By Frank McLean
Being in professional sports is no different than anything else in life and that first impressions can either make the start of your career easier or make it a heck of a lot more difficult.
That’s what Raptors 905 center/forward Kennedy Meeks is going through right now.
Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Toronto Raptors back in July after being a major cog in the North Carolina Tar Heels run to the NCAA National Championship this past March, Meeks was one of the Raptors first cuts in training camp. But the Raptors not wanting to give up on a talent like Meeks signed him to their Raptors 905 G-League squad in Mississauga.
Meeks spent four years playing at North Carolina for one of the college games most legendary coaches in Roy Williams. The numbers he put up their make you wonder why he is in the G-League.
Meeks averaged 10-points and seven rebounds during his four years, and in his senior year he averaged 12.5 points and 9.5 rebounds. He is ranked fifth in the school’s history with 1,052 rebounds. His 152 offensive rebounds was the most of any Tar Heel since that stat started being kept in 1995-1996.
To top it all off in last year’s NCAA Tournament he grabbed 69 rebounds which was the most by any Tar Heel in an NCAA Tournament and in the semi-final against an Oregon Ducks team that was expected to win it all he tied his career high with 25 points and 14 boards.
So why is a guy like this in the G-League? That is a question I asked an assortment of NBA scouts I know and they all said the same thing, he is not in shape.
And this is where first perceptions comes in and not being in shape when you start a professional career can be a deal breaker.
Meeks has played five games for the 905 before taking part with Team USA and their bid to qualify for the FIBA World Championships. He has put up some decent numbers playing the four spot averaging 11 points a game and nine rebounds.
Meeks is going to get a chance to change that bad initial perception and when I talked to Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse he knows what Meeks has got to do to get better and he gets a little excited about his prospect’s potential. After all Stackhouse is one of the all-time greats to come out of the North Carolina program.
“He still has to work on his conditioning,“ Stackhouse said first thing. “He has to work on his body and he needs to change a little bit and have a little more lift. He has unbelievable savvy and some of the softest hands in the G-League. You see the ability of him finishing around the rim and the soft tip in’s will give us (as a team) a big lift on second chance points.”
When you talk to Meeks, one of the first things he tells you is that he has to work on his conditioning.
“I’m in the weight room trying to get stronger and working on my quickness and strength,” Meeks said. “Playing at the four (as opposed to center in college) there is a lot of running around and it becomes a bit harder and I’m trying to adjust and get into better shape.”
“The pace of the game is a little different,” Meeks explained comparing the pro game to that of college. “I’m learning how to make the correct passes, the spacing on the court and to listen to what the coaches are saying and buy into the game.”
Being a fellow North Carolina Tar Heel with Stackhouse, Meeks is not getting any special treatment. In fact Meeks will tell you it’s the opposite.
“I think he is harder on me than anybody else on the team,” Meeks laughs. “Because we are both from North Carolina he expects more because that’s the way it is when you play for North Carolina.”
Meeks is getting a chance to change a first impression that he is out of shape for pro ball. He is making the commitment to get better and the numbers he has put up in his brief time in the G-League show that if he can get in shape and stay there he could be a 10 point, 10 rebound guy and you can make a good living in the NBA or in Europe if you average that on a game-by-game basis.
Scouts are watching too and if he can get it in gear there is chance an NBA team will come calling later in the season with a 10-day contract and a chance to show what he can do.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.