Marshall basketball: Kane keeps late father close to his heart
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Among the connections between DeAndre Kane and his father, Calvin Jr., one of the deepest was basketball.
Both father and son were state champion guards at Schenley High in Pittsburgh, Pa., DeAndre's 2007 title coming 29 years after Calvin's in 1978. Both were Division I basketball players, Calvin at Lamar University in Texas and DeAndre at Marshall University. It was Calvin who woke DeAndre up early as a kid to work on his game.
"Every day, all day," DeAndre said. "Me and my dad, we'd get up early and go run. He'd make sure I'd go run, he'd feed me and we'd go back and hoop and shoot. It was great."
It devastated the younger Kane when his father died Feb. 7 at age 50, as the Thundering Herd was in the middle of its run to the Conference USA title game and the NIT. Yet, as tough as it was, DeAndre returned to the court. He knew it's what his father would have wanted.
Though his father may no longer be in the stands, Kane wanted to do something to keep his spirit close. He found that in the number that will rest against his chest this season.
Kane will wear the number 50 on his jersey in tribute to his father. He'll use it as inspiration this upcoming season, as he tries to augment his list of personal accolades with his team's goal - an NCAA Tournament berth that has eluded the Herd since 1987.
It wasn't that Calvin just loved playing basketball. He loved everything about basketball.
"Basketball was all he loved," Kane said. "He could tell you about every player in the country - NBA, overseas, anything."
Kane gained a love for the game as well, and excelled at it. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound guard was Conference USA's 2011 Freshman of the Year, leading Marshall in steals (32) and finishing second in scoring (15.1 ppg) and assists (117). He bumped up his scoring average to a team-high 16.5 points per game last year, third-best in the league, and was named to the All-C-USA second team, as well as the conference's all-tournament team.
Yet he played the end of the season with a heavy heart. He flew from Huntington to Pittsburgh to be by his father's side the night of Feb. 6, rejoined the team in Orlando for its Feb. 8 game at Central Florida, and then returned to Pittsburgh for his father's viewing and funeral. Kane admitted returning to the court wasn't easy. He wondered if the game was as important to him as it was before his father's death.
A conversation with his mother turned him back toward basketball.
"She said, 'He'd want you to keep going, keep playing and make him proud,'" he said.
His new jersey number will help his motivation. He asked teammate J.P. Kambola, who wore 50 last season, for the number and the center obliged.
"I know his dad meant a lot to him," Kambola said. "He said he was a mentor. It was the best thing I could do."
His renewed determination hasn't gone unnoticed by his teammates and coaches. Marshall Coach Tom Herrion said Kane has shown a more mature and business-like approach to his offseason workouts.
"I think he's invested more," Herrion said. He's worked harder. He's spent more time in the gym with us and on his own, working on things he has to get better at. And that's contagious, when other guys see guys in the gym. I think he has a better voice for our group."
Kane said he's tried to become a more vocal leader, now that he's a junior and leaders like Damier Pitts and Shaquille Johnson have moved on.
Sometimes that means spurring on his teammates to work harder. Sometimes, said guard DeVince Boykins, that means getting in their ears to find out where they are mentally.
"He'll talk trash to you, but when we get into the locker room, we're buddies," said Boykins, who guards Kane daily in practice. "He's picking you up. He's a good leader just leading by example and being vocal."
In Kane's opinion, there is no room for weak minds, especially with the schedule the Herd faces this season.
"When we go to Kentucky, it's going to be rough in there," Kane said. "I'm just trying to see where they're at. And we're coming along well. Nobody out here is a slouch. Nobody out here is a punk. I think we'll be good."
All of this is part of Kane's mission to help lead Marshall to a C-USA title and an NCAA Tournament berth. The Herd came so tantalizingly close last season, and the last thing DeAndre wants is another near miss.
"My main goal here is to raise a banner, to drop a championship banner," he said. "With how our fans come out and support us, I want to hang a banner for them. This year is all focus for us."
Kane's focus will be helped by the number on his jersey, a reminder of his father and the foundation in basketball he helped build in him.
"I know he's looking over me," Kane said. "It's hard, but I come in here, lace up my shoes and think about him. He pushes me.
"It's motivation, a reminder that I'm doing this for him. I know he's looking and I'm going to try to make him proud."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.