By Chris McManes
(WASHINGTON) – Former Catholic University basketball All-American Chris Kearney knew that studying Spanish would be valuable to him after graduation. He just didn’t know he’d be using it so soon.
Kearney has signed a pro contact to play with Basket Globalcaja Quintanar in Quintanar del Rey, Spain. He will leave for Europe on Sept. 1 and begin play soon thereafter.
“Every little kid dreams of playing their favorite sport professionally, but it’s usually not in this capacity, in going overseas,” Kearney said. “Everyone dreams of being in the NBA or the NFL or what have you, but being a professional athlete in any league is a dream come true.
“It doesn’t happen to very many people, so I’m very fortunate.”
Kearney (pronounced Carney) led the Cardinals to the 2013 Landmark Conference championship and second round of the NCAA Division III Tournament. The 6-foot-7, 220-pound power forward was the first person simultaneously named Landmark Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. He averaged a career-high 16.7 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks per game.
“Chris is the embodiment of everything we want in a Catholic University basketball player,” CUA Head Coach Steve Howes said. “He is a high-character young man who excelled in the classroom, enjoyed his college life on campus and in the city, and at the same time, played basketball at a very high level.
“The superlatives don’t even begin to show the type of exceptional young man that he is. He’s arguably one of the most decorated players we’ve ever had here.”
A Champion on the Court and in the Classroom
Kearney was named a 2012-13 first-team All-American by the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC). D3Hoops.com and DIII News honored him as a second-team All-American. He was also named Mid-Atlantic Player of the Year (D3Hoops.com, NABC) and an ECAC All-Star. He played for the East team in the Reese’s Division III College All-Star Game in Salem, Va.
Kearney credits his teammates – particularly fellow seniors Shawn Holmes and Nate Koenig – as well as Howes and assistant coaches Paul DeStefano, Ryan Eskow, Ryan Hyland and Damien Williams for his good fortune. The Cardinals’ 25-4 mark last season tied for the third-best record in the program’s 102-year history.
“I definitely wouldn’t have this opportunity at all if the team didn’t do well enough, because that gave me exposure,” Kearney said. “Since the team did well, I was able to be recognized for these higher awards.”
Howes, who has led CUA to three NCAA Tournament appearances, is not surprised that Kearney credits others for his success.
“He’s such a great young man,” he said. “He has no ego; he’s very humble.”
Kearney posted a 3.6 cumulative GPA as a senior and graduated with a degree in business management. He and Koenig’s work in the classroom garnered recognition on the NABC Honors Court. The Cards also received an NABC Team Academic Excellence Award. Kearney minored in Spanish.
“I’ll admit that I should know a lot more [Spanish] that what I do, but it’ll definitely help me pick it up quicker,” he said.
Kearney showed steady improvement throughout his four years as a starter. He averaged 10.6 and 7 rebounds as a junior but made a career-low 46.5 percent of his shots. He focused on becoming the best player he could last season and boosted his field goal accuracy to a team-high 53.1 percent.
“I take great pride in his development,” Howes said. “We sat down at the end of his junior year and discussed what had to happen for him to help elevate this team back into the NCAA Tournament, and also for him to keep professional opportunities available. What he did during the improvement season of the summer months was just extraordinary. He came back mentally and physically ready to play at an All-American level.”
Kearney is the first CUA player to go pro since Patrick Dwyer played for the Manchester (England) Magic in 2007-08. Kearney and Will Morley (2003-04) are the only two Cardinals to attain first-team All-American status.
“For Chris to be only the second first-team All-American here ever – given the rich tradition and scores of tremendous players we have had – is a very high honor, and one that I know he appreciates,” Howes said.
Pre and Post CUA
Kearney, who lives in Centreville, Va., came to CUA from Westfield High School, where he was named 2008-09 Concorde District Player of the Year. He chose the Cards over Johns Hopkins, Randolph-Macon and Carnegie Mellon. He also had scholarship offers from a number of Division II schools, as well as preferred walk-on discussions with Virginia, William & Mary and Georgetown.
“We were very fortunate that Chris turned down scholarship opportunities at higher levels to come here,” Howes said. “This just proves that for those Division 1-caliber young men, going Division III does not end your basketball dreams. Chris came in and had an impact immediately. He was very coachable, put tremendous effort in and is now a professional.”
Kearney said Howes worked diligently after graduation to find him an agent.
“He was very helpful in sending out my tapes and my basketball resume to his whole basketball network,” he said. “He found the gentleman I signed with, Emilio Duran. Emilio responded well to my tapes and everything else, and said he thought he could help me out.”
Duran arranged for Kearney to showcase his talent for European coaches at a six-day camp outside of Madrid, Spain in mid-July. Kearney estimates that about 60 players attended, mostly Americans with Division I and Division II backgrounds and players with pro experience. Only a handful of Division III players participated.
Kearney impressed Quintanar Coach David Varela, who told him through a translator he would like to have him on his team. The club finished 18-10 in Spain’s EBA league Group B last season.
“It was nice to be noticed,” Kearney said. “It kind of opened my eyes to thinking, ‘wow, this really could happen.’ I’m going to be living my dream.”
Howes thinks Kearney’s self-assurance contributed greatly to his superlative senior season.
“Without a doubt,” Howes said. “Preparation breeds confidence, and that confidence enabled him to play at a high level last year, and I think that confidence has rolled over into his preparations this offseason. I really look for him to blossom.
“God willing, if he’s healthy, I think he can have a long and prosperous career overseas.”
Chris McManes is Catholic University’s basketball historian and has been affiliated with the program continuously since 1998.