When a high-energy athlete who competes with tremendous passion gets what he loves most taken away, it's no surprise if he comes back even more motivated.
But nobody could have anticipated the way Morgan State University senior men's basketball player Tiwian Kendley has responded since having to sit out the first 10 games for a violation of team rules.
Always a prolific scorer, Kendley, a 6-foot-5 guard, averaged 21 points per game last season to lead the Bears and earn first-team All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference honors. Since returning this season, he has been one of the hottest players in the country.
In his first game back at George Mason Dec. 22, Kendley scored 31 points, and since then he has topped 30 points three times in seven outings and is averaging 29.1 points per game on 47 percent shooting. His "low" game of 20 points came when he scored 18 in the first half Jan. 14 at North Carolina A&T but had his evening cut short by foul trouble.
"He's always been able to get to the basket, and right now it's coming together for him," Morgan State head coach Todd Bozeman said. "Tiwian brings a scorer's mentality. He's high energy, but now he will have to adjust to the double and triple teams, and when he has three guys coming at him learn to make the right play to the other guys on the floor."
Kendley took a potentially negative situation and turned it around, using his time on the bench to analyze the games from a different perspective and help younger and less-experienced players.
"He was helping the other guys with things when he was out, so I think it helped his leadership," Bozeman said. "He was forced a little to help them, but really wanted to help them and did help them quite a bit."
After initially taking the news hard and feeling as though he let his teammates down, Kendley decided to make a difference.
"Sitting out showed me what was open for some of the other guys, so I realized I could teach them," he said. "I got to see different game situations and what things worked and didn't, but also could help them know what to expect in certain situations. Most important, it really gave me a chance to see where there might be openings and opportunities for me to be successful, and so far that has worked out great."
Despite Kendley's production, his return has been an adjustment for the team. His return came after Morgan had lost its fourth straight game. The Bears lost three more after he returned, but they followed that up by opening MEAC play with three consecutive victories. They are now 3-2 in conference play and 7-11 overall, but Kendley said the Bears are poised to become the team that was picked to win the MEAC prior to the season.
"I hadn't played in a game yet, so I knew that we would have to find some rhythm and it would take a few games to find that rhythm," Kendley said. "Winning three in a row was a blessing. Then we lost two, but it's nothing we can't bounce back from. I can see it in the guys' eyes that they are buckling down and getting more focused, and if we play the way we are capable, there's no reason we can't live up to the hype."
The hype seems justified given that Morgan has one of the nation's most dynamic duos in Kendley and preseason MEAC Player of the Year Phillip Carr. Those two combine for 44.2 points and 13.6 rebounds per game on a team that averages 71 points and 38 rebounds. The two players first met in 2014 and bonded right away.
"Phil and I had a little history," Kendley said. "We were at the same JUCO recruiting camp in Las Vegas. We had a couple words for each other -- not bad words, but motivational words as far as what was the next step for us. Then when I came to Morgan, he was already here. And a guy we both knew who recruited us was here, too, so it was kind of a nice surprise to be all together."
Carr spent a year getting acclimated to Division I competition while Kendley sat out, but the two have been magic together on the court ever since.
"Just having him on the court makes me comfortable," Kendley said. "It gives us a great dual threat. He can shoot the three and make mid-range shots, and I can get to the basket and score, so for a defense to have to guard two players like that who know exactly what the other guy is going to do all the time is tremendously hard."
Bozeman compared the duo to rhythm and blues, describing them as two different personalities and players. Carr is a little more laid back than Kendley.
"They complement each other because they are both skilled players who can score," Bozeman said. "Phil is a stretch four, which is a popular theme these days. He's a big [man] who can really shoot. Tiwian can get the ball close to the basket and score. They also can give each other a break. If one is out of the game getting a rest, the other can become the focal point for us."
Even with such a dynamic pair, Bozeman knows he needs contributions from others to reach the team's goal of a MEAC title. Morgan returns to MEAC play Jan. 20 with a 4 p.m. contest at crosstown rival Coppin State.
"We are at our best when four or five guys are scoring, so we are looking for that kind of offensive contribution and rebounding from the other guys," he said. "We have guys that play different roles for sure, but we need them to play to their abilities more often."
Photo Credit: Lawrence Johnson/Morgan State Athletics