All-Area Player of the Year: James Kinney

All-Area Player of the Year: James Kinney

CHAMPAIGN – It's no exaggeration to say James Kinney came out of the crib shooting hoops.

In fact, this Centennial sharpshooter-to-be already was taking aim while still occupying his infant sleeping quarters.

By the time James Kinney Sr.'s middle child was about 1 year old and could stand up on his own, Dad would slide his son's crib next to the front door, where he had attached a suction-equipped mini hoop. With Nerf ball in hand, James Sr. introduced James Jr. to the game of basketball by example.

"I'd take some shots and he got the hang of it," the elder Kinney said. "He started taking shots and next thing you knew, we were on to Phase 2."

There would be many more. From shooting at a rim hooked to the refrigerator door – "That was home- court for him, back there in the kitchen," James Sr. quipped – to taking jump shots at an adjustable-height hoop in the hallway to driving to the hole in the backyard, James Edwin Kinney Jr. went from baby steps to bounding leaps in his basketball education.

"He just started getting better and better," his original hoops tutor said.

Good enough, as it turned out, to play with kids several years older on the Douglass Park Day Camp 12-year-old team. Good enough to star for a 22-2 Jefferson Middle School eighth-grade team that reached the 2005 state quarterfinals. Good enough to be a three-year Charger starter and a News-Gazette All-Area first-team pick by the time he was a sophomore. Good enough to end up the No. 2 career scorer (1,492 points) and No. 1 three-point shooter (164) in Centennial history. Good enough to lead this season's Chargers on a historic 32-1 journey that culminated in Peoria with a Class 3A title – the second state title in Champaign boys' basketball annals.

And now, good enough to be the slam-dunk choice for 2009 N-G Area Player of the Year.

"He can do everything, pretty much," teammate Jeff Johnson said. "He's just a great all-around guard."

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Chargers coach Tim Lavin says it's no coincidence that as Kinney's star rose, so did Centennial's. At each step of the 6-foot-1 Charger's prep progression, his team reflected similar improvement – a parallel journey that eventually took Centennial to the pinnacle of Illinois high school basketball.

With Kinney on board, the Chargers went from eight wins in his first season to 18 to 21 to a school-record 32.

"Each year he got better, we got better," Lavin said. "He's obviously made a great impact on our program."

This was no immediate success story, however. After making the varsity roster as a freshman, Kinney so struggled – shooting 9 of 59 from three-point range and 30 of 101 overall – that he eventually was shifted to sophomore games as the varsity Chargers played out the remainder of an 8-20 season.

"I think any time a freshman comes up to varsity, they want to think they're ready, but I don't think they really know how big a jump it is," Lavin said. "He absolutely dominated in eighth grade against eighth-graders. Then all of the sudden, you're a 15-year-old going against guys who are 17 and 18 and physically mature and used to playing against tougher competition. He struggled, no doubt, against it."

The struggles, Kinney recalls, were as much mental as physical.

"Coming out of eighth grade, I know there was a lot of hype around me – 'Oh, he's going to play varsity as a freshman' (and) things like that," he said. "Just knowing there was so many eyes on me, being only a 15-year-old and having such high expectations, it kind of got to me a little bit. I wasn't mature enough to handle those things then, and that affected my game on the court."

With the benefit of hindsight, Kinney views his painful varsity baptism as ultimately beneficial.

"I'm thankful for my freshman season because it changed me as a person and as a player," he said. "I knew that even when things were going bad, there's still some way you can pull good out of it. And that's what I did."

Strongly motivated to prove he belonged, Kinney rebolstered his confidence during the following months while playing with his father's AAU program and Centennial's summer team. It carried over into a breakout sophomore campaign, when he led the much-improved Chargers in scoring and was at the center of one of the most memorable moments in the heated history of the Centennial-Champaign Central crosstown rivalry. Kinney's steal and putback of a Maroons inbounds pass in the final seconds of overtime lifted the Chargers to a 72-70 victory.

It's a moment Kinney considered his favorite basketball experience until, of course, Centennial clinched a state title.

His junior season saw more individual and team strides. While again leading a 21-8 Chargers team in scoring, Kinney took his drive-and-dish game to a new level, finishing with 176 assists – 99 more than the previous campaign. It's a trend that would continue this season, the combo guard racking up 215 assists to go with a 17.6 scoring average during Centennial's triumphant march to and through Peoria.

"I think he's just the consummate team player, the type of individual that has great athleticism and skills but a unique ability to make his other teammates better," Danville coach Gary Tidwell said. "The last game we played them (a 59-30 Charger win), we pretty much focused on stopping his penetration and locked him down pretty much the first half. He didn't fight it. He didn't lose composure. He allowed the game to come to him and as a result was able to make his teammates better."

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The drive that carried Kinney beyond that bumpy freshman season can be seen pretty much every time he takes the court.

"He's a really competitive guy," Johnson said. "He hates to lose, even if it's just practice. He brings it all on the basketball court, and I think he pushes everyone else to do the same. If guys aren't giving it their all in practice, he'll get on them.

"He's truly what a leader's supposed to be."

James Kinney Sr. saw those same qualities in his son from an early age. Saw the burning desire that accepted nothing less than victory.

"He was an emotional kid," the elder Kinney said. "He would cry when he lost, and I would always tell him, 'James, don't let people see you cry. Go to the side or go to your room or go somewhere (else) because you don't want to let them know how bad they really hurt you.'

"But I knew he was hurt because he had that I don't want to lose mentality. And that's a unique thing. You can't give a kid that gift."

It's a gift that kept on giving when Kinney settled in with an on-the-rise Centennial program.

"Each and every year he felt we could do better and better," Lavin said. "He had the will and the desire to make us that much better. He came to practice and nobody outworked him. He hated to lose at competitive drills in practice."

It was a mentality, Lavin says, that rubbed off on his teammates when it counted most.

"You could tell in a bunch of games this year, he was going to refuse to lose," the Centennial coach said. "And whenever he started making plays in those situations, everybody else would feed off of them."

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For Kinney, the next phase awaits in Athens, Ohio. That's where the consensus first-team All-Stater will play his college ball for Ohio University.

It was a choice that came as a surprise to some – considering he had an opportunity to play in the Big Ten (with Penn State). For those who wondered on Signing Day last fall whether Kinney should have held out for a higher-profile school in a higher-profile league, that sentiment undoubtedly has only grown in the wake of a special senior season.

Just ask his mother, who during the state tournament heard from one strongly opinionated stranger at Carver Arena.

"Oh, he's much better than Ohio University," the much-impressed fan told Sandra Kinney after learning she was the Charger guard's mother. "He said the other coaches pretty much slipped (up) on him."

Her son has heard the same talk and his response is always the same: He's glad he chose Ohio. Has a great relationship with the coaching staff. He's excited about the rest of his recruiting class and the future of Bobcats basketball. And he brags on the school's much- respected sports management program that fits his career goal of becoming a coach.

Sandra Kinney, who urged her son to carefully consider his decision when he settled on the Mid-American Conference team, is an enthusiastic believer.

"We didn't want him to go in and sit for a year or two. We wanted him to go in and play," she said. "As a freshman, we're not expecting him to play the whole game, but we know he's going to get some (playing time)."

Then, Sandra Kinney boldly adds: "We're going to shake the MAC up."

Don't bet against James Kinney doing just that. After all, this Charger already has a track record – from 8-20 to 32-1; from ninth place in the Big 12 Conference to first place in all of Class 3A – that shook up an entire IHSA landscape.

Players of the Year
YEAR     NAME     SCHOOL

2009     James Kinney     Centennial
2008     Verdell Jones III     Champaign Central
2007     Verdell Jones III     Champaign Central
2006     Jordan Lee     Champaign Central
2005     Brent Ruch     Blue Ridge
2004     Trent Meacham     Centennial
2003     Tyler Smith     Unity
2002     Michael McKean     CPCI
2001     DaJuan Gouard     Danville
2000     Brett Melton     Mahomet-Seymour
1999     Brett Melton     Mahomet-Seymour
1998     Brian Martin     Chrisman
1997     Corey Fox     Paxton-Buckley-Loda
1996     Carvell Ammons     Centennial
1995     Brian Cardinal     Unity
1994     Anthony Coomes     Champaign Central
1993     Craig Buchanan     Mahomet-Seymour
1992     Kareem Richardson     Rantoul
1991     Kareem Richardson     Rantoul
1990     Donnell Bivens     Rantoul
1989     Brian Martin     Buckley-Loda
1988     Dennis Miller     Watseka
1987     Walter Hoult     Chrisman
1986     Mark Edmundson     Arthur

2008-09 News-Gazette All-Area First Team
Name               School        Ht.    Yr.    Coach
Dan Bolsen    Lovington    6-3    Sr.    Ray Duncan
Kendall Cox    Paxton-Buckley-Loda    5-11    Sr.    Scot Vogel
Bradley Ghere    Ridgeview    5-11    Sr.    Rodney Kellar
Bruce Hendricks    Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley    6-3    Sr.    Ryan Tompkins
Jeff Johnson    Centennial    6-8    Jr.    Tim Lavin
James Kinney    Centennial    6-1    Sr.    Tim Lavin
Drew Minton    Cerro Gordo    6-0    Sr.    Scott Bacon
Luke Radliff    Mahomet-Seymour    6-5    Sr.    Chad Benedict
Rayvonte Rice    Centennial    6-3    Jr.    Tim Lavin
Zebo Zebe    Unity    6-1    Sr.    Jarrett Brown

2008-09 News-Gazette All-Area Second Team
NAME    SCHOOL    HT.    YR.    COACH

D’Lando Carter    Danville    6-0    So.    Gary Tidwell
Zander Culver    Champaign Central    5-11    Sr.    Scott Davis
Jake Firkins    St. Joseph-Ogden    6-6    Sr.    Brian Brooks
Golden Hairston    Rantoul    6-3    Jr.    Chris Wagner
Cale Huisinga    Monticello    6-5    Jr.    Kevin Roy
Ryan Kunce    Milford    6-0    Sr.    Mark Portwood
Joel Learnard    Salt Fork    6-5    So.    Aaron Hird
Dan Lilly    Urbana University High    6-3    Jr.    Joel Beesley
Jacob Palmer    Villa Grove    5-11    Sr.    Larry Sigler
Tim Wilson    Arthur    6-3    Sr.    Dale Schuring

2008-09 N-G All-Area Special Mention
NAME    SCHOOL    HT.    YR.

Ryan Anderson    Salt Fork    6-2    So.
Visar Arslani    St. Joseph-Ogden    5-10    Sr.
Dustin Billings    Westville    6-4    Sr.
Clint Brubaker    Monticello    6-1    Jr.
Kyle Clevenger    Urbana    6-4    Jr.
Joe Daniels    Champaign Central    6-8    Jr.
Bryson Davis-Johnson    Centennial    5-9    Sr.
Kristian Gallivan    St. Thomas More    6-2    Sr.
Michael Grant    Bismarck-Henning    6-0    Jr.
Chris Hathaway    Westville    6-2    Sr.
Jordan Johnson    Centennial    6-1    Sr.
Devon Kuhn    CPCI    6-0    Sr.
Josh Lytel    Blue Ridge    6-0    Sr.
Marcel Maiden    Watseka    6-2    Jr.
Edwind McGhee    Champaign Central    6-3    Jr.
Patrick Miller    Tri-County    6-1    Sr.
David Myers    Arcola    6-1    Sr.
Cody Owen    Chrisman    6-1    So.
Joe Pratt    Salt Fork    5-11    Jr.
Zach Roberts    DeLand-Weldon    6-2    Sr.
Joey Robinson    Danville    6-2    So.
Logan Ross    Chrisman    6-0    Sr.
Angel Sanchez    Iroquois West    5-11    Sr.
Simeon Simmons    Urbana    5-11    Sr.
Clayton Snyder    Hoopeston Area    6-1    Sr.
Mark Turner    Ridgeview    6-5    Sr.
Nick Umbarger    Heritage    6-1    Jr.
Nick Washburn    Mahomet-Seymour    6-9    Sr.
Daniel Wells    First Baptist    6-0    Jr.
Lucas West    Lovington     6-1     Sr.

2008-09 News-Gazette All-Area Honorable Mention
(School-by-school listing)
ARCOLA: Kenneth East, 5-11, Sr.; Nicholas Lindenmeyer, 6-3, Jr.; Garrison Stenger, 6-2, So.
ARGENTA-OREANA: Zach Ferguson, 5-11, Sr.
ARMSTRONG-POTOMAC: Jeff Creighton, 6-0, Sr.; Tyler Farmer, 6-2, Sr.; Kyle Kincaid, 6-2, Sr.
ARTHUR: Bobby Aikman, 6-0, Jr.; Adam Carver, 5-9, Sr.
ARTHUR CHRISTIAN: Christian Lowry, 6-1, Jr.; Spencer Plank, 5-11, Jr.
ATWOOD-HAMMOND: Randy Crist, 5-11, So.
BEMENT: Colin Auth, 6-2, Jr.
BISMARCK-HENNING: Tanner Ribbe, 6-1, Fr.
BLUE RIDGE: Michael Brandt, 6-1, Sr.
CENTENNIAL: Josh Piper, 6-7, So.
CERRO GORDO: Nathan Lawler, 6-0, Jr.; Tyler Phelps, 6-3, Sr.
CHAMPAIGN CENTRAL: Isaiah Clasberry, 6-1, Jr., Akeenen Hunt, 5-9, Sr., Pat Wampler, 6-5, Sr.
CHRISMAN: Shane Anderson, 6-2, Jr.; Matt Morris, 5-9, Sr.
CHRIST LUTHERAN: Brad Forster, 6-2, So.
CLINTON: Colin Duling, 6-3, Sr.
CPCI: Reed Anderson, 6-3, Jr.; Sr.; Ross Munsterman, 5-10, Sr.
DANVILLE: Keaton Britt, 6-3, Jr.; Edward Clark, 5-9, So.; Jaron Cunningham, 6-2, Fr.; Terrell Duckworth, 6-1, Sr.
DeLAND-WELDON: Nash Ramage, 5-11, Sr.
FIRST BAPTIST: Scotty Bland, 5-9, So.; David Ellermets, 6-2, Sr.
FISHER: Jacob Browning, 6-3, Sr.
GEORGETOWN-RIDGE FARM: Tyler Cunningham, 6-3, Sr.; Brody Tuggle, 5-10, Sr.; Chase Vire, 6-2, Sr.
GIBSON CITY-MELVIN-SIBLEY: Cody Gaesser, 6-3, Jr.
HERITAGE: Jace Corray, 5-10 Sr.; Cole Judy, 5-10, Jr.
HOOPESTON AREA: Jordan Flint, 6-0, Sr.; Bradley Lawson, 6-1, Jr.
IROQUOIS WEST: Aaron Thomas, 6-5, Jr.
JUDAH CHRISTIAN: Alex Berry, 5-10, Jr.; Matthew Jarrett, 5-9, Sr.; Tony Riley, 6-0, Jr.
La SALETTE: John Carlisle, 6-0, Jr.; Adam Gates, 5-9, Sr.; Michael Middlemore, 6-1, Jr.
LeROY: James Brent, 6-0, Sr.; Matt Schopp, 5-11, Sr.
LOVINGTON: Mike Arnold, 6-6, Sr.
MAHOMET-SEYMOUR: Nick Jarvis, 6-3, Sr., Nathan Willard, 6-0, Jr.
MILFORD: Jordan Scherf, 5-8, Sr.
MONTICELLO: Jacob Kissaw, 6-3, Sr.
OAKWOOD: Brady Leeman, 6-1, Sr.
PAXTON-BUCKLEY-LODA: Dylan Overstreet, 6-0, So.; Tyler Waterstradt, 5-8, Sr.; Austin Wood, 5-10, Sr.
PRAIRIE CENTRAL: Phil Johnson, 6-1, Sr.
RANTOUL: Detrion Diaz, 5-8, Sr., James Monroe, 5-9, Sr.
RIDGEVIEW: Derek Powell, 5-11, Sr.
SALT FORK: Josh Chandler, 5-11, Jr.; Nathan Fathauer, 5-9, So.; Jake Manning, 6-1, Jr.
SCHLARMAN: Heath Goodwin, 5-11, So.; Nathan Liggett, 5-11, Sr.
SHILOH: Travis Hawkins, 6-0, So.
ST. JOSEPH-OGDEN: Vaughn Duitsman, 6-0,  Sr.
ST. THOMAS MORE: Zach Johnson, 6-4, Jr.; Will Rudolphi, 6-4, Jr.; Clark Schmidt, 6-1, Sr.
SULLIVAN: Chris Marrs, 6-5, Sr.; Chance Typer, 6-0, Sr.
TRI-COUNTY: Jeremy Hudson, 6-0, Sr.; Cody Meyer, 5-10, Jr.; Jake Montgomery, 6-5, Sr.
TUSCOLA: Brent Harris, 5-9, Sr.
UNITY: Seth Gooch, 5-11, So.; Kyler McFall, 5-9, Jr.; Dylan Sturgeon, 6-3, Jr.
URBANA: Charles Glass, 6-2, Sr.
URBANA UNI HIGH: Alan Kessler, 6-2, Sr.; Warren Skoza, 6-7, So.; Malcolm Taylor, 6-0, Sr.
VILLA GROVE: Travis Parsley, 5-9, Sr.
WATSEKA: Alex Hall, 5-10, Sr.; Drew Watts, 6-0, Sr.
WESTVILLE: Jacob Gooch, 5-10, Jr.; Matt Maser, 5-11, So.; Andy Sutliff, 5-8, Sr.