Conversation with DeAndre Kane, Maccabi: 'It could have been me'

Mar 07, 2018 by Frankie Sachs, Print
Conversation with DeAndre Kane, Maccabi: 'It could have been me'

With just one month to go in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season, it is crunch time for Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv, which sits on the edge of the playoff zone. While Maccabi controls its own destiny, the path to the playoffs can be riddled with obstacles. When the going inevitably gets tough, Coach Neven Spahija knows he can look to steely guard DeAndre Kane to rise to the occasion.

Over the past decade, Kane has played competitive basketball representing some 10 clubs and schools. He has endured hardships and experienced painful losses, personally and as an athlete. But Kane has never lost his focus, demonstrating growth and maturity in his journey toward professional success. A survivor of gun violence, Kane lost close childhood friends to the same scourge in his Pittsburgh neighborhood, the Hill District. "Back then it was like gangs. Bloods and Crips. Where we're from, we're considered Bloods," Kane explained.

Despite his treacherous childhood, Kane has gone to become the first college graduate in his family and then completed an advanced university degree before playing basketball on the global stage. Now in his first season with Maccabi, Kane has taken his career to new heights, while carrying the spirit of those he's loved with him.

Like many young athletes, Kane was introduced to sports at a young age by his father. Calvin Kane led Schenley High School to the 1978 Pennsylvania state championship and played college basketball for Lamar University in Texas, which he helped to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen two years later.

"My dad played ball his whole life," Kane said. "So when I was growing up, he put sports in my head early. Basketball. Football. Baseball... At 8, I started playing ball."

Father and son were very close and young DeAndre loved to hang out and learn from his father. With one exception. "I remember my dad coached me maybe one time. Any time he had a team, I didn’t want to play for him. He was too hard. It was too rough for me to play for him. Things that other people did that I did, it was way worse when I did it. I couldn't take it.

"When we would get home, he was like, 'I'm not trying to be hard on you, I just want you to understand.'"

As he reached his teen years, Kane did start to understand how important sports could be to his future. "Growing up in Pittsburgh can be kind of rough, especially where I’m from," Kane explained. "It can be easy to get caught up in things and your sports career can be ended in less than hours of hanging with the wrong crew, hanging with the wrong crowd at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Just trying to fit in… Where I'm from, you can't let that happen."

And yet, it nearly did happen to Kane in high school. "We were leaving a party on the other side of town and my friend had a word with another guy over his girlfriend.

"They got into it as we leave. Shots rang out and we're running, we're running. And all of a sudden I see my friend fall. But I didn’t understand. I thought he was just falling to get low, so he won't get shot. And as everybody got up when the gunshots stopped firing, I was looking for him."

Once the gunshots stopped, Kane found his friend and his life was instantly changed. "He got shot in the head one time. We went to the hospital and that night he was dead. I have him tattooed on me. He was one of my best friends... It could have been me, for sure. I was running right next to him."

As terrifying as this story was, it wasn’t the only time gun violence took someone close to Kane. "I lost a lot of friends through my teenage years," Kane said. "One of my girlfriends got shot in my 11th-grade year. Her name was Shavon... It was on the other side of town as well. She was walking with her friends and guys just came by and started shooting; it was like a drive-by shooting. She got shot in the stomach and she died."

These tragedies shook Kane, but they didn’t break him. He turned back to those early lessons his father had taught him. Kane decided to memorialize his friends with tattoos and then to use his athletic ability to take control of his destiny.

"For me, basketball was a good outlet. I dedicated that whole next year to her and to my friend," Kane said.

At the time, Kane was a star at Schenley High School - the same school his father had led to glory - on both his basketball and football teams. Even though he followed in his father's footsteps and helped Schenley to the state championship in 2007, Kane was not yet fully focused on basketball. "Football was my sport. I liked it more. I thought at my size and the position I was playing, I had a great chance to be good."

But the talent evaluators saw that Kane's true gift was in basketball. "I had some lower-level scholarship offers to [play football in] college, but it wasn't like [the ones I got for] basketball, so I decided to take the basketball route and my dad actually wanted me to play basketball too. He thought I was better at it, so that was good."

Those scholarships became a vehicle to take Kane away from the trauma of his high school years. "Pitt [The University of Pittsburgh] is literally five minutes from the Hill District, [but]staying at home probably wouldn't have been the best decision for me."

Concerned with the distractions of going to a college close to home, which would have made it easier to find reasons to skip classes and harder to focus on basketball, Kane decided to get away from Pittsburgh and settled on spending one year at The Patterson School, a prep school in Lenoir, North Carolina, which helped prepare him for college and choose the right university.

"That was the first time I actually got away from Pittsburgh by myself," Kane recalled. "When you’re a young, teenage boy and you go away to an all-boys prep school, it's what you need just to clear your mind, think and start over fresh. I made a lot of good friends there."

Kane chose to attend Marshall University in West Virginia, which was a four-plus-hour drive from Pittsburgh, but was not eligible to play basketball due to academic reasons during his first season. Though that was frustrating at the time, it ultimately benefited Kane. When he was finally able to play in the 2010-11 season, his first with the Thundering Herd, Kane shined with 15.1 points and 3.4 assists per game. He was named Conference USA Freshman of the Year.

Even though his career was taking off, Kane was also earning a reputation as a hot head. "When I first got to college I was young," Kane explained. "Gestures I made as a freshman, like to react to a call, I didn’t know because in high school it wasn't a tech[nical foul]. And when I get to college it’s a tech. When I say something back to a ref, not even in a bad way, it's a tech. so I didn’t know how to react to that."

As with every challenge he had faced in his life, Kane worked on finding ways to control his emotions and help his team win. His second season at Marshall was even better than the first. And then, just as he seemed poised to take the next step, tragedy struck again.

"My dad died. It was probably the toughest time I’ve had in my life...We were so close. Losing him really messed me up for a while. I didn’t even want to play basketball anymore... It was tough for me."

His mother, Jacqueline, refused to let DeAndre sit around and mope. "[She told me] my dad wouldn’t want that. He would want me to go back and play and try to do what we always talked about doing… So that next year I just went out and played. I changed my number to 50, because he would have turned 50" on his next birthday.

In the spring of 2013, Kane did something that no member of his family had ever done before: He graduated from college, completing his degree in business management.

"It was just a proud moment for me, a proud moment for my family," Kane said. "I know my dad would have been so proud, so happy. I really wanted to do that for him. It was a great feeling, something that when basketball is over, because it doesn’t bounce forever and you always need something to fall back on. And I always have something to look forward to when I’m done playing… Even my sisters and brothers were proud of me."

Because of that first year at Marshall when he was ineligible to play, Kane still had one year of NCAA eligibility remaining. He decided to enroll at Iowa State University, where he would pursue a master’s degree while playing at a stronger college basketball level. That year, 2013-14, would prove to be life-altering athletically and academically.

On the court, Kane took a huge step forward under Coach Fred Hoiberg. Playing alongside current UNICS Kazan big man Melvin Ejim and Dustin Hogue, who now plays for Dolomiti Energia Trento, Kane was named Big 12 Conference Newcomer of the Year, to the All-Big First Team and was a finalist for the Naismith College Player of the Year. The Cyclones won the Big 12 Tournament and reached the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. Off the court, Kane found himself more relaxed and, despite the pressures of basketball, completed his master’s in childhood development in just one year.

"It was a huge change. Coming from where I’m from, kids don’t go get an undergrad degree and then work on their master's," Kane said. "When I got to Iowa St., I didn’t get one tech the whole year. Things calmed down for me a lot. It was a new slate. It was out in the middle of nowhere, Ames, Iowa, freezing cold… It was a great year to clean my mind and I had the best year I had in all of college."

On par with his accomplishments as an athlete is the pride Kane took in completing his master’s degree. "It was tough, I ain’t gonna lie, but I had a lot of help. And basketball was only a short period of time a day. And I didn’t have to go to so many classes, so I just focused on two, three classes and knocked it out, used tutors and the help program. It was cool."

Armed with two degrees and many accolades from his college basketball career, Kane began his professional career in the autumn of 2014 and it was tougher than he had expected.

"When I was in Russia, I had to adjust to people not speaking English at all. And it's freezing cold, where it's like I just want to go home, like tomorrow. I don't even care about the money or the basketball. I just want to go home."

Kane finished that first season with Antwerp in Belgium and then played the following campaign for ratiopharm Ulm in Germany. Despite the personal challenges, Kane began to appreciate these experiences. "I went to Spain, where it’s nice, beautiful, and I didn't want to go home. I wanted to stay another two months! Germany was a great experience for me. Belgium was also a nice country, nice people.

"And on the basketball side you see different things. You see different players, see how Europe really is, how different coaches teach different styles of play. It's always good to learn from different people. You take it all in and try to get better each and every day."

In 2016, Kane returned to Russia to suit up for Nizhny Novgorod and was among top performers in the 7DAYS EuroCup.

"You get to different countries and the culture is totally different," he said. "It was actually good. It was different and after a while, you get used to it. I had a great year in Russia and that’s how I was able to get to a great club like Maccabi."

Just like Kane matured during his college years, his professional career has also seen Kane make huge strides. "I'm more mature. I know different things about the game, how to play the game more," Kane explained. "In Europe, it's different than playing in the States, for sure. You gotta be a little bit smarter over here, know when to foul, know when not to foul. And [in the EuroLeague] you're playing against top level guys that really know how to play the game of basketball. So if you're not sharp at every moment you're on the court, something good happens for the other team. So you have to be laser-focused and really understand the game of basketball."

This season Kane has shown that he can do all those things and more, even when he is under the microscope in the EuroLeague. He has excelled on defense and had plenty of big nights on offense, too.

His road to professional happiness has been winding and often painful.

Six years have passed since a brain aneurysm took Calvin Kane and DeAndre still has a hard time discussing it.

"As you get older and one of your family members passes away, as years go on, you would think it gets easier. But for me, it feels like it gets worse when I think about my dad and how I can be with him, would he have come with me overseas, and just how it would be different."

And yet despite missing him, Kane is clear-eyed about his career: "Playing basketball in Europe has been one of the best things in my life."