By BLAKE TOPPMEYER
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
Just three days before freshman center Jens Kennedy received his first career start for the Quincy University men's basketball team against Illinois-Springfield, Kennedy was on the court with a different team.
He played in front of a modest crowd on Dec. 5 with the QU junior varsity squad in its game at Lincoln (Ill.) College, a NJCAA Division II squad.
It wasn't a punishment for Kennedy or anything of the sort. QU coach Marty Bell simply used it as an opportunity to give the 6-foot-10 Kennedy, who redshirted in 2011-12, some more early-season game action.
"I just needed to develop more," Kennedy said. "My conditioning was pretty poor (early in the season). And it really, really helped me with my conditioning and to get my confidence up."
This is the first year for QU's JV program, and it has paid early dividends.
Bell utilized the seven-game JV schedule to give some of his freshmen and sophomores the chance to develop their skills and confidence.
Kennedy played in three JV games early in the season, and he's now averaging 6.8 points per game for the varsity squad, having started in 10 games. Nate Des Jardins, Austin Weber, Dalton Hoover, Geoffrey Hartlieb, Randy Reed and Drake Vermillion are others who played in at least one JV game this year and also have played at least 10 minutes in two or more varsity games.
"JV is not for people who can't play varsity," Kennedy said. "It's just to develop people. It gives people who aren't getting a lot of varsity time, time to play. It developed me. It gets your confidence up."
Improved confidence was the biggest byproduct of Weber playing in his lone JV game, the Dec. 5 contest against Lincoln College.
Weber started 11 games as a redshirt freshman last season and averaged 5.8 points per game. However, he went through a little shooting slump early this season and wasn't receiving much playing time.
So Bell had Weber play in a JV game in an effort to restore his confidence. It seems to have worked, as Weber has been one of QU's top options off the bench the past three weeks. He's made seven of his last 17 3-point attempts (41.2 percent).
"For me, it brought me back to the way I was playing last year," Weber said. "It just kind of gave me that spark. It gets you the reps that you don't get sitting on the bench. You get plenty in practice, but it's a stop-and-go scenario, and it's set up.
"But in a (JV) game, it gives you that feeling of being in a real game. … I don't know if it really makes your game that much better, but it definitely puts that confidence inside you."
Des Jardins, a true freshman, was almost an afterthought in QU's playing rotation early in the season. He totaled 15 minutes in the Hawks' first 13 games.
Throughout that period, though, Des Jardins gained valuable minutes in JV contests.
"You kind of just get to relax (in JV games) and try to learn what they're teaching you," Des Jardins said. "It's just an extra opportunity for me and whoever is playing."
Des Jardins cashed in on his opportunity. His varsity playing time has skyrocketed the past two weeks. He averaged 16.5 minutes per game in QU's last four contests, and he seems to have secured the role of backup point guard.
One of the benefits of playing JV as a freshman point guard, Des Jardins said, was gaining familiarity with running an offense within the confines of a shot clock.
"As a point guard, it's definitely clock management, because the shot clock is new (to a player) in college," Des Jardins said. "You have to learn how to work that."
There are a couple limitations of the JV program. First, players who are redshirting -- such as QU's Evan McGaughey and Scottie Bruxvoort -- can't play in JV games. Secondly, Bell said the NCAA limits players to 26 total regular-season games -- not including conference tournament games -- per season. QU has 26 varsity games on the schedule.
Thus, anyone who plays in a JV game or games has to sit out a matching number of varsity games. A couple of QU's players who appeared in JV games missed a varsity game or two with an injury, freeing up a game. Other times, Bell had to hold back from giving a player a couple minutes of varsity time so he could play him in a JV game.
"I have to make a conscious decision," Bell said.
QU's JV schedule concluded with a game against Rend Lake College last Friday. All of QU's players who appeared in JV contests are on track in terms of games played, meaning none will run into a scenario in which they would have to sit out a game down the back stretch of the season to avoid exceeding the 26-game limit.
QU's JV team, which is coached by varsity assistant coach Jon Perry, also has provided an opportunity for a few players who don't see varsity time to get some game action.
Bell said that as the JV program develops, there will probably be fewer and fewer varsity regulars who also play in JV games.
"It's in its infancy, and as I do this more and more, the opportunity to use guys both ways will become less and less," Bell said. "Next year, my plan is to have maybe 12 (JV) guys and that will be just what they play. It would be almost like having two separate teams."
However, Bell would still have the option of having a struggling varsity player compete in a JV game to restore confidence. And a player coming off an injury could get back into the flow of game action by playing a JV game before jumping into a varsity contest.
In this way, Bell noted that the JV program can essentially be used like the minor league system is in baseball.
"All that stuff is designed to help kids reach their potential," Bell said.
Kennedy is living proof of how a little JV action can help a player become a more effective varsity player.
"It was a really great thing the coaches did for me," Kennedy said.