After playing limited minutes in his rookie season, Kevin Capers returned to the Westchester Knicks with new challenges in front of him.
The journey to the professional ranks can be long and grueling. For Division II athletes, the journey is even tougher than that. In the case of Kevin Capers, he has taken the NBA D-League route to continuing his basketball career.
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Capers, a Division II standout at Florida Southern, had a successful collegiate career. He had his best season as a senior, when he averaged 21.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 2.3 steals per game.
Along with his production, the program totaled a 36-1 record, which included a 25-game winning streak.
Florida Southern won the NCAA Division II National Championship in 2015, which was the program’s first title since 1981. Capers was named tournament MVP and became the first ever Florida Southern player to win multiple Sunshine State Conference Player of the Year awards.
Despite his success, Capers had low expectations when it came to basketball.
“Actually, I didn’t have expectations. I knew it was a chance to play professional ball. But then again, it’s tough for D-II kids to keep going and play pro-ball in top leagues. I had a couple of agents reach out to me,” Kevin Capers said. “My agent contacted me and I signed with him. It was like the dream could be possible to play pro ball, so it wasn’t really there at first. But then after my agent talked to me a little bit, I felt like I could play at a professional level.”
Following that, Kevin Capers was draft eligible for the 2015 NBA D-League Draft. With the 19th selection in the third round (57th overall), the Westchester Knicks selected Capers.
With a surplus of guards on the roster, Capers saw limited action in his rookie season.
Even with the limited action, he had the opportunity to learn from former teammates who had NBA experience, including Jimmer Fredette.
“Even me just sitting on the bench learning from them. Like Jimmer Fredette, not knocking him, but he seems like a slow kid,” Capers said. “Compared to me, I’m pretty fast, but I was like, ‘how does he score all these buckets and be that slow.’
“But actually I learned that he’s quick, works on his craft, and it’s easy for him,” Capers continued. “It just kept me positive and motivated me. Kept me going at practice and stuff when I was down. So I learned so much cause they’ve been through stuff in the NBA [and] overseas, so I learned a lot from him.”
One of Capers’ best games came on the final day of the season against the Maine Red Claws. He tied a season-high with 24 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the field, along with six rebounds and two assists.
It was the first game where he logged more than 21 minutes in his rookie season, which showed that he had the potential to be a contributor to the team.
Outside of basketball, Capers has embraced the community since his arrival in Westchester. Not only does he interact with the fans with pre-game ball tosses, but he’s been giving back to the community through events like Junior Knicks and NBA D-League Cares.
“They took me in my first season. It’s always great to interact. They come here and pay their money to see us play. At least you can do is interact with the people,” Capers said. “Anything can change a kid’s life.”
“Me growing up, I used to look up to T-Mac [Tracy McGrady]. Went to his camp. He used to talk to me a lot,” Capers continued. “That made me want to play basketball, so I know I’m not Melo here, but feel like any interaction with a kid will make them keep playing and doing positive things.”
After a rookie season where he averaged about nine minutes per contest (9.3), the Westchester guard felt like he had something to prove in his second season with the organization.
“I played limited minutes last year and I knew if I came back this year, I actually would play a lot,” Capers said. “And I wanted to prove myself. This is like one of the top leagues in the world. Even though it’s the D-League, it’s right down in the NBA. And I felt like if I can have a successful season here, I can go overseas and play pretty much anywhere.”
During his second season, Capers has displayed more confidence with his overall game. He scored in double figures three times in his first five games in the 2016-17 season, which nearly matched his total (5) from the previous season.
Early on in the season, the Westchester Knicks had a hard-fought battle with the Delaware 87ers. While Cat Barber knocked down a few clutch shots for the Sevens, Kevin Capers countered it with a huge shot in the final stretch of the game.
While the Knicks came up short that night, Capers felt that Westchester head coach Mike Miller trusted in him in that situation.
“It took me back to my Florida Southern days. It was a great time. But then again coach [Mike Miller] left me in the game, which I’m not used to in the professional games,” Capers said. “But it showed he had a little trust in me. If I made mistakes out there, I’m going to learn from them and that shows he has a lot of trust in us.”
At the mid-point of the season, the Florida Southern product will have more of an opportunity to showcase his skill set. Along with the Westchester Knicks making a push for the playoffs in the second half of the season, Capers is getting a chance to learn from his mistakes.
“Even though we’re not winning, I’m actually playing a lot more and learning and getting more experience,” Capers said. “Last year, I got a lot of experience from watching film and stuff. This year, I actually get to go out there and play and learn from my mistakes.”
Along with that, the 6’2″ guard has received more playing time in 2017. With the increase in minutes and being thrusted into the starting lineup, Capers has been given an opportunity to be the Knicks’ distributor.
While his assist numbers aren’t eye-popping, he’s totaled three or more assists eight times this season. That number is nearly the same amount he dished out (3.8) in his final two seasons at Florida Southern.
Capers started off the new year on a positive note by dropping five assists against the Grand Rapids Drive. Eight days later, he dished out a career-high six assists against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
“It’s given him an opportunity to play more there. He plays there some, but with Chasson [Randle] gone it allows he and Jordon [Crawford] to play in a different role a little bit,” Westchester coach Mike Miller said following the Knicks loss to Fort Wayne. “I think that’s part of growth. You get in a different role and you learn things and see things and he’s done a good job with the opportunity. That’s what our goal is.”