It’s like they were back in college all over again.
Six years ago, the St. John’s Red Storm captivated the hearts of New York City, and even a chunk of the Country, with their memorable run through the Big East, and to the NCAA Tournament.
The 2010-11 team of 13 (10 seniors) finished 21-12 (12-6 Big East), reaching March Madness for the first time in close to a decade, going 6-5 against top-25 nationally ranked teams in the process.
Kennedy, Horne, Burrell and Sean Evans were four of those seniors, and they have been knee-deep in The Basketball Tournament, which arrived at LIU Brooklyn this past week, from July 20-23. Prior to Thursday, day one of the four-day BK stay, 16 teams remained in what was once the field of 64, with only four leaving to Baltimore for the early August finale in hopes of cashing in on a $2 million prize.
While the Red Storm have enjoyed their professional careers and distinct success on the court, they’ve managed to keep the family together off of it. As The Tournament would indicate, the togetherness has also carried itself onto the hardwood.
Kennedy, Horne and Burrell are teammates with Overseas Elite, the two-time defending TBT Champions, who will return to the Final Four after an 86-79 over Ram Nation, comprised of former ballers from Virginia Commonwealth University. Evans, the former Red Storm center whose Team FOE squad was eliminated in the Elite Eight on Sunday, also played deep into TBT 2017, with two respectable Brooklyn showings.
Every now and then, they admittedly still reflect on those college times, though.
“You think about the moments you made big plays and things like that to get you through what you’re going through now,” said the 6-foot-8 Burrell, a Bronx native who now lives in Jamaica. “You reminisce and watch film, talk with your boys – laughing and all that about the good old days.”
“I think it was big, it meant a lot, we grew up in college so we basically grew up together,” added Kennedy. “You can tell we’re more mature now, so that really helped us a lot, just mentally. You learn through so much … the older you get, the more you experience.”
Since their post-St. John’s days have ensued, the guys have seen their pro careers blossom, collectively playing in the most competitive parts of Europe, the NBA D League (now known as the G League), NBA Summer League, and in the case of Kennedy, the NBA.
Throughout it all, friendships/brotherhoods have been maintained. An example would be Burrell and Horne, prep school teammates from Bridgeton Academy. Horne is the godfather of Burrell’s four-year old daughter. Burrell adds that former SJU point guard from the same class, Malik Boothe, who was in attendance for an 84-76 Overseas Elite win on Thursday, is at his house ‘almost every day.’
Burrell noted that TBT is one of the highlights of the summer for the group, especially since their family and friends rarely get to see them play.
“To be here and have something this caliber level, and to have it right here in New York City where our family and friends can get to and watch us, there’s no better feeling,” said Burrell.
“We love coming back here to New York so the St. John’s fans could see us,” said the 6-foot-3 Horne. “They don’t get to see us overseas. It’s good to come back home, try to win it, and put on for our team.”
“We've always had a connection – that brotherhood,,” Horne said. “It feels good to come back to a tournament like this. It's competitive, you get to play with your brothers and win it.”
And of course, the whole ‘winning’ part of it is especially nice, according to Kennedy.
“Everyone is connected – and as long we keep winning, it’s cool. We had the same group for four years, I think that’s what got us here today. We love playing together,” said the 6-foot-6 forward.
The level of togetherness has even extended itself to the coaching staff, in particular Glenn Braica, the current head coach of nearby St. Francis Brooklyn. Braica served as an assistant under Norm Roberts at St. John’s from 2004-2010, which include the first three SJU seasons for Kennedy, Horne, Burrell, Evans, Boothe and others.
“(They’re) great guys,” Braica said. “They’re resilient, hard-workers and excellent players, but better people. I’m rooting for them – I love those guys!”
Burrell added to this frame of thought, lending voice to the importance of having great people in your circle, which he has learned while getting older, and has done since.
“It’s important to have good people in your school in life in order to be successful,” Burrell said. “People you can lean on, trust and really count on. To have guys you’ve been in the trenches with that you know have had your back before.”
All in all, the Johnnies felt more than welcomed in their NYC return, and three of them will now move forward with the hopes of a $2 million prize. In the Final Four, they’ll face Boeheim’s Army first, comprised of former Syracuse University standouts, including Queens native James Southerland.
The game will take place on August 1 at 9 p.m. on ESPN, with the winner moving on to the August 3 title game.
Overseas Elite, the SJU brotherhood included, remains confident that they’ll three-peat, just ask Horne.
“We didn’t come this far not to (be confident) ... you’ve got to expect to win,” he said with a smile.