NBA Finals would be dream backdrop for Kinsey to repeat title-winning shot
By Larry Di Giovanni
With barely a second left, Gamecock Tarence Kinsey arched a three-pointer in Madison Square Garden, a shot that made the University of South Carolina the National Invitation Tournament champion in March 2005.
"I am going to start dreaming on that right now."
Now a reserve guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers--a team with the NBA’s best regular season-record for 2008-09 at 66-16, and one of the favorites to win the championship--Kinsey hopes for a repeat performance. He relishes the thought of sinking a game winner if the Cavaliers advance to the NBA Finals in June. The team is led by league MVP LeBron James, a phenomenal talent.
“I am going to start dreaming on that right now,” Kinsey said during an interview as the Cavaliers prepared for their second-round playoff opponent, the Atlanta Hawks. He could become only the third former Gamecock to win an NBA championship.
'Big-time game and stage'
Toward the end of the 2005 NIT final, Kinsey was getting tired, having played tight defense all game against St. Joseph’s standout Pat Carroll. At 6 feet, 6 inches, lean, and long-limbed, Kinsey was dubbed a defensive “stopper,” not a shooter.
He proved the description wrong. Coach Dave Odom briefly considered a timeout but let Kinsey dribble all the way up the court before hitting the clutch shot.
“That was probably number one, my most memorable moment as a South Carolina Gamecock. I was thinking that I didn’t want it to go into overtime. It was a big-time game and stage. We won the game as a very focused team,” Kinsey says.
Teammates: From Powell to James
Forever loyal to the Gamecocks, Kinsey, who’s a Tampa, Fla., native, follows South Carolina basketball and football. He also speaks on occasion with current Gamecock players such as Devan Downey. Kinsey received a bachelor of science degree in criminology-criminal justice from South Carolina.
Kinsey remains close by phone with Carlos Powell, a Gamecock teammate and fellow member of the team’s 1,000-Point Club who plays professionally with leagues in the Pacific Rim. Powell was a team leader, Kinsey says, a tough, physical forward named the 2005 NIT MVP in his senior year. The next season, in 2005-06, the Gamecocks repeated as NIT champions during Kinsey’s senior season.
Kinsey says Powell’s influence helped make him a better player as a senior. The team beat NCAA champion Florida twice that year. Kinsey scored 602 points overall while averaging 16 per game.
“The opportunity was there with my coach for me to raise my game,” he says. Also stepping up was a 2005-06 teammate of Kinsey’s, Renaldo Balkman, named the 2006 NIT MVP. Balkman is now a reserve forward with the playoff-contending Denver Nuggets, another strong team with a shot at the NBA title.
Asked what it’s like to play with an MVP talent like James, Kinsey calls it an “amazing” experience. “LeBron sees everything on the floor, even things the coaches don’t see, and then points them out,” Kinsey says. “He’s like having a coach out there. LeBron has a very high basketball IQ.”
Signed to a one-year contract, Kinsey has been a definite contributor this season, during which the team posted a stellar 39-2 home record. When a starter was recuperating from a wrist injury, Kinsey filled in, playing close to 30 minutes a game during a stretch in February.
He scored 11 points three times and considers one of those games--versus the Memphis Grizzlies, his old team--his best performance. Kinsey says he would like to develop his point guard skills. A point guard at his size presents a difficult matchup.
“I think I’m just as good offensively as I am defensively, but every team does not have really good defensive players,” Kinsey says of the Cavaliers, one of the top defensive teams.
Riker, Boswell the only Gamecocks with an NBA ring
Should the Cavaliers win the NBA championship, Kinsey would join rarefied company as a former Gamecock on an NBA title team. Only Tom Riker and Tom Boswell hold that distinction. Riker was a 6-foot, 10-inch forward-center was a reserve player on the 1972-73 New York Knicks title team featuring Willis Reed, Jerry Lucas, Walt Frazier, and other greats. Boswell, a 6-foot, 9-inch forward-center, was a member of the 1976 Boston Celtics NBA title team. He played one season at Carolina in the mid 1970s.
Riker, an All-American, played on Frank McGuire's 1969-70 Gamecock team that finished 25-3 overall, including 14-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Teammates included Tom Owens and All-American guard John Roche, who led the 1974 New York Nets to an American Basketball Association title.
Other Gamecocks who were NBA standouts:
- Alex English, Nuggets, league’s most prolific scorer of the 1980s
- Brian Winters, Lakers and Bucks, 1970s
- Mike Dunleavy, 76ers, Rockets, Spurs, Bucks, 1970s-'80s; NBA runner-up with Rockets in '80-81; head coach of Lakers, Bucks, Trail Blazers, and currently coaches Clippers.
Kinsey says his chance to win an NBA title in a city long overdue for one would be the thrill of a lifetime.
“That would be pretty big, to do it in Cleveland, being a team that brings the city a ring,” he says.