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By LARRY VAUGHT
Mark Kennard knew this summer would give his son, 6-6 guard Luke Kennard, a chance to showcase his basketball skills on a national level. However, he never expected things to go quite as well as they did for the Franklin, Ohio, junior.
He got the attention of most of the nation’s elite programs and now has scholarship offers from Kentucky, Louisville, Duke, Michigan State, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Ohio State and more.
“It has been unbelievable really,” said Mark Kennard. “I am not sure it has still really us that John Calipari, Thad Matta, Roy Williams and other coaches are so interested. I don’t know that any of us ever expected this. I knew the good Lord blessed Luke with talent. When he was maybe 18 months old he could drop kick a football. My brother bought him a little whiffle ball tee and he would step on it and swing the bat and hit the ball.
“Luke was always taller than kids in his class and very skilled. As a father, you like to think your son is a great player. But it really was pretty black and white with Luke. I would tell him what he needed to work on. If he plays well, I tell him. If he has a rough game, I tell him what he needed to work on. By sixth or seventh grade, I could see he was getting better and still growing. I knew his freshman year he had a shot at playing varsity. He always played with older kids and after his eighth grade year it hit that he might get to play at the collegiate level. He’s had some sort of ball around him his whole life. Every birthday, he wanted a ball of some kind. But he’s also been blessed with a ton of natural talent.”
In basketball he’s started every game for two years. Franklin has gone 40-5 and won back-to-back league championships. He was MVP of both teams and Division II player of the year in Ohio last season when he averaged 27 points per game. On the football field, he threw for over 2,000 yards and a school-record 26 touchdowns (with seven interceptions) in 2012. He has Division I football offers as well.
“He is a very good athlete,” Mark Kennard, who played at Georgetown College under Jim Reid and Happy Osborne, said. “If you watch him athletically, he is pretty good. Plus, he works at it. He tries to get better and enhance his body. He enjoys football. He loves to compete and be around his teammates.
“He has played more basketball than football. In football, he’s just touched the surface of what he could do. That’s why we just plan to see how this whole year plays out and then sit down after his junior year and make a decision about his future. We would like to decide after his junior year, if possible, where he’s going to school.”
One plus for Kentucky is that the Kennards are Kentucky fans. Mark’s parents are from Paintsville and the family has a “Kentucky room” in their home.
“We all grew up Kentucky fans,” Mark Kennard said. “Luke’s favorite player is (former Kentucky star) Tayshaun Prince. We always watched a lot of Kentucky games. But when it is your kid getting recruited, you get to know all the coaches and learn they are all great people. You really start looking at what program fits him and what program does he fit best.”
How would he fit into Kentucky’s system?
“I think he would fit in the dribble-drive. When coaches let him play, he is really good,” Mark Kennard said. “In Calipari’s system, he would fit great because they get up and down the court. He is a shooter, but he can also drive to the basket. Under Calipari, players get better, too. We are also looking long term for the program that will benefit him the most. We want him to become the best player he can become and Calipari is one of the best at developing players.
“Let’s be honest. Kentucky is Kentucky. There are not many programs like that. There are only a few elite programs with great tradition, and Kentucky certainly is one of the best.”
Luke’s high school coach, Brian Bales, recently took him to meet Prince when former UK and Cincinnati Bengals placekicker Doug Pelfrey was doing a fundraiser in northern Kentucky.
“I took Luke with me when I went to speak at the camp because his favorite player is Tayshaun Prince. It was neat for him. They are both left-handed and some say they play alike,” Bales said. “But it was a big thrill for Luke, especially since part of his house is decorated with Kentucky blue.”
The Kennards have made two unofficial visits to Kentucky in July to see Calipari and view the facilities.
“They are unbelievable,” Mark Kennard said. “We had a good visit. I am sure we will take an official visit there.”