As a freshman at Michigan State, Kearney appeared in 34 games and averaged 1.2 points per contest for a Spartans team that advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament before losing to Louisville in Phoenix, coincidently. The Detroit native played in the team's first 13 games the following season before informing the team of his intention to transfer away from the place he called home at the end of the fall semester.
Kearney was reportedly contacted by 20 schools after announcing his plans to leave MSU, including Texas A&M and Iowa State, before eventually deciding to attend Arizona State.
"Just the opportunity that I had out here," said Kearney when asked why he chose the Sun Devils out of his list of suitors. "The opportunity to get better and make a name for myself and start playing again. And then the chance to play with guys like Jahii Carson and Jordan Bachynski. They're NBA prospects and guys that know how to play the game. And everybody wants to get to that NBA level.
"It's a great environment here and one I can get better in. The program is turning around and we got a good group of guys that really want to help get it to the next level."
At 6'5," but with a seven foot wingspan, and 190 pounds, Kearney's the prototypical long, wiry perimeter player who can serve as a defensive menace on one end of the floor and an offensive threat at the other. Before transferring, he had been averaging nearly 17 minutes per game for the Spartans as a player who could get his teammates the ball in a position to score while also demonstrating the ability to score from the perimeter.
"I'm a versatile guy who can guard multiple positions on the floor, one through three," he said. "I'm a guy who's unselfish but at the same time can knock down the open shot and get the offensive game going, especially in the open court. I'm just an all-around player."
Kearney joins an Arizona State squad in 2013-14 that returns three starters from last year's team, which finished at 22-13 (9-9 conference) before losing to Baylor in the second round of the NIT tournament.
ASU also welcomes an additional eight newcomers, including fellow Big 10 transfer Jermaine Marshall (Penn State). Together, the two provide the Sun Devils with enough offensive fire power, experience, and veteran leadership that fans and experts now expect ASU to be a competitive force in the suddenly deep Pac-12 conference this upcoming season.
"Oh yeah, I definitely feel the buzz," remarked Kearney. "It was created last year. When I came in they were kind of making a run but then it kind of slowed up. But with the guys we got coming in this year, guys like Richie Edwards, Jermaine Marshall, and myself, and with Jahii coming back, it's creating a buzz."
It's been that buzz which has motivated Kearney to stay competitive throughout the last year and has him itching to get back on the court since his arrival in Tempe. Raised expectations, a rejuvenated and competitive conference from top to bottom, and a sense of urgency to win while the iron is hot and momentum is building have helped pace the junior as he counts down the days until he's cleared to play.
"Oh definitely, because I want to be as prepared as I can be when I come in," he said. "I haven't played in a game in a year, so it might be a slow start, but again, I'm trying to prepare myself as best as I can in these workouts and by getting in the weight room so it won't be a slow start."
Of course, there's also the opportunity to play alongside one of the nation's top playmakers in point guard Jahii Carson, the Pac-12's Co-Freshman of the Year last season.
"It's pretty tough because he's so fast," said Kearney jokingly about getting adjusted to playing with the Sun Devil floor general. "He's probably the fastest guy I've ever seen, especially with the ball in his hand."
This week, the Sun Devils officially begin their preseason workouts in anticipation of their upcoming trip to China for the Pac-12 Globalization Initiative next month. As part of the plan, the team will spend 10 days overseas and play against Chinese professional and university teams. Unfortunately, due to NCAA transfer rules, Kearney will be unable to join the team for the trip. Nonetheless, he insists he remains optimistic about the season and hopes his teammates enjoy the experience.
"It is a bummer. I mean, you always want to add a couple more stamps to your passport," Kearney quipped. "I've been to Singapore before so I've been out of the country and it's definitely fun. So yeah, I'm mad I'm not going, but I wish my teammates the best of luck while they're out doing their thing."
If there's anyone on the Arizona State roster who might know what to expect on a unique trip such as the one the Sun Devils are currently preparing for, it's Kearney. In 2011, his Michigan State team defeated North Carolina on board the USS Carl Vinson, an active aircraft carrier, in one of the rare outdoor college basketball games as part of the Carrier Classic.
The very next year, Kearney and the Spartans squared off against Connecticut at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany, the home of U.S air forces in Europe.
"Yeah, since it was outside you had to deal with the wind and everything else," said Kearney. "It's just a little bit different playing outside, but it was fun. It was a great experience, both in San Diego and in Germany. And we got to meet the President."
So as the Sun Devils get set to depart on their longest road trip of the year, Kearney will continue to prepare himself for the season ahead and the chance to make a splash on the Pac-12 scene. If there's any pressure for him to hit the ground running, don't expect it to phase Kearney. He's just anxious to get back on the court.
"There's always pressure, that's just part of being a D-1 athlete," he said. "There's always pressure to perform every night so it's no different than when I came in at Michigan State."