Jamilyn Kinney: Belmont's sharpshooter and sense of calm
Jamilyn Kinney came to Belmont known for her three-point shooting but, throughout her three years, has also developed into a strong defender and leader
by Alyssa Muir
Jamilyn Kinney has been shooting, and shooting the lights out at that, since before she was in the first grade – a group of strangers at a small arcade in her hometown of Van Buren, Arkansas, can attest to that.
When she was just four years old, Kinney, decked out in an old basketball jersey, decided she wanted to try the Pop-A-Shot at her local arcade. And much to the surprise of her parents, she buried her first shot – and she didn't stop there.
Swish. Swish. Swish.
Kinney hardly missed. Soon enough, a small crowd had formed watching in awe as this little girl dominated the arcade game. The Kinneys were a basketball family and Jamilyn had been around the game for a bit, but her parents had never seen anything like this out of her.
That impressive spectacle ended up being just the beginning in the accomplished tale of Belmont's sharpshooter.
A Family Affair
After her initial success at the arcade, Kinney decided it was time to try her hand at real basketball – and she certainly didn't ease into it by any means. With the help of her mom, Kinney convinced her dad to let her play with her brother and his friends who were all seven or eight years old.
Michael Kinney was initially against the notion of his four-year-old daughter going up against boys almost twice her age. Once he came around on the idea, however, he wasn't going to give her any shortcuts.
"I told the boys, 'If she's gonna be here, no one is taking it easy on her'," he says. "She went right up against them from day one and she held her own...And we did that every Wednesday and Sunday for years. Pretty soon, she was one of the first ones being picked for teams."
For Jamilyn, those workouts in her early years proved to have an enormous impact as she progressed through her basketball career.
"I probably had to grow up a little bit faster," she says. "[My brother and I] would get in a lot of fights playing against each other...But now I can look back at how much that actually helped me. It got me a lot better. I got stronger mentally and physically."
As those Wednesday and Sunday scrimmage sessions came to a close as the kids got older, the Kinneys transitioned to a new basketball bond within the family – Jamilyn would be playing high school ball at Van Buren High School where her dad was on the coaching staff.
As one might expect, their first year together was a bit rocky as the two tried to find the perfect equilibrium between the dad-daughter and coach-player relationships. However, after that year, their connection blossomed as a result of spending all the extra time together on the court.
"Once we figured out the balance with each other, our relationship grew so much because of it," Michael says. "We spent countless hours with each other, and it wasn't just the amount of time, it was the type of time we spent with each other. It was something that she loved to do and something that I loved to do so it was perfect."
For Jamilyn, it's an experience that she will always look back on fondly.
"After that first year, it was awesome," she says. "I wouldn't have traded playing for him for anything. It's something I'll never forget."
Being around her dad, who has been a coach since she was little, as well as her mom, who is a teacher, inspired Kinney to want to take a similar career path. After she leaves Belmont, Kinney plans to return to Arkansas to be a high school coach herself, citing the ability to mold young people as well as the chance to continue to be around the game she loves as her main reasons.
And Michael has no doubts that his daughter will excel in that role when the time comes.
"She's taking bits and pieces from different coaches that she's been around: me, [Jamey Givens], coach Bart [Brooks]," he says. "She's figuring out her own way of combining those different pieces. She's level-headed, she's not short-tempered and she's just real even-keeled, which I think is really important when you're in a coaching position."
Early Success in Nashville
While Kinney has had her imprints all over the Bruins' success for the past three years, it initially took a little convincing just to get her to step foot on campus for a tour.
When she got her first recruiting call from Belmont, she "had no idea where the college even was". And once she found out it was in Nashville, close to 500 miles away from her hometown, she quickly wrote the school off in her head.
But her dad had other plans and convinced her to at least take a visit to the school.
"We were there 15 minutes and Jamilyn was out on the floor with them, and I looked at my wife and I said, 'I know without a doubt this is where she's going to choose'," he says. "She didn't even want to visit any other schools after that."
Kinney did end up visiting some other schools just to do her due diligence but none of them compared to what Belmont had to offer in her eyes.
"I just had a feeling this is where I needed to go," she says.
Later that year, Kinney showed up on campus ready to find any way possible to get early minutes as a freshman.
Three-point shooting had always been where she excelled on the basketball court and it was what she was most comfortable doing. Kinney even had one game in high school where, in what was a tie game, she made a three-pointer on six consecutive possessions, pushing her team ahead by double digits.
"Just always being in the gym, trying to show out with my brother and his friends, I always wanted to shoot," Kinney says. "Playing against [my brother and his friends], the further out you could shoot the better."
But coming in as a freshman on a very talented team, Kinney recognized that her scoring wouldn't be what got her minutes; they had plenty of gifted scorers already. Instead, it would be what she did on the other side of the ball that would determine her playing time. There was just one issue – Kinney really disliked playing defense.
"Defense was not my thing in high school for sure," she says with a laugh. "I was like well, 'I can just score the ball'. Outscoring the other team was kinda my thing...I got here and I was like, 'yeah that can't happen anymore'. To get minutes as a freshman you gotta play defense."
Slowly but surely, Kinney started to develop as a defender. She attributes that growth to the fact that she had to guard Darby Maggard, a career 2,000-point scorer with 430 career three-point makes (good for fourth in NCAA history), every single day in practice. As a result, her appreciation for that side of the ball began to grow.
"I like [defense] a lot more than I did [when I first got here]," she says. "It was the quickest way for me to get on the court because of the group that was here...I wouldn't say I love it now, but I've definitely realized how important it is."
Kinney's new commitment to defense paid off as it helped her earn immediate minutes her freshman season. She played in every single contest, averaging 15.7 minutes per game and knocking down a total of 26 threes.
Throughout her three seasons as a Bruin, defense has continued to be a big part of her game. Just this past season, she racked up 11 steals in a 78-57 victory over Auburn, the most in a game in program history.
Steady as the Ship
Kinney's role on the team progressed even more during her past two seasons as she not only started every single game that she was available both years, but also averaged over 32 minutes each season.
In her sophomore year, she was awarded All-Ohio Valley Conference Second Team honors thanks to her 8.2 points, 4.1 assists and 45 total three point makes on 39.5 percent shooting from deep.
As a junior, she made a career-best 50 treys and earned OVC All-Tournament honors for the first time. She also recorded a career-best 21 points on a career-high seven three pointers in a 68-52 win at Tennessee State.
Her productive outings throughout the final months of the season are even more impressive considering her circumstances. Kinney tested positive for COVID-19 during conference play and was forced to miss time while in quarantine. About two weeks later, she felt her shoulder pop out during practice and was diagnosed with a torn labrum.
Fortunately for Kinney, and for the Bruins, the injury was on her non-shooting arm so she was able to play through the injury with the help of a shoulder brace. And despite not being at full strength due to the pain as well as the restrictiveness of the brace, Kinney still played a massive role in several important games down the stretch, one of which was the OVC Championship victory against top-seeded UT Martin where she tallied 15 points on 4-for-7 shooting as well as five assists.
And just as essential as Kinney has been in terms of points and assists, she's been equally as important as both a leader and as a sense of calm around a young team.
"She's just so steady," head coach Bart Brooks says. "Her teammates feel a confidence in her knowing that she's just gonna do what she does. She's just gonna be rock solid. She's not gonna get too high with the highs or never too low with the lows. She's just been steady as the ship and she keeps us centered and grounded."
Especially in a year where Kinney started in a backcourt alongside two freshmen, her reliable presence on the court was more important than ever.
"I can be out there and [Coach Bart] just gets a sense of calmness," Kinney says. "I just now noticed it this past year but when I'm not on the court, things just seem to go crazy."
This next year may or may not be Kinney's last season as she is still undecided on if she's going to use her extra year of eligibility. But either way, she's expecting this year to be her best one yet.
"There's just something special about this group already," she says. "I really feel like we can make it to the Sweet 16."
And if this team is to make it that far in the postseason, you can expect Kinney to be a key factor. Whether it's toughness, defense, playmaking or a steady presence, she brings a plethora of positive and much-needed qualities to the Bruins.
Oh, and you can never forget about her shooting. It's likely you'll find her in the biggest games hitting multiple clutch threes – just as she did as a carefree four-year-old in that Van Buren, Arkansas, arcade.