Kemp steps out of the shadows for Pack
Kemp steps out of the shadows for Pack
By DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – At Garfield High School in Seattle, it was Brandon Roy. At Nevada, it was Nick Fazekas. Simply put, Nevada senior guard Marcelus Kemp has been overshadowed by teammates at various times during his basketball career.
For the first time in his life, the 6-foot-5 Kemp, who leads Nevada into Thursday’s Western Athletic Conference Tournament opener against Fresno State, has been the leader of the pack. He’s part of a team that he can call his own.
Kemp, a key ingredient in Nevada’s 29 wins a season ago, was surrounded by mostly freshmen and sophomores in the starting lineup at the beginning of this season and, especially in the early going, they looked to him for guidance.
“It feels great to be a leader,” Kemp said. “This was pretty much my team with Nick, Kyle Shiloh and Ramon Sessions gone. A lot of the younger guys look up to me. I like the feeling. I think I’ve done a good job in the role. I knew I had to be more of a leader this season.”
The one constant in Nevada’s program has been strong leadership, whether by example or being vocal. Kirk Snyder, Fazekas and Shiloh were more leaders by example, while Garry Hill-Thomas and Kevinn Pinkney were more vocal on the floor.
Kemp has been a little bit of both and Nevada coach Mark Fox noticed.
“I’m very pleased,” Fox said. “He’s enjoyed the role. He’s quick to help the younger players. He knows what’s expected.”
There were some bumps in the road, however, as Kemp and his new starting teammates tried to get used to each other. There were times that Kemp pressed early, sometimes forcing up some questionable shots.
As players like Brandon Fields, JaVale McGee and Armon Johnson started to develop offensively, it took a big load off Kemp’s shoulders. Even though he was the go-to guy, teams couldn’t solely focus on him anymore lest they be burned by his teammates.
“The team is more than just me,” Kemp said a number of times. “We have a lot of guys who can [play] and have made plays.”
The burden of being a leader certainly didn’t diminish his offense. Kemp, who set a career high with 35 points against Utah State earlier this year, averaged 20 points a game through the regular season. He moved all the way up to No. 2 on the school’s all-time scoring list behind former teammate Fazekas.
“Marcelus is such a warrior,” Fox said. “He loves big moments. He came back to school to get a degree and have a great senior season. He’s been able to do that. He makes guys better around him. He’s accomplished a great deal. He’s not concerned about scoring. He’s concerned about winning.”
Even when his streak of 28 games in double figures was snapped against Louisiana Tech, Kemp had eight rebounds and eight assists.
And, as expected, he’s respected around the conference by coaches.
“Marcelus Kemp is by far the best player in the league,” Fresno State’s Steve Cleveland said earlier this year after watching Kemp score 28 points in 21 minutes. “He’s a tough guard. He’s pretty special.”
“You have to guard a guy like that with the whole team and we didn’t do that,” Utah State coach Stew Morrill said of Kemp. “He’s really good.”
Fox, no doubt, is just happy to have Kemp back on the team.
Kemp, who is in his sixth year at Nevada and a two-time selection, applied for early entry into the annual NBA Draft. He withdrew his name shortly after participating in the NBA Pre-Draft camp in Florida.
“I’m was very impressed with Marcelus for making the right decision; he always has,” Fox said. “He used the early entry process as he should. He went through the process. He learned how he can get better in the eyes of the NBA which I think he will do. I’m not surprised he came back.
“He was excited about the things he can still accomplish here [this year] and we are looking forward to helping him do that.”
That was accomplished over the weekend when Nevada clinched a share of its fifth straight Western Athletic Conference regular-season title, and Kemp was named to the All-WAC first team thanks to his 20-point scoring average and all-around play.
Kemp said at the start of the season that passing and ballhandling were the two main things the NBA told him to work on after the camp. Being projected as a shooting guard meant he needed to play less like a forward.
With Lyndale Burleson missing part of the season because of academic issues, Kemp occasionally filled in at point guard for freshman Armon Johnson early in the season.
And, make no mistake, he can pass the rock. Three times this season, including on Senior Night, Kemp had eight assists. His on-court vision has been stellar.
Fox said that Kemp has matured over the years and is not only an offensive threat but a good rebounder and solid defender.
Part of that maturity stems from the adversity that Kemp has had to battle through during his career at Nevada.
The Seattle native broke his foot and missed his first season at Nevada. After averaging 4.6 points per game as a redshirt freshman, Kemp tore his left anterior cruciate ligament when he landed awkwardly during a pick-up game the following summer, which kept him out of the 2004-05 season.
“I never lost my confidence after the injuries,” Kemp said. “I knew I could play. Basketball is basketball. Once you know how to play, you don’t lose that ability.”
If there is a positive to come out of his two injuries it’s that he will graduate; he will be the first person in his family to do so.
Still, there are lingering effects from the second injury. Fox told a reporter earlier that Kemp is about 80 percent in terms of his explosiveness, yet it hasn’t stopped him from being an effective and explosive scorer.
Kemp will always be known as an offensive player first. He was the third-leading scorer in the WAC last season at 18.5 a game, and he shot more than 40 percent from 3-point range. He’s been around 40 percent from beyond the arc most of the season and was the conference’s No. 2 scorer behind Utah State’s Jaycee Carroll.
What’s most impressive is that he didn’t have the likes of Fazekas and Ramon Sessions around this year to help.
Kemp knew that. In fact, he embraced that.
“I knew I was going to be keyed on,” Kemp said. “That’s why I worked on my ballhandling and passing. I’m figured on getting a lot more assists this year.”
That is the sign of a great player: the ability to make teammates better.
One of the other things that has always stood out about Kemp is his ability to score points in bunches.
Against Saint Mary’s in the 2005-06 season, he scored 10 straight points in less than 90 seconds and almost wiped out SMC’s 13-point lead down the stretch. Against Santa Clara earlier this year, he threw in seven straight points to key a big second-half surge. It’s a gift that some players have.
“He has the God-given talent to put the ball in the basket,” Fox said.
In that sense, some have compared him to ex-Pack great Snyder. Both have the same type of game in the sense that both can shoot from the outside, can create their own shot and can score in bunches.
“I’d never heard that before,” Kemp said last season. “I guess we are in that respect. I think I can pretty much create my own shot.”
Just ask defenders around the Western Athletic Conference.
• Contact Darrell Moody at email@example.com, or by calling at (775) 881-1281
THE KEMP FILE
Hometown: Seattle, Wash.
BY THE NUMBERS
2 Career double-doubles
5 WAC regular-season titles
38 Career 20-point games
91 Career double-digit scoring games