Former Missouri player stars in independent movie

Updated: August 1, 2008, 4:38 AM ET
Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- Jimmy McKinney, the former guard and sometime scapegoat for Missouri's woes during the tumultuous years under coach Quin Snyder, has embarked on an acting career.

He's the star of a well-received independent film called "Streetballers," in a role that plays to his strengths while somewhat mirroring his life as a kid who made it out of a rough inner-city upbringing.

"On the screen with a camera right in your face it's totally different," said McKinney, a four-year starter at Missouri from 2003-06. "But I can be more myself, so that makes it easier."

The film took the second place jury prize at the recent Hollywood Black Film Festival, and played to a receptive crowd at the Tivoli Theater in suburban St. Louis late last month. It will be shown in September at the Urban World Film Festival in New York City.

The story centers on two junior college basketball players from broken homes in St. Louis, one from the south side, the other from the north, but both hoping to use sports as their escape.

"This could be any neighborhood in the U.S.," said Matthew Krentz, the film's writer, director and co-star opposite McKinney and Patrick Rooney. "There's hundreds of thousands of athletes who aren't going pro, who are just trying to get scholarships and coping with life on a daily basis.

"And there's a lot of stuff in their environments that are holding them back."

McKinney, 24, was a standout at Vashon High School before entering Missouri as a highly heralded recruit. Though his college career was somewhat frustrating, he's been successful in three seasons playing professionally in Germany.

McKinney averaged 19 points last season even after rupturing a ligament in his right wrist three months before the season ended. He's needed each offseason to recover from an injury, hampering his NBA hopes, yet remains optimistic.

"I'm one of the fortunate ones," McKinney said. "It's a very slim chance, to make it. And I'm still going to reach my goal."

McKinney refuses to second-guess his Missouri career, one that started with promise but never seemed to take off.

"I don't regret anything, because I learned from it," McKinney said. "I learned a lot from it. But I don't think of it as a great career, because my standards are real high."

Snyder went 126-91 in seven seasons at Missouri, with four NCAA tournament appearances, including a trip to the round of eight in 2002. But the Tigers were 42-42 his last three years and the handling of his midseason departure led to two university investigations.

McKinney is part of an all-St. Louis cast in a two-hour movie that was wrapped up in a tidy 28 days but also is the culmination of a marathon effort, given that Krentz began writing five years ago. Krentz, 28, is a former player at Rockhurst University in Kansas City. He was determined to film in familiar locations.

"It had to be very real and all the characters had to be believable, and that's a difficult thing to find," Krentz said. "I'm sure I wouldn't have found that in Los Angeles, and that's why I stayed in St. Louis to do it."

Krentz is hoping positive exposure will attract a major distributor, although he plans a St. Louis release in any case.

McKinney describes the gritty tale, which includes a street fight and a near lynching, as a 90 percent accurate depiction.

Besides co-starring in the film, Rooney, 29, is one of the producers. And like Krentz, who pays the bills as a waiter, he has scraped to get by while following his dream, working as a delivery man and as a YMCA spinning instructor.

"We just get by," Rooney said. "This is what I enjoy doing, being creative."

Several rough spots were edited after the film was screened for several focus groups, and Krentz said he was able to address 95 percent of viewer's concerns and suggestions. The movie is about 20 minutes shorter than the original.

"It got to the point where nothing was funny to me, nothing was cool, because I'd seen it a thousand-plus times," Krentz said. "But you've got to trust your instincts at some point.

"Now, if a studio wants to put up a bunch of money and change a little bit, that would be all right."


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Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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