By LARRY VAUGHT
FRANKLIN, Ohio — If the pressure of being one of the top players in the 2015 recruiting class is bothering Luke Kennard, the 6-5 guard sure isn’t letting it show.
“I am having a great time with it actually. I don’t feel a lot of pressure on the court or having to prove myself to people. At the same time all the attention and stuff is not just good for me, but for the community as well. I am having a great time,” said the Franklin High School standout.
The numbers certainly reflect why he’s having such a good time. He’s averaging 39.9 points, 10.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.0 steals per game. He’s shooting 83.4 percent at the foul line, 51.7 percent from the field and 40 percent at from 3-point range. In 17 games, he’s scored 40 or more points nine times, including a school-record 53 against Bellbrook Jan. 4.
He’s that rare player who can score that many points and still be the most popular player on the team — or maybe in the school.
“That is just the great thing about being part of this team. We are all really close to each other. It is a small town but that is why I love being part of it. Our team chemistry is great. Coach (Brian) Bales really pushes for that. As a player you have to always get your teammates involved and what I always try to do,” Kennard said.
“Game night is very special to be part of here at Franklin. All the people in this community come out to support us. It’s great to have all the support. Usually when we go to an away game we might bring the bigger crowd than the home team, and that’s special. It is usually packed, the gym is hot and often sold out and that’s great to be part of as a high school player.”
His best friend on the team is Evan Crowe, a likely college player himself who averages almost 16 points per game and often benefits from the double or triple teams that Kennard draws.
“He is a great person. He is just really fun to be around and I love him,” Crowe said. “We used to battle back and forth when we were little. I had a basketball court in my yard and we used to play football all the time. We have been together forever. It’s like we never really switched and it was like, ‘Wow, I am playing with some major college athlete all of a sudden.’
“Then it was like going into eighth grade I was like, ‘Man this guy is pretty good. My friend is a good player.’ I think a lot of people see us play because they want to come watch him. It’s always fun to play in front of big crowds like that. If you get open, he will find you. Everybody wants to help off on him because you can’t let him beat you. He will have three people on him, and then he w ill find the open guy and get it to you, so what’s not like about that.”
Scott Daniels has a son, Jake, that plays on the team and says he has known Kennard since he was in the first grade.
“Great kid, great student. He’s a really humble kid. He is a class act,” Daniels, who used to help coach Kennard’s team in third through sixth grades, said.
Daniels says there’s “absolutely” no jealousy about Kennard’s success that has brought a bevvy of big-time coaches to Franklin such as Kentucky’s John Calipari, Louisville’s Rick Pitino, Ohio State’s Thad Matta and North Carolina’s Roy Williams.
“Every night after every games when Luke is interviewed the first thing that he does is thank his teammates. He is always thanking his parents, coaches,” Daniels said. “It is not just all about Luke. Luke is a team player and always has been that way. I can’t say enough. Just a great, great child.
“Luke can do it all and he can jump out of the gym. He is a 6-5 lefty. He can get hot. The other night he had 7 3-pointers. If you lay off him a little bit, he will stroke you from the outside. If you belly up, he will take you to the rack. He is just an outstanding player. He is the best that has been around here in a lot of years.
“Luke’s basketball IQ is his biggest asset. He knows the basketball game inside and out. This year he is averaging 40 points a game and still is the most unselfish basketball player you have ever seen. If a kid is willing to work and get open, Luke will find a way to get him the ball. He is just a class act that way and one reason he’s so special. There are just really not enough words to describe Luke. He is the most humble kid, straight A student, just an all-around great kid.”
Kennard said he has enjoyed being around most of his teammates all his life and his father and Crowe’s father even played basketball together.
“They grew up as best friends. Me and Evan and are really good friends too. They (the fathers) will give us some advice now on our game, but coach Bales been great with that.”
Kennard, who grew up a Kentucky fan, admits he never expected this type of attention when his high school career started.
“I had to put in a lot of sacrifices to try and get better as a player. Once I started getting a lot of attention and college looks, it was like a dream come true,” he said. “I am having a great time with it all. The media and stuff, as it all started happening I don’t know if I would say it was overwhelming, but it was a lot with that and the college coaches. But I enjoyed it and I enjoy it now. College coaches are great with it. My dad and coach Bales will take some calls for me.”
Kennard is a big unique because he can handle the ball with both hands. He primarily shoots left-handed, but will shoot with his right hand if he’s moving that way toward the basket. In football, he set school passing records and throws right-handed.
“It’s just what I’ve always done,” Kennard said.
His father, Mark, worked extensively with him to make him learn to use both hands. He would sometimes make him dribble home from the gym while he followed along in the car. Another story had him “tying” one hand behind his son to force him to dribble with the other hand.
“Those are true stories except he didn’t tie my hand. He made me put one hand behind my back, though,” Kennard said.
Yet he always respected his dad’s methods — or at least he did most days.
“There might have been some days I would get upset with him, but everybody was telling me when I got older I would thank him for that, and they were right,” Kennard said. “But we worked on shooting a lot, too. We would go to gym and make 100 shots before I was done. So it was not only just ballhandling he worked on with me, but shooting too.”