Kinsella flashing skills

MINNEAPOLIS — The Mid State Technical College Cougars thought they had figured out a way to topple Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC), the fourth-ranked junior college in the nation — the strategy was to triple-team Mike Kinsella.

In the first meeting of the season between these two teams the Cougars limited Kinsella, a 7-foot center who's committed to play for Marquette next season, to 10 shots and 10 points, both season lows. MCTC ended up winning by only six points.

In the rematch on Jan. 3, Kinsella once again found himself surrounded by three Cougars every time he was in the low post, but this time he was ready for the attention. To free himself from the pack, Kinsella drifted to the perimeter and launched 10 three pointers, sinking half of them. He finished the game with 22 points and 10 rebounds as MCTC won, 101-60.

"Normally I don't like to shoot that many threes," Kinsella said. But "we went into an offense that allowed me to run the baseline a little bit more and go outside and my coach has pretty good confidence in me where he gives me the freedom to shoot that.

"That's not typically what I like to do. I'd much rather go down low and score in there. But it was just something that my team needed me to do that game."

Making adjustments and changing locations is nothing new for Kinsella — those are things he's become accustomed to in recent years.

As a junior at Rochester (Minn.) John Marshall High School he was recruited by a number of major college basketball programs.

However, many of those same schools backed off after a disappointing performance at the AAU national tournament the summer before his senior year. That left Kinsella to choose between the mid-majors interested in him and a few months later he settled on Rice University in Houston.

"At the time I knew I wanted to go somewhere with decent academics, which Rice is outstanding, and then at the time I just liked their basketball program and the players on the team," Kinsella said. "I was also kind of getting sick of recruiting. I just kind of wanted to get it over with. I think I rushed into that too much."

Things didn't get off on the right foot for Kinsella once he arrived at Rice. On Nov. 21, 2002, the day before the team's season opener, he learned he'd suffered a stress fracture in his foot and was red-shirted for the season. His overall experience at the college was also disappointing.

"I guess it just wasn't my type of school," he said. "It was a lot of kids that really looked down upon athletes. It wasn't really a fun atmosphere for me.

"I was able to see that I didn't like it there pretty early. So I just started thinking about options. I was looking at trying to go to another Division I school whether it be Minnesota or anywhere really."

However, if he transferred to a Division I school he'd have to sit out another season because of the NCAA transfer rules. That didn't interest him so he began exploring his other options.

One possibility, mentioned by Kinsella's former AAU coach after reading an article about the Marauders' Andy Hannan in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, was to attend MCTC.

Hannan, a 6-foot-7 wing now playing for UNLV, isn't the only Marauder big man who's gone on to play at the next level in recent years. Jerry Holman, a 6-10 center who graduated from Minnesota in 2003, and Levy Jones, a 6-11 center at Nebraska-Omaha, are also Minneapolis alumni.

A reputation among basketball aficionados for turning out skilled big men and the opportunity to play instead of sitting out a second season weren't the only enticing features MCTC offered Kinsella.

"First of all, in terms of the offense that we run, (he's) going to get a lot of touches. We run everything through our post, so they're going to get a lot of touches that's one," MCTC head coach Jay Pivec said in an interview on Jan. 5. "Two, the experience that we have as a coaching staff. And, even now in practice, we had four guys out there today that are 6-9 or better. Mike's not practicing against 6-2 guys."

Even with the solid reputation, offense, coaching staff and teammates Kinsella wasn't sold on the idea immediately.

"I was a little skeptical about the idea of coming to a (junior college) at first because I wasn't sure if I went to a (junior college) — say I get hurt or something — I didn't know if I'd ever make it back to the Division I level," Kinsella said. "Then I started to think about it more and talked it over with my parents and stuff and it just seemed like a good idea."

Kinsella's decision to transfer to MCTC meant he'd go through the recruiting process once again.

"It was a lot like the first time, just the fact that I got a lot of letters and phone calls," Kinsella said. "But this time I was much better prepared to go to a higher level."

Tom Crean and his coaching staff at Marquette agreed with Kinsella. After recruiting, but not offering him a scholarship right out of high school, they offered Kinsella one the second time around and he accepted.

"Everything (at Marquette) is just perfect for me," Kinsella said. "One of the big things was the coaching staff there (and) how much they're going to develop me as a player. Also, the teammates there and the team atmosphere, it's unbelievable.

"To be part of that program it's just, it's really like a family. Everything there is so perfect. It's a nice distance away from home. The new Al McGuire Center is fabulous. It's just going to be a great place to play."

Pivec acknowledged that his star center needs to develop his defensive skills away from the basket and work on playing offense with his back to the hoop, but his teammates only provided ringing endorsements.

"He's talented for a 7-footer — he should do well wherever he goes," MCTC power forward Brian Buck said. "And he's going to Marquette and I think (he'll) fit there perfectly."