How SMU’s Markus Kennedy surprised his mom before her deployment (VIDEO)

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Saturday had already been a great day for Markus Kennedy.

The 6-foot-9 center had scored 21 points and grabbed 15 boards, both career-highs, while hitting all 10 of his field goals in an 87-72 rout of then-No. 22 Memphis as the Mustangs notched another resume-building win, one that will help people forget about a loss to lowly South Florida earlier in the week and inched them just that much closer to the right side of the bubble.

It was the best performance of his career, and it just so happened to come in what was SMU’s biggest game of the season.

For most student-athletes, it doesn’t get much better than that.

You see, Kennedy’s mother, Barbara, is a sergeant in the Air Force and, on Monday morning, she was heading off to Kuwait for an eight-month deployment. According to Kennedy, this is his mother’s third tour of duty. She spent time in Germany and in Korea, but that all came when Kennedy was younger.

“We weren’t expecting to see each other before she left,” Kennedy told NBCSports.com. “That was kind of rough on me,” but what Kennedy didn’t know is that SMU had filed a waiver with the NCAA asking permission to pay for a plane ticket to fly him home to see his mother before she left.

“They surprised me after the game,” he said. “They told me I had a ticket to go home. That’s all I needed to know. Rushed in the shower, got my clothes, and I was on the way to the airport. I didn’t ask any questions, I just said thank you to who I had to say thank you to.”

There was a benefit to being unaware of the plane ticket that awaited him after the game: it meant that Barbara was also unaware of Kennedy’s impending arrival. So he enlisted the help of an aunt, who helped to set his mom up.

“My aunt, she organized this game where my mom was blindfolded and she had to feel the family member’s face to guess who they were,” Kennedy said. “When I came in, she was blindfolded. I just walked in and kneeled down, like it was just a part of the game. When she took them off, she was real surprised. She had no clue.”

Having a loved one in the military head overseas is not an easy thing to handle for anyone, let alone a 21-year old college student halfway across the country from his family.

Good on SMU for making sure that this got done.

I think we all can tell just how appreciative the Kennedys are.

“I really want to thank the NCAA and the whole SMU family for allowing me to see my mom before she leaves on Monday,” Markus wrote on Instagram. “I can’t express this feeling, thank you.”

Sun Belt approves new scheduling format

Sun Belt Conference
Sun Belt Conference
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With an 11-member setup the Sun Belt Conference has played a 20-game conference schedule the last couple of years, which may be seen as a positive when it comes to determining the regular season champion (home-and-home between every team). But for a conference that spans from North Carolina (Appalachian State) to Texas (UT-Arlington, Texas State) travel was far from easy in that setup.

And with Coastal Carolina joining next season, it was clear that the league needed to do something with its scheduling.

Thursday the Sun Belt members approved an 18-game conference schedule, which will begin with the 2016-17 season when the league consists of 12 members. Included in the agreement is the assignment of travel partners (similar to setups in the Pac-12 and Ivy League), and teams playing no more than three consecutive conference games on the road.

Schools will also be guaranteed at least five weekend home games during conference play, and there will be no more weekends in which teams play conference games both home and away (thus cutting down on travel). Obviously with the addition of Coastal Carolina the Sun Belt needed to make some changes in their scheduling, and this week the conference made the moves they needed to make.

Former Wichita State assistant returns as a consultant

Chris Jans, Gregg Marshall
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Prior to a one-year stint as the head coach coach at Bowling Green that came to an end in early April as a result of an incident at a Bowling Green restaurant, Chris Jans was a member of Gregg Marshall’s coaching staff at Wichita State from 2007-14. During those seven seasons Jans was a key figure as the Shockers made the progression to a respected national power.

Jans is back in Wichita, with Paul Suellentrop of the Wichita Eagle reporting Thursday that he’s serving as a consultant to the program. Jans’ consulting agreement runs for 45 days, which the school can renew, and he’ll be paid $10,000 for the work. While Jans isn’t allowed to do any coaching, he can watch practices and provide Marshall and the coaching staff with his observations.

“He will be able to consult with the coaching staff, only on what he observes in practice,” said Darron Boatright, WSU deputy athletics director. “By NCAA rule, a consultant is not allowed to have communication with student-athletes … not about basketball-related activities or performance.”

While Jans (who according to the story has served in a similar role for another school) can’t do any coaching in this role, his return does give Marshall another trusted voice to call upon when needed. Wichita State bid farewell to an assistant coach this spring with Steve Forbes being hired as the head coach at East Tennessee State, with his position being filled by former Sunrise Christian Academy coach Kyle Lindsted.

h/t ShockerHoops.net