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By LARRY VAUGHT
Ohio guard Luke Kennard was so impressive with the King James Shooting Stars during summer AAU play that his recruitment took off in July when he got offers from Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State, Ohio State, Duke, Michigan and North Carolina. ESPN’s Jeff Goodman even named Kennard as one of his favorite players to watch on the AAU circuit.
The Franklin, Ohio, guard impressed coaches with his ability to finish with either hand as well as his defense. He’s a 6-6 combo guard with excellent range on his jump shot.
His family has Kentucky roots — his grandfather was a basketball star at Paintsville High School and his father played basketball at Georgetown College — and Franklin has a bevvy of UK fans living there who appreciate Kennard for more than just his basketball and football skills (he’s also the starting quarterback on the football team with several Division I offers, including Louisville).
“I had Luke in elementary school in physical education class. At the time, I could tell he would be a good player but his freshman year he was better than what I thought he would be,” said Kenny Smith, a long-time fan who attended the Ohio UK Convention in Middletown, Ohio, last month. “He has got all the skills and things that you can’t teach a kid.
“He has great demeanor and keeps his cool on the court no matter if it is a bad call against him or somebody hacked him. He just kept the same coolness and gave the ball to the official and ran down the court. That impressed me. The second thing that impressed me is he never looks into the stands for his family’s approval like a lot of kids today do.”
Mike Daulton has a son a year younger than Kennard who plays basketball at nearby Monroe High School, so he’s seen Kennard play.
“I am very impressed with him. I think he is as good a football player as he is basketball player. He is just a very intelligent player on the football field and basketball court,” Daulton said.
“He penetrates to the basket very well. I think he could play point guard or shooting guard. He is a general on the court. He is a smooth operator. He is very humble. He doesn’t get overly excited. He doesn’t try to show off on the court. He is almost a true gentleman on the court. He lets his basketball do the talking for him, but he’s a leader. He is a silent leader, really.”
Linda Heagen and her husband are both retired Franklin physical education teachers — and both are very sports minded.
“When Mark, Luke’s father, was in seventh grade, he played basketball and was very good. We followed them and even worked the games. Through high school we went to all the home and away games. Then Mark went to Georgetown (College) in Kentucky and we would go down there and watch him play,” Heagen said. “He has a brother that played in Indiana and one time we went to Ashland, Ohio, to watch Todd and then straight to Georgetown to watch Mark.
“Mark is like my third son, and he knows that. I told him people have asked me (about where Luke will go to school) and I tell them don’t listen to all these rumors. Mark doesn’t tell me everything, but besides his family I know that he tells me a lot. Mark always calls me Mrs. Heagen and I have asked him to call me Linda, but he said, ‘Mrs. Heagen I can’t. I have to call you Mrs. Heagen.’ He also said he did tell me everything.
“Luke’s parents have kept him grounded. Mark has always said no matter what he does, he has got to keep working. That’s the way he has been brought up. We were there a couple of weeks ago and were just talking to them and Luke sat there and didn’t tell us all that happened with the different college coaches. He just sits there and smiles. It’s unbelievable.”
Smith says Kennard’s natural instincts on the basketball court are uncanny.
“He can get to the basketball for rebounds, something you can’t teach a kid. He comes by that naturally. He has what you don’t teach. I call him Cool Hand Luke because he is a cool kid on the court and knows what he is doing,” Smith said.
Daulton remembers a time he thought Kennard excelled just because he was bigger than others his size.
“He has always been taller than kids he’s played against and when you saw him as 6-3 eighth-grader running the court and he was just so much bigger and stronger looking, he was on a different level and I didn’t know how he would do against competition his own size,” Daulton said. “But when you watched him, you could always see his intelligence and his passing ability. That is what impresses me the most. I think he would be a great fit for Cal (John Calipari) and that Cal would love coaching him because he would be an extension of Cal out there.”