Why ex-Van Buren player Jamilyn Kinney is glad for another NCAA women's tourney at Belmont
There's been no sightseeing in the span of nearly a week for Jamilyn Kinney and the Belmont women's basketball team in San Antonio, Texas.
Kinney and her teammates haven't even been able to sample any of the city's legendary cuisine.
However, there's no other place Kinney or the rest of the Bruins would rather be right now.
Kinney, the former Van Buren basketball standout who is now a junior guard at Belmont, located in Nashville, Tennessee, is getting to take part in her second NCAA Tournament. This year, the women's tournament is being conducted in the San Antonio area due to COVID-19 protocols.
The Bruins (20-5), who qualified for the tournament by winning the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship, drew the No. 12 seed in their region and will play No. 5 seed Gonzaga in the opening round at 3 p.m. Monday in nearby San Marcos.
"It's a lot different, but it's kind of cool, though, getting to see other teams just walking through the (hotel) lobby and everybody kind of being in one place," Kinney said. "I think that helps with the experience, but it is a lot different having to just stay in our rooms the majority of the day, and the only time we get to go out of our room is if we're going to a team meeting space or walking to practice.
"... It (is tough) because you're in San Antonio, and you can't really enjoy all the scenery and just getting out and looking around at stuff."
Plus, they haven't gone out to eat since arriving last Tuesday, as their meals have been delivered right to their hotel rooms.
Still, it beats the alternative of missing out on postseason play, which happened to the Bruins last season. They were selected to play in the Women's National Invitation Tournament before it was canceled due to COVID-19.
Kinney tested positive for COVID-19 in early January herself. She had mild symptoms, mainly headaches, but still hasn't regained her sense of taste.
"We went a span where we didn't play a full month, and there were games we were playing with seven or eight players, and just trying to work back in getting into shape without practicing," Kinney said. "It was tough definitely coming back.
"I remember I practiced maybe three or four days and then got released for our first game, but that was probably one of the toughest games I've ever played; just not being in shape, that was hard. But I think we're figuring out a groove now; we're playing our best basketball, which is obviously the best time to do that now."
That was capped by a run through the OVC tournament, beating top-seed Tennessee-Martin 83-75. Kinney had 15 points and five assists in that game and was selected to the All-Tournament team.
"This year, we've been talking about how it's more of a sweet feeling because all the stuff we've gone through this year," Kinney said. "After that buzzer went off, it was a really, really sweet feeling this year and just like all that hard work had paid off.
"It was nice my freshman year getting to win our conference tournament, but this one kind of had a different feeling for us."
Kinney is averaging 7.9 points and 2.6 rebounds and has also made 35% of her 3-point attempts.
"I thought it was pretty good, given the circumstances," she said. "I've tried to step into a role of being more of a leader this year with our underclassmen. We have five freshmen that came in, and coming in as a freshman with all this new COVID protocol can be kind of stressful for them. So I'm just trying to pick them up each day and bring that energy to practice and bring that effort."
As a freshman two years ago, Kinney got to experience the tournament as Belmont fell to South Carolina. She's hoping for a better result this time around.
"We've been watching film of (Gonzaga) a little bit, and they're a very well-coached team, very balanced," Kinney said. "They're real similar to how we play, so that's going to be really good going into it.
"But (coach Bart Brooks) has always talked about just focusing on ourselves and hopefully at the end of the day, our effort and our toughness wins us the game. ... Also rebounding, we usually play pretty small, so rebounding is going to be a very important key for Monday's game for sure, but I feel like the more we share the ball, the more everyone touches it, the better our team plays together."