EAST RUTHERFORD — Former St. John’s star swingman D.J. Kennedy had every reason to give up.
He had made it out Pittsburgh’s nasty Hill District, where twice his older brother was almost shot dead and his cousin died of a heart attack after a police chase.
He’d made good on his promise to coach Norm Roberts that he would get the Red Storm back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002.
He’d fulfilled the vow to his mother that he would get his college degree. And he was on the verge of achieving his personal goal of being picked in the NBA Draft.
And then it literally all came crashing down.
On a drive to the basket in the 2011 Big East Conference quarterfinals, Kennedy got tangled up in a web of limbs and crashed to the court, grabbing his right knee.
The Johnnies would play in the NCAA Tournament, but Kennedy, the ACL in his right knee torn, would not. He would not get taken in the second round of the NBA Draft, as many experts had predicted.
“I never thought, Why me?’’ Kennedy told BrooklynNets.com. “Injuries are a part of sports. There’s nothing you can do about it but you can do something about how you respond.
“I just stayed positive. That was what I had. I had to make sure there was no negative thoughts. I stayed positive and said I just have to work even harder. That’s how I approached it.’’
That approach might finally pay NBA dividends for Kennedy. He is one of 31 free agents working out for the Brooklyn Nets this week, hoping to land an invitation to the team’s Orlando Summer League camp.
Kennedy is not a stranger to the Nets. He helped lead the Rio Grande Valley Vipers to the 2013 NBA D-League championship, was an NBA D-League All Star and a Third Team All-NBA D-League selection.
His game is cerebral and subtle. He makes the smart pass, hits the open shot, boxes out and takes no prisoners on defense.
“I’ve learned it’s the little things, the simplest things they can like you for,’’ said Kennedy. “It’s not all about going out there and scoring 30 points. A lot of people that get picked up through this process, they don’t score that many points. It’s hustle. It’s hard work.
“Most teams have their top scorers. They’re not looking for that. They’re looking for someone that can come in and be a good team player, be a good teammate, make good decisions on and off the court, and remain positive.’’
Kennedy has proven he can do that. The injury was a cruel twist of fate. St. John’s was in shambles when he, along with Sean Evans who is also here working out for the Nets, accepted the challenge to rebuild.
After going undrafted he signed with the Erie BayHawks where Jay Larranaga, son of Miami Hurricanes coach Jim, helped Kennedy through the rehab and taught him how to be a pro.
Kennedy almost stuck with the Dallas Mavericks before being cut just before the start of the 2013-14 season. He was mentored by Shawn Marion, former Net Vince Carter, and marveled at Dirk Nowitzki’s work ethic.
Kennedy believes he’s the quintessential D-League free agent. All he needs is to fit the needs of one team and the opportunity he didn’t give up on will be his.
“It would mean so much,’’ said Kennedy. “Everything I’ve had to go through - getting out of Pittsburgh, going through the tough times at St. John’s, the injury, the D-League.
“I can’t say if another person would have given in but it never crossed my mind. If you work hard, the rest takes care of itself. And when it does, you have the satisfaction of knowing what you overcame.’’