
"Marcelus complements my game the most," Fazekas said. "He is the outside threat and can really get the ball down and create a lot of openings for myself."
And, Fazekas' presence on the floor, has helped out Kemp quite a bit. If teams sag too much on Nevada's All-American, it leaves plenty of room for Kemp to bury 3-point field goals.
Lest you think of Kemp as only an outside threat, think again. He is more then a spot shooter. He can take defenders off the dribble and pull up for a jump shot. He can snake his way to the basket and put in a nice finger roll over bigger players. Simply put, Kemp is a scorer.
Some have compared him favorably to ex-Nevada star Kirk Snyder, who played three season for the Pack before leaving for the NBA. Both have the same type of games in the sense that both can shoot from the outside, can create their own shots and can score points in bunches.
Kemp scored 10 straight points in the closing minutes of an 89-80 loss to Saint Mary's College back on Dec. 31, pulling Nevada to within 70-67. Without him, the Pack were staring a huge loss in the face. Kemp was like a man possessed. It didn't matter who or how many SMC defenders were on him, he was going to shoot and he was going to score.
"I've never heard that," Kemp said. "I guess we (Snyder and I) are in that respect. I think I can pretty much create my own shot."
And how. Just ask the rest of the teams in the WAC.