Kenny Goins of the Michigan State Spartans dunks the ball against the Indiana Hoosiers at Assembly Hall on January 21, 2017 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Former Michigan State Spartan Kenny Goins left the US in pursuit of a professional basketball career in Europe.

Last year, Goins played with Pallacanestro Trapani in Italy, averaging 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, before signing with Greek team Kolossos H Hotels. For the most part of the present campaign, the 24-year-old forward turned some good performances, helping his incosistent team gather a significant number of wins. Despite the fact that Ty Lawson never got to actually play for the Rhodes-based club, Kolossos have avoided any relegation woes and will most certainly play in the top-tier league in Greece for another year.

However, the future of Kenny Goins remains uncertain. A serious injury problem (a bone marrow edema), from which he could not fully recover while in Rhodes, forced the management to replace him for the remainder of the Basket League season. His statline would have been much better if it had not been for that injury. Nevertheless, his 9.8 points and 5.4 rebounds on 34,6 % three-point shooting can easily land him another overseas contract over the next months.

In fact, his performances made EuroCup club Partizan Belgrade knock on Kolossos’ s door in January. The two sides had a discussion, which did not go any further, since the Greek team needed him at that point, with a view to finishing the season strong, while Goins’ s contract did not include a buyout clause. So, after a meeting with the team’s management, it was all over.

Goins chose Michigan State because he desperately wanted to play for Tom Izzo and the Spartans, despite having other D1 offers. As a senior, he played a key role in his college’s run to the 2019 Final Four and their victory over Duke, in addition to scoring a three-pointer over Zion Williamson to give his side the lead with 34 seconds remaining. That proved to be the game-winning shot, just a few minutes after the future No1 pick had blocked another three-point attempt of the Spartans’ forward.

Kenny Goins saw his life change in one day, when he was 11. His mother’s stroke led him to take out a loan to play basketball. From that point on everything changed. His father was obliged to quit his job in order to look after his wife. Kenny and his sister were deprived of things that are taken for granted.

The University of Michigan State was the ultimate basketball dream. He wanted to join the program so badly that he paid for it out of his own pocket. The lack of scholarships added him to the list of millions of American students who get a student loan to be able to study. He borrowed $17,000, which he’s still paying back.

Kenny Goins sat with TalkBasket.net to discuss his days at college, his European experience and the way(s) he envisions to sneak into the NBA as an undrafted free agent. Moreover, he compares Tom Izzo’s style to that of his European colleagues and responds to his former coach’s criticism concerning his alleged lack of confidence.

Q: How did you end up in Greece?

A: It’s a hell of a question (laughs) ! Last year, I played in second division in Italy, where I had a good year. Then, my Italian agent talked around and our coach had some friends in the Italian second division. They suggested me to him and as soon as he called me, he mentioned the division of the team and what the league looks like. I later did some research of my own and it seemed like a really good fit both ways.

I’ve been happy from the time I signed until now. Greece is a beautiful country with good people and I think the league surpassed my expectations. I get to play against Mario Chalmers, a great ex-NBA player, a EuroLeague team like Panathinaikos and other strong rivals like AEK. There’s tough competition from top to bottom, as you see with Lavrio.

Q: Actually, the first question should have been about how you ended up playing in Italy, right after Michigan State?

A: To be honest, I had just one game in the Summer League after my senior year. I was on the Denver Nuggets and didn’t play the first three games at all. I had 20 minutes in the last game, did pretty well. One of the Italian agents was there; he and some teams were looking at it. After the game, they offered me a deal. In two weeks, I was already in Italy. It’s crazy how things changed after one game.

Q: Did you do any research before signing?

A: I did, but at the same team it was the best offer. I didn’t have that many offers in general. When it came to that, I said to myself: “I got to go, regardless.” It’s competitive out there.

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Kenny Goins dunks the ball during an Aris Thessaloniki-Kolosos H Hotels Greek Basket League game. Photo Source: Facebook.

Q; How was the Summer League for you?

A: It’s not about the one game I played; it’s about the whole experience being with an NBA team, seeing what they do on and off the floor. It was a great overall experience for me and hopefully I will end up back there some day. That’s what we all dream of, us Americans at least.

Q: Did you get the impression that you were not given the chance to prove yourself?

Α: Summer League is very political in a way that they want to play guys that they are looking more seriously at. For me, as an undrafted free-agent, I got picked up last minute. It was what I expected and it didn’t diminish the fact that I was going to go out and give my all. It hurts to not have the opportunity, but at the same time I was able to leave my mark somewhere at the end.

Q: Are you planning on trying another Summer League?

A: Yeah, even last summer I was hoping to, but with everything that happened with covid-19, there was no chance. Now that I’m two years out it will be even harder, but I know my agents are pushing for it. If I can, I definitely want to end up there because it’s the biggest spotlight there is. As I get older, I feel I’m starting to step into my basketball prime and tone in my skills. Hopefully, these teams will see it and especially how I performed in Italy and in Greece. The NBA takes a look over here, especially with how many international guys are coming to the NBA nowadays.

Q: Do you attribute -at least, in part- your rebounding skills to Tom Izzo?

A: Absolutely. I had a guy ask me: “You didn’t shoot threes for the first two years in Michigan State” because all I did was defend and rebound. So, he kind of drilled that into my mind in the first three years and after that, I got other things too. But defense and rebounding was the staple.

Q: Is it true that you used to wear a football players’ armor at practice?

A: (laughs) It’s not so much the armor, it’s the pads. We wore them a couple of times. It definitely works, although even we doubted who’s going to make it and who’s not. Luckily, I made it. But if you’re weak, you’re not going to survive that drill.

Q: How is he as a coach? Is he really as strict as he has been described?

A: Very strict, very vocal and stuctured. He wants intensity 24/7. Even if you’re off the floor, he expects perfection, from video to walkthroughs to shooting free throws. If you don’t give him perfection, he’s going to give it to you! He also prepares you for European basketball because the structure is different than the NBA. NBA coaches are not even close in terms of seriousness – and I’ve heard that Serbian coaches are the most strict. I’d say that Izzo matches up with anyone.

Q: Was the winning three against Duke the biggest shot in your career?

A: Definitely. I made some clutch threes in college and Europe, but when you go to a Final Four and against who it was, you just can’t match up with that. The competition and overall atmosphere of the shot made it so special. Sometimes I still get chills just by thinking about it.

Kenny Goins #25 of the Michigan State Spartans puts up a three-point shot to take the lead at 68-66 with 34 seconds remaining in their game against the Duke Blue Devils during the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament East Regional Final at Capital One Arena on March 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

Q: Did shooting over Zion Williamson’s head make it more special?

A: I think it made it more special for everyone else. For me, it didn’t matter who I was going up against. But it will be something that I can look back on in years from now. I can talk to my kids about it.

Q: How did you take up basketball?

A: I was telling my dad I wanted to football in my senior year. He was like “Wait and see what kind of offers you’ll get from college”. I did and it ended up being the best. After that, I realized that basketball was i wanted to do. Just top to bottom, health wise and mentalities, it was a better choice.

Q: Apart from being a Michigan State fan, what brought you to that college?

A: Honestly, it was the atmosphere that the team and program created. Even though it was intense and structured, it was so family-like. I found like every day I was working with my brothers and no one could compare anyone in the nation to what the atmosphere was like there.

Q: Your mother underwent a high-risk surgery in 2006. What did you learn from that ordeal?

A: It helped me and my sister grow up real early. We had to take care of ourselves. It changed our lives, but not for the worst, since she’s still with us.

Q: Tom Izzo said that he didn’t give you a scholarship because he didn’t believe you were good enough. Did you want to prove him wrong?

A: I would say yes. Whenever there’s a challenge that arises or I am faced with, I am willing to face it head-on and not shy away. That’s the way I approach life. It’s the way to show that you can be better to people, including yourself. When people say you’re not good enough, there is an opportunity.

Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans speaks with Kenny Goins #25 during their game in the First Round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament against the Bradley Braves at Wells Fargo Arena on March 21, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Q: Do you agree with him that had you been more confident and obsessed with practice, you would have played at another level?

A: He demands perfection and people that will give up every aspect of life for basketball. I think I spent a good amount of time in the gym, but it’s never enough. He’s the type of guy that has given up his entire life for basketball.

Q: Why were you such a late bloomer?

A: I don’t know if I have the answer for that, but in high school, when most people were playing AAU Basketball, I was playing football. I split my time between two and three sports. I always thought I had the skills to play at different places, but I hadn’t done it before. As I challenged myself, I saw that it was possible.

Q: Tom Izzo got paid $100,000 and $25,000 by NIKE for making the 2019 Final Four. Since no player is allowed to receive compensation or bonus for playing college basketball, do you think it’s a fair situation?

A: No, I’ve always said that it’s not fair with the way college sports abuses the talents of players, from football to basketball to soccer. I’m still paying off student loans and it’s sad that I didn’t get to see any of the money that the school brought. I knew that the NCAA is in the process of changing that, but now you’re starting to see some of these players like LaMelo Ball and other high prospects for the NBA, who go overseas instead of going to college.

Q: How do you envision your way to the NBA?

A: Right now, I need to focus on playing well and improving my game, in the hope of moving up to EuroCup or EuroLeague next year. I’m not looking too far ahead. As we can see nowadays, there’s a million different ways to get to the NBA, as long as you keep your head down. Guys like PJ Tucker, who has been a starter for the Rockets, started their professional career in Europe. Seeing those who have paved the way for players like me, makes the dream more realistic.