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Kennedy Meeks is already Raptors 905’s beating heart

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Following Raptors 905’s 112-109 win over the Westchester Knicks, there was a subtly upbeat vibe in the locker room. That was before Kennedy Meeks entered, or, more appropriately, burst in, instantly illuminating the room. Between shouting at those closest to the stereo system to crank the music, and the flawless rendition of J. Cole’s Revenge of the Dreamers he rapped into the accepting ear of 905 media relations czar Stefano Toniutti, it was easy to see where Meeks gets his reputation as the team’s progenitor of good times.

“Kennedy is a great guy,” said 905 guard Kaza Keane after the game. “He’s one of those guys that you love in your locker room. He creates a good atmosphere.”

“He’s the biggest kid we got,” added coach Jerry Stackhouse. “He loves to have fun. But when he’s in between those lines, he can focus and get serious. And he knows how to put the ball in the basket as well.”

Ultimately it’s the latter part of Stack’s description of Meeks that will drive his career forward. With his start to the season with the 905, he’s putting himself in position to bounce back nicely from the disappointment of not making the Raptors main roster out of training camp. His performance against Westchester, under the ear-piercing screams of 4,000 Mississauga school kids, might have been his best pro game yet.

Meeks moved to the bench after starting the 905’s opener. On its surface, the new role looks like a demotion. In actuality, it’s a decision Stackhouse says he’s made with the most important minutes of the game in mind. Stack’s rationale: by using the raw seven-footer Andre Washington as something of a ceremonial starter, Meeks — who averages 4.9 fouls per 36 minutes — can be spared early, chintzy fouls that might keep him out of the game’s most pivotal moments.

The strategy worked well in Tuesday’s win. Washington played just seven minutes — all in the first half — while Meeks put in 33 minutes of work, started the third quarter in Washington’s place, and posted a season-high 18 points with seven rebounds, two assists and pair of blocks.

It’s a high note for Meeks to go out on, as news broke before the game that he’s been called up to play for Team USA in the first round of FIBA World Cup qualifiers. Camp starts Friday. For Meeks, it’s a chance for to showcase his growth as a player and athlete; in an ideal world, the call-up will add Meeks to the list of 905 alums to parlay his G-League experience into an NBA deal.

“(I want to) show those guys first of all that I deserve to be in the NBA,” said Meeks on what he wants to bring to camp in Greensboro, N.C. “Show that I’m in a lot better shape than I was before, the last time they saw me.”

Meeks’ doesn’t have a skill set that’s particularly en vogue in today’s game. His 6’10, 277-pound frame isn’t the easiest to transport from place to place on the court. After attempting just one three-pointer in his entire four-year college career at UNC, Meeks has yet to convert on three tries in the G-League. For a team like the 905, who have routinely run out Bruno Caboclo as a small-ball five this year, Meeks’ not-so-stretchy game can be a tricky fit.

But as a guy like Jakob Poeltl has shown with the big club this season, there’s room for heady, traditional bigs with soft hands, even as basketball’s elite venture further away from the paint. In his season-best showing against Westchester, Meeks flashed the wits and touch that could one day be his key to an NBA job.

“I think has far as relocating when the guards drive, finding open spots, I think I do well,” said Meeks when asked what he thinks his best offensive skill is; at least three of his buckets on Tuesday were produced by stealthily making himself open for dump-offs from Keane and Lorenzo Brown.

Raptors 905 are going to miss Meeks’ crafty moves around the rim while he’s on national duty for the next two weeks. Outside of the extremely raw Washington, Meeks is the one traditional centre on the roster. Stackhouse will manage, as he has through the endless roster churn he’s dealt with during his time as a G-League head coach. Caboclo is currently balling to the tune of 17.5 points, 6.5 boards and a sopping wet 58.8 percent clip from outside. Today’s signing of Kuran Iverson should help fill the gap, too.

Tougher to replace will be Meeks’ magnetic personality, but he’s confident the chemistry the team has already forged will hold up while he takes his bar-dropping talents to Team USA’s locker room.

“Those guys all have a great sense of humour … we’re a close group, believe it or not. We’ve only been together for a month and a half, two months, but it feels like we’ve been together for five years,” said Meeks. “I think we all trust each other, so when you have that chemistry, the sky’s the limit for us — no matter if I’m here or not, no matter who leaves, we’ve got somebody to come and step up.”

In a league where the only constant is that nothing is ever constant, finding quick cohesion is a legit accomplishment. In Meeks’ absence, Raptors 905 will learn exactly how vital he’s been to the jelling process.

 

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Podcast host and writer for Locked on Raptors, Raptors HQ and Hoop Talks Live. Terrence Ross believer. On Twitter @WoodleySean. It's 10 grown men playing with a ball -- let's have some fun with it.

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