DJ Kennedy has emerged as Melbourne United's X-factor after helping them square their NBL grand final series with Perth Wildcats.
Filling the void left by departing import Casey Prather, the 198cm American forward has impressed in his first season with the reigning NBL champions, averaging 13 points and seven rebounds per game.
The 29-year-old Pittsburgh native missed two games in January after suffering headaches and blurred vision following a car accident.
After receiving a nasty knock to the head in last Friday's game-one loss to the Wildcats in Perth, there were concerns concussion symptoms may limit his ability to make an impact in the series.
But Kennedy showed no ill effects on Sunday at Melbourne Arena, racking up 12 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and two steals as United registered a dominant 92-74 win in game two.
"I believe that out of the whole group, he's right at the top of those guys that are so hungry to win this thing," United coach Dean Vickerman said about his swingman after levelling the best-of-five series 1-1.
"From day one when he turned up, he talked about it and has continued to talk about it and he's quite emotional when he talks about coming here to try and win a championship. It's really great to see that he does has so much emotion for an import coming in to do a job here."
Kennedy's ability to rebound at both ends of the floor and create fast break opportunities came to the fore as he, along with guard Mitch McCarron, made a series of key plays at crucial stages.
"It was really Mitch and DJ on the floor that were our absolute key guys," Vickerman said after the pair combined to spark United with regular starters Josh Boone and David Barlow in foul trouble.
After locking in defensively and reducing their turnover count in game two, Vickerman believes they can maintain that trend in Friday's game three in Perth.
"We can make some little adjustments in the way that we set ourselves up for the week," Vickerman said.
"We just need to make sure our energy levels are at absolute peak."
Australian Associated Press