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Mutka: Valpo getting a bosst from Matt Kenny, Kevin Van Wijk

Valparaiso's KevVan Wijk eyes rim as Wright State's Tavares Sledge defends during second half their game ARC Saturday Jan. 19

Valparaiso's Kevin Van Wijk eyes the rim as Wright State's Tavares Sledge defends during the second half of their game at the ARC Saturday Jan. 19, 2013. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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Most of the positive pub about Valparaiso University basketball has revolved around “Rowdy” Ryan Broekhoff. Rightfully so, but the Crusaders pulled another rabbit out of the hat Saturday because of guys like Matt Kenney and Kevin Van Wijk.

Outplayed most of the way by Wright State, they relied heavily on the unlikely combo to hang in there until Broekhoff shook off the defensive shackles to score 10 of his 18 points in the last 2:19 of a cardiac-arresting victory.

That came just 48 hours after VU overcame a 22-point deficit in the second half to steal a one-point victory at Detroit.

“The most emotional game I’ve ever played in,” Kenney said. “Very chippy.”

Kenney, the only homegrown Hoosier decorating an international flavor roster, showed why he’s been rock-solid in the last three years at VU. Fifteen points, six assists, four rebounds ... those are the kind of numbers this creative senior is capable of producing.

Being a sixth man for much of his career, the 6-4 guard is easy to take for granted, but a little research turned up nuggets in his profile. Wright State was his 87th straight game in double-figure minutes and his ninth straight start.

Dating back to last season, Kenney was a part-time starter but still led the Crusaders in blocked shots and ranked second in minutes. Among active career leaders in the Horizon League, he squeezes into the top six in rebounds, assists and steals.

A consummate role player, Kenney qualifies as VU’s most versatile performer. His attitude couldn’t be better.

“If I need to guard the No. 4 or the No. 1,” he said, “or if it’s being the sixth man. I’d rather start, but I’ll do whatever Coach (Bryce) Drew wants.”

His athleticism transforms into more rebounds than you would expect from someone his size. The former Indiana All-Star also earned two letters in football at Mooresville, where he made all-conference.

Kenney victimized the Raiders with a wide receiver-type catch on a long pass from Broekhoff for a layup which buttoned up the victory with 17 seconds left.

“I’m not so tall, but I’m pretty athletic,” he said.

Outside of the locker room after VU moved into a tie for first place, he talked about team chemistry while the last of 4,860 celebrating fans filed out of the ARC. Kenney understood why it could be an issue with so many transfers (six) and foreign (three) players on the roster.

“You bring in a bunch of new guys,” he nodded, “but we really hit it off. We hang together on and off the court. Everybody gets along great.”

His four years have been a blast.

“I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else,” he said. “Not just for basketball, but academics and the community.”

Van Wijk echoed those sentiments after icing his back, which has been a chronic issue since he was a teenager. Before coming to VU, the native of Hoofddorp led all players in rebounding while playing for Gran Canaria in the Spanish Junior Championships. He also averaged a strong double-double for the Netherlands in the U16 European Championships.

“My back really acted up when I was in Spain,” said Van Wijk, who scored 14 of his 18 points against Wright State in the first half. “I had surgery for two herniated disks when I was 17.”

Still burdened by his aching back, the 6-8 senior averaged just 5.1 points in his freshman year. Last season, he made a quantum leap to all-Horizon first team honors by averaging 14.1 points and 5.2 rebounds.

Treatment at a Crown Point facility, which he visits at least four times a week, jump-started his college career.

“My core was really weak and we tweaked a lot of things with exercises,” he said. “I took a big step between my freshman and sophomore year.”

Van Wijk was coming off a career-high 31 points in VU’s 89-88 victory over Detroit, beefing up his average to 13.5 points. The fluent 240-pound Dutchman speaks English and is majoring in Spanish.

“English is our second language,” he said. “We start learning it at age four.”

As for Spanish, he hopes to teach or work in translating. Meanwhile, his not-so-aching back is keeping the Crusaders (15-5, 5-1) in the Horizon League title hunt.

Losing to Loyola in their Horizon League opener complicated matters. Denying Wright State (13-4, 4-1) a two-game lead eased the pain.

“It opened up our eyes, knowing anybody can beat you,” Van Wijk said.

Irish sighs are whining: “Te’o decides it’s time to talk” blared the headline in one newspaper. Excuse me, but doesn’t Manti Te’o look ridiculous because he talked too much?

“There is no way I could be part of this,” said the troubled Notre Dame linebacker in yet another story over the weekend.

So why make statements which gave his “affair” with Leenay Kekua added mileage after he discussed the hoax with Notre Dame officials? Could it be because Te’o can’t resist a microphone or tape recorder without gushing about his private life.

“Say it ain’t so, Te’o,” added a pleading headline from a story on the internet.

Definitely, if “it ain’t so” means the non-existent Kekua.

As far back as the pre-season media day I recall standing next to Te’o, who talked about the girl he was going to marry. He never mentioned her name, at least not in my presence, but how do you get that emotionally involved with someone you’ve never met?

Supposedly, Notre Dame recruits the best and the brightest, all academically sound football players. So why did it take this incredibly naive athlete so long to discover he was being duped? Maybe he couldn’t figure out how to extricate himself from a tangled web without looking foolish.

Yet another mess for Notre Dame’s spin doctors, who seem to lurch from one crisis to another while grinding out massive amounts of positive propaganda about the wonders of their troubled football factory. In their haste to lionize the future NFL star they glossed over his sentimental sob-story, doing nothing to rein him in because it advanced his Heisman Trophy campaign.

Just a hunch, but it’s not a stretch to blame his awful performance against Alabama on being distracted. How could he focus on football when the hoax was going to be exposed in just a matter of time? Surely his breakdown on the turf also affected his defensive teammates.

Covering the Irish brings out the cynic in reporters who believe in objective football coverage. All those inflated legends make good copy, but you quickly learn that the truth can easily be distorted in the process.

Putting athletes on pedestals is risky. Nobody’s perfect, not even at Notre Dame. Maybe one day they’ll figure it out, warts and all.



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