PHILADELPHIA — Garret Kerr admitted he was uncomfortable at the beginning of this season.
After averaging 15.5 points and an NCAA Division II-best 13.0 rebounds per game last season as a freshman for the University of the Sciences men’s basketball team, Kerr found that teams were keying on him.
“I wasn’t a freshman anymore, and I think teams knew a little bit so it was definitely tough for me,” Kerr, a Middle Township High School graduate, said after practice Tuesday. “I couldn’t really do the same things I was doing last year. I wasn’t really comfortable and I was almost a little restless.”
Now he’s comfortable again.
Kerr closed the regular season on a torrid streak, averaging 27.4 points and 15.3 rebounds over his last eight games as the Devils emerged as a threat heading into the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference tournament.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound forward again leads Division II in rebounding with 12.6 per game. After averaging only 15.3 points in his first seven games, he finished averaging 21.5. He has 16 double-doubles in 25 games.
Kerr has been named the CACC’s Player of the Week three times in a row as the Devils (13-12 overall, 10-7 CACC) won their final five games of the regular season.
“He’s got great hands,” University of the Sciences coach David Pauley said. “He’s tenacious. He has footwork. He doesn’t need to dribble to score, which is rare in today’s game. … And he’s changed his game this year. He can shoot the ball from distance. His 3-point shot, his step-back moves, he can really create space and create shots.”
Freshman teammate T-John Casiello, a Wildwood Catholic graduate, has been close with Kerr since high school but still is amazed at what he is doing.
“He’s a beast. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Casiello, who trains with Kerr over the summer. “I don’t know how he does it. He just gets in the right position and finds ways to score, finds ways to grab rebounds and make big plays at the end of games.”
Casiello’s emergence has coincided with the team’s and Kerr’s hot streaks. The Wildwood Crest resident hardly played early in the season, but he averaged 25.2 minutes over the last six games. Pauley called him “a pure point guard.”
While Casiello’s numbers are modest — he averaged 3.2 points and 2.0 assists in those six games — Kerr said the 5-foot-10, 160-pounder’s contributions can’t be measured in statistics.
“(He does) all the little things,” Kerr said. “He’s so mentally strong, so tough. … Sometimes he won’t get the assist for putting me in position to score, but in reality he’s the one who gave me the basket.”
Pauley said he knew during the recruitment process that Kerr had star potential. Kerr was a first-team Press All-Star and helped Middle win the South Jersey Group II title as a senior in his only season there after transferring from Moorestown. But he didn’t receive any other scholarship offers.
“Could he have played D-1? Yeah, I thought so when I recruited him. I didn’t tell anybody that,” Pauley said with a smile.
Kerr said he has heard the question of whether he might transfer to a Division I school. The answer is no.
“(Pauley) has done so much for me that even if I had the opportunity to, I wouldn’t do it,” Kerr said. “The situation I have here is awesome. I play with my brother (Wes, a freshman). I’m close to home. My dad (former Philadelphia Flyers great Tim Kerr) gets to see every game. I love Philly. I’ve made a lot of good friends and I’m getting a great degree. So I really don’t think that I would ever entertain the idea.”
There’s also the fact that the University of the Sciences team is on the rise. The Devils went 6-19 when Kerr was a freshman, but this season they have wins over seven of the top eight teams in the CACC. And of their top seven players in minutes per game, only one is a senior.
“I think the next goal is definitely to win a conference title,” Kerr said, “and after that we can start thinking about becoming one of the top teams in Division II.”
As for being one of the top players in Division II, Kerr is already there. Casiello said he hasn't seen anyone better.
“Not that we’ve played,” Casiello said. “There’s no one even close.”
Notes: University of the Sciences will host the CACC semifinals and final. The Devils’ first-round game is at Bloomfield at 2 p.m. Saturday. They beat Bloomfield 80-75 at home Feb. 16 in their only matchup this season.
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