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Kennedy a big part of St. John's return

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Kennedy a big part of St. John's return
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D.J. Kennedy is delaying surgery in hopes of playing later in the tournament

DENVER – Finally done answering questions about the torn right ACL he suffered in a Big East tournament quarterfinal loss to Syracuse last week, St. John's swingman D.J. Kennedy found another way to occupy himself before practice Wednesday afternoon.

Kennedy grabbed a handheld video camera, hobbled over to where teammate Sean Evans was answering questions from reporters and pretended to ask one himself.

"How far do you think you guys can go?" Kennedy asked Evans, struggling to hide his grin.

"Get that camera out of my face," Evans responded with a chuckle.

That Kennedy, a senior, can joke around with his teammates less than a week after being robbed of the chance to play in his first NCAA tournament is a testament to his character and positive outlook. He admitted he'll have "mixed feelings" at tip-off on Thursday, but insisted he's content to play the role of cheerleader when the sixth-seeded Red Storm open NCAA tournament play against 11th-seeded Gonzaga in the Southeast Region.

"I'm just trying to stay positive about everything and not let any negative thoughts in," Kennedy said. "The competitor I am, I want to be out there playing, but at the same time I know I can't. I'll be happy to just experience the environment and have the chance to support my team."

It's difficult not to feel sympathy for Kennedy, considering everything he endured helping build St. John's back into a winner. Kennedy and the other members of the Red Storm's nine-man senior class suffered through three mediocre seasons under former coach Norm Roberts, but they bounced back this season under Steve Lavin to lead the program to its first NCAA appearance since 2002.

Hoping to come up with a way to express his support for Kennedy, Evans asked his Twitter followers for suggestions last week. The idea Evans liked best was making a T-shirt, so he had one with a "Do it for D.J." slogan printed and wore it on Selection Sunday.

"Even though it's a little thing, it's a big gesture in D.J.'s eyes and I know he appreciates it," Evans said. "I know how much it hurts D.J. [not to be playing], but he's handled it like a true champion. He's handled it better than I would if it happened to me."

St. John's will use a committee approach in trying to replace Kennedy's 10.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game; he was the team's third-leading scorer and leading rebounder. Freshman Dwayne Polee Jr. likely will receive more playing time, as will Evans in light of his late-season surge in production.

If St. John's beats Gonzaga and then the winner of BYU-Wofford and advances to the Sweet 16, coaches haven't ruled out the possibility of Kennedy attempting to make a return later in the tournament. Kennedy admits it's a long shot at best, but he is delaying surgery as a result of that glimmer of hope.

"I know it's probably a slight chance, but it's just the competitor I am," he said. "I'm not using crutches, I can walk and I'm actually ahead of schedule.

"I'm going to need surgery eventually. Right now, a lot of things are healing on their own, so I'm just taking it one day at a time."