Junior college transfer here to stay

Maurice Kemp (2) awaits a pass during Saturday’s loss to UFC. -Serghei Trofimov | The East Carolinian

No athlete will admit that he or she hopes for a teammate to get injured.

But sometimes, in sports, it takes such an unfortunate event for a player to get the chance to shine.

With starting forward Robert Sampson hampered by thumb and ankle injuries over the last month, ECU basketball coach Jeff Lebo has turned to junior transfer Maurice Kemp to pick up the slack.

Now, Sampson might have a hard time earning his spot back.

“It was unfortunate that Rob went down,” Kemp said. “But it gave me the opportunity to be on the floor a little bit more and show the coaches what I can do and how I can contribute when I’m in the game.”

Kemp has contributed plenty since taking a starting role. He has scored in double figures in ECU’s last eight games, the last seven of which saw him in the starting five. Averaging 22.6 minutes per game in 2011, Kemp ranks third on the team in scoring at 10.9 points per game, and leads the Pirates with an average of 7.0 rebounds per contest.

While those numbers are solid, examining his overall numbers versus his averages as a starter reveals a drastic uptick in production. In his seven starts, Kemp has averaged five more points (15.9) and two more rebounds (9.1) than his season marks in those categories, including a dominant 25-point, 14-rebound performance against Virginia-Wise on New Year’s Eve.

Kemp, though, says that those numbers are more of a byproduct of simply playing more minutes, rather than any mental boost that comes from now being a starter.

“(Starting) helps you get comfortable a little faster,” he said, “but it’s not really much of a difference because I come out and play hard regardless. This has just given me a chance to be out there more.”

ECU marks the third stop for Kemp as a college player. After a wildly successful prep career in his hometown of Miami, Fla., he played as a freshman at Alabama A&M, where he averaged just 13.2 minutes per game and a meek 5.3 points per contest. After just one season there, Kemp transferred to Miami Dade Junior College, where he averaged 16.9 points and 9.9 rebounds per game in 32 games for the Sharks.

In three years, that’s three schools in three states, three sets of teammates and four coaches (the coach at Miami Dade was fired midway through Kemp’s season there). Kemp said that the periods of constant moving, adjusting and readjusting were difficult, but now he feels he has finally found a place that he belongs.

“It just feels good to be back at the Division I level,” he said. “I love the system and the coaches here. It’s just a really good fit for me. I’ve learned so much since I’ve gotten here, working with (Assistant Coach Tim) Craft and those guys. They know their stuff and they’ve helped my game out a lot.”

Indeed, they’ve helped Kemp take his game to another level. But there is still one thing he has struggled with that he is dying to change: He is 0-15 from behind the arc as a Pirate, which is something that has been nagging at the 6-foot-8 forward.

For a kid who shot 52 percent from three-point range last year at Miami Dade, that’s a stark contrast, and one he’s ready to correct.

“It’s coming,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t know what it is. I knock them down in practice, but in the game, it’s always something. But it will fall eventually.”

Lebo echoed Kemp’s remarks, noting how he has seen him knock down numerous three-pointers in a row in practice. Earlier this season, he joked that, “When one finally goes in, we might run off the bench and all of us get a technical foul and just tackle him.”

That kind of camaraderie is one of the things that makes Kemp believe transferring to ECU was the right choice. His days of bouncing from team to team are over, and he said he’s excited to finish out his college career a Pirate.

“I love it here,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere.”


This writer can be contacted at sports@theeastcarolinian.com.

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