Tiwian Kendley wants to be Morgan State’s next great NBA player
He’s still learning — and scoring — as a starter for the Capital City Go-Go
Tiwian Kendley is trying to make a name for himself, just like another Morgan State basketball star, Marvin Webster, did decades ago.
Kendley is playing with the Washington Wizards’ G League affiliate, the Capital City Go-Go, where he’s already impressed some of his teammates. He played with the Wizards’ summer league team and during the preseason alongside NBA All-Stars John Wall and Bradley Beal.
“He makes the game easier for me because he just puts the ball in the basket,” said Chris Chiozza, a former Florida Gator who played on the Wizards’ summer league team. “He’s just gifted, athletic, and he’s an underrated defender as well. He sets the tone for us defensively.”
Capital City Go-Go head coach Jarell Christian sees Kendley as a solid player who can grow.
“I love Tiwian. He’s a guy that’s gonna put his head down, he’s gonna drive and he’s gonna attack,” said Christian, who is in his first year as head coach. “That’s his bread and butter, putting his head down and being able to get a bucket, and that’s what he does and that’s what we’re gonna lean on him to do this year.”
Kendley’s path to professional basketball was shaped, in large part, by his mother, Jasmine Barnes. Early in his high school career, Barnes decided to move her family from Harlem, New York, to Greenbelt, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C.
They weren’t chasing a better basketball program, as Harlem has produced some of the best basketball players in the world. However, the “Mecca of Basketball” is also known for crime and high unemployment. These factors were enough for Barnes to seek a better environment to raise her family.
“Where we lived, it’s easier to get in trouble and hard to get out, so I knew if we had a chance to leave, we had to,” said Barnes.
— Jasmine Barnes
The Kendleys had family in the D.C. area, but it was a hard transition for Tiwian.
“I remember thinking when I first got here [Maryland] that it was boring and nothing to do. I just didn’t want to be here,” he said. He now realizes it was a good idea for him to get out of New York City.
At Eleanor Roosevelt High School, he wasn’t able to play immediately for the Raiders because the basketball season had already started, so he joined an AAU team. His skills turned some heads and caught the attention of the school’s head basketball coach, Brendan O’Connell.
“At Roosevelt, we hold open gym sometimes and the upperclassmen and underclassmen are usually separated,” said O’Connell, who’s led the men’s basketball team at Roosevelt for 14 years. “I went to look at the underclassmen, and I just remember this skinny kid with green shorts just dominating everybody else, and I said to myself he’s way too athletic to be playing with underclassmen.”
The kid with the green shorts was Kendley, but he didn’t make the team until his junior year because of low grades — a recurring hurdle for the New York native. His performance on the court, however, did not disappoint. The 6-foot-5-inch shooting guard led the Raiders to back-to-back state championship appearances, averaging more than 13 points a game.
“He’s a pro-level talent with a high basketball IQ. Anytime you get that, it elevates your team,” said O’Connell.
Kendley’s stats and skills caught the attention of several Division I colleges, including the University of Maryland. An offer, however, never came because Kendley struggled to meet NCAA academic qualifications. As a result, he attended Lamar Community College in Colorado to help him mature and prepare for a four-year college.
“Lamar was far away from home, so I saw it as an opportunity for me to mature and get ready for life,” said Kendley. “I was still doing dumb things and didn’t know how to handle business, but playing in juco kind of woke me up.”
In his two years with the Lopes, Kendley led the team in scoring, amassing more than 1,000 points. He also convinced his coach, Sercan Fenerci, that he could be a clutch player.
“I have a lot of stories where he won games for us after just telling him, ‘Tiwian, do what you do best,’ ” said Fenerci, who is now the assistant athletic director at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, head coach at Acton-Boxborough Regional High School in Massachusetts and the national coach for the Turkish Basketball Federation.
Fenerci said Kendley spent time working on getting shots up quickly and watching film in between classes. During his last year at Lamar, Kendley said several colleges showed interest, but his grades ultimately held him back from making it to a Power 5 school. He eventually decided to enroll at Morgan State after a conversation with the coaching staff.
The next step was persuading his mother that Morgan was the right place for him. She was not thrilled he’d be living in a city with one of the highest murder rates in the United States.
“I tried to stay on him to keep him focused because he was there for basketball and I guess basketball became a way to keep him out of trouble,” she said.
Kendley transferred to Morgan State at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year but didn’t play in any games that year. He had to raise his grades to meet the NCAA’s minimum standard for Division I athletes, a 2.3 GPA.
For the first time that Kendley could remember, basketball was taken away. He couldn’t use it as a distraction from his problems in the classroom.
“I couldn’t practice or play. People asked me why I wasn’t playing, and I started to question if I still wanted to,” said Kendley. The sink-or-swim situation pushed him to improve.
He would eventually handle his business in the classroom and make the men’s basketball team the following year. Once again his play made a huge impact on the court. He led the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) in scoring with 21 points a game. Todd Bozeman, Morgan State’s head basketball coach, was impressed.
“Tiwian is just a special player,” said Bozeman, who worked as a scout for the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies (now Memphis Grizzlies) before leading Morgan’s basketball program. “He scores the ball in a variety of ways and is relentless on each end of the floor.”
Not only has Bozeman led Morgan State to the NCAA tournament twice, but he also coached Jason Kidd at the University of California, Berkeley. He knows talent when he sees it. This is probably why he had two NBA hopefuls playing for him at one time.
Morgan alum Phillip Carr was also a top scorer in the MEAC. The forward played with Kendley and appreciated what he did for the team and the game.
“Tiwian’s an aggressive scorer and creates a lot shots for himself, so it helps me because teams didn’t just have their eyes on me and they had to worry about both of us,” said Carr. He signed with the Westchester Knicks, the G League team affiliated with the New York Knicks.
Everything seemed to be going well until Kendley had a “here we go again” moment. He was ruled ineligible for the first half of the 2017-18 season because of his grades.
When he returned, Kendley averaged 26 points a game. This level of production would have ranked him No. 2 in the country behind current Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young. But because of the games he missed, Kendley’s numbers didn’t qualify.
After multiple setbacks in the classroom, Kendley graduated in 2018 but wasn’t selected in the NBA draft this year. Still, he was able to get a shot with the Go-Go. He has a one-year deal with a minimum salary of $7,000 a month.
In his first game with the G League team, Kendley was named a starter. He played in front of his friends, family, former teammates and Beal, the Wizards’ starting shooting guard.
“It was big for me to have Bradley on the sideline give me tips on what to do during the game,” said Kendley. “It’s also big as an organization, not just for the Go-Go but the Wizards as well, to show that support.”
Since then, Kendley has played seven games for the Go-Go, averaging 13 points per game. He still looks like the major scoring threat he was in college. Despite the setbacks and questions, Kendley’s mother is pleased.
“It’s a great feeling to see and watch your children not just start but also finish their goals and be where they want to be,” she said.