Detroit — There aren’t too many entry points to get to the NBA.
Brandan Kearney knows this all too well. He’s knocked on the door several times to find his way to the NBA, and each time, he’s been close.
Just not close enough.
When Kearney, a 28-year-old Detroit native, heard about the open tryouts for the Motor City Cruise, the Pistons’ new G League affiliate, he got excited about another opportunity to play professionally. Kearney said he checked the social media pages of the G League and the Cruise daily to get more details of when tryouts would be.
“It excited me. We heard about it last year. I didn’t really think about it as much last year and then this year, as I was putting some work in and I want to do some other things off the court in the community,” Kearney said. “Honestly, I’ve been trying to try to manifest (my dreams) earlier this year. With me knowing that there’s a new opportunity coming up with the G League season and getting back under the NBA tutelage, I started to manifest and certain stuff started to come into existence.
“If I’m able to make this team — or when I make a team, because I’ve been trying to speak things into existence — I want to do that.”
There was a time when making the NBA looked to be a much clearer path for Kearney.
He was an All-State player as a senior at Detroit Southeastern in 2011 and was an ESPN Top 100 selection. He went to Michigan State and was a freshman on the Spartans team that won the regular-season Big Ten championship and the Big Ten Tournament.
That was an NBA-stocked roster that included Draymond Green, Branden Dawson, Keith Appling and Adreian Payne. Midway through his sophomore season, Kearney transferred to Arizona State and finished his career at Detroit-Mercy.
“Just thinking about that and me playing at Michigan State and me transferring and a lot of people that supported me in my high school career and in my college career, they didn’t really see me play that much in college when I moved on,” he said. “They saw me at Detroit-Mercy but I was going through some things — I was having a kid and moving back home and a lot of things going on.
“Now that I’m refreshed, I’ve just been so excited about this opportunity and just making it come to fruition.”
The tryout with the Cruise on Wednesday evening at the Pistons practice facility in midtown was Kearney’s next chance. He’s bounced around, playing professionally with the Moncton Miracles in Canada, and he had a tryout with the Sioux Falls Force, the G League affiliate for the Miami Heat.
The knocks on the door just haven’t materialized into an NBA shot.
Kearney hopes that changes this time, with a team a little closer to home than the Grand Rapids Drive — the Pistons’ previous G League affiliate.
“I haven’t played in two years with COVID and everything. I’m just blessed to be able to go to the tryout and have eyes on me, to get back playing and get back under NBA tutelage,” he said. “Being in front of the front office for the Motor City Cruise and the opportunity to be back in that atmosphere, competing at a high level.
“With it being a team in my hometown — right in the heart of the city in downtown Detroit, because the other team was in Grand Rapids — it’s big for me to make this team and it’s big for me to do well once I make the team.”
Marcus Stout, an assistant coach with the Cruise, has seen Kearney develop over the years and he sees how this chance can be a boost.
“This opportunity is major for him, being from the city, winning a city championship and going to Michigan State,” Stout said. “Just with that background of staying home for school and having that that energy, and building that up here, I think this opportunity to kind of brings things full circle for him to get a real chance to do some stuff at the highest level, because that’s what we do it for.”
Getting to the NBA isn’t a given for any of the prospects, but in Kearney’s case, it’s just a chance to realize that dream. So many talented players from the Detroit area and around the state look to make the jump but just can’t complete the process.
Stout has been working with young people around Detroit to try to make that path easier and to help them get over some of the obstacles that he faced. Stout starred at Detroit Renaissance and played collegiately at Fordham, and now is looking to give back to the community.
That starts with players like Kearney.
“In the NBA, there are only 400 and something jobs a year, so that’s a small amount and a talent like Brandan, it doesn’t always mean when it doesn’t happen for you that you’re not good enough,” Stout said. “It just means that sometimes things don’t fall your way, and you just got to try to put yourself in the best position, even when they don’t go your way, if you’re still in your heart to chase it put yourself in the best position to have success moving forward.”