Central Kentucky ties could help in Calipari's recruitment of Ohio guard

broberts@herald-leader.comJuly 13, 2013 

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Mark Kennard's high school basketball career in Franklin, Ohio led him to a college basketball career in Central Kentucky.

There's a chance his son Luke could follow that same path.

The elder Kennard graduated from Franklin High School — about 40 miles north of Cincinnati — in 1981. Mark had a few college offers, and he chose to play at Georgetown College for the late Jim Reid.

One of Reid's assistants during that time was Happy Osborne, who succeeded Reid as head coach of the Tigers and led the team to great success over 15 seasons.

Osborne and Kennard kept in touch over the years, and shortly after Osborne accepted the head coaching job at Kentucky Wesleyan earlier this year he gave his former player a call.

The subject of the conversation was Luke Kennard, a 6-foot-5 guard in the class of 2015.

"I talked to Happy three or four weeks ago," Kennard said. "He said, 'Let me make it official: Kentucky Wesleyan is offering. Make sure it's on the list of his finalists.'"

Mark Kennard recounted that phone call with a smile.

His son is going to make some college coach very happy, but it probably won't be Osborne.

Luke could end up playing for another Kentucky school though.

UK Coach John Calipari and assistants Orlando Antigua and Kenny Payne have been in the stands at the Nike Peach Jam over the past few days to see Luke play with the King James Shooting Stars' 16-and-under team.

Scout.com considers Kennard the No. 18 overall player and No. 4 shooting guard in his class. Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, Mike Brey and Mick Cronin were among the many other head coaches who watched him play at Peach Jam.

Kentucky hasn't offered Kennard yet, but there's definitely some mutual interest.

UK's coaches invited the smooth-shooting lefty to visit the Lexington campus more than a year ago. He and his parents made the trip, which included a talk with Calipari.

"They just wanted me to come down and look around and talk to the coaches," Luke said. "I went in Coach Cal's office and he just talked about different stuff. He was straightforward with me and said this program's not for everybody. You have to have that certain mentality to come here and play."

Calipari found a willing recruit in Kennard, who grew up rooting for the UK basketball team despite living in the Buckeye State.

"I always loved Tayshaun Prince," he said. "He was my favorite player in college."

Now, the Kennard family has lots of favorites.

Luke already has scholarship offers from Ohio State (his other childhood rooting interest), Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, Notre Dame, West Virginia and Cincinnati, among others.

Kennard's father laughed and used the phrase "nerve-wracking" to describe what it feels like to watch his son play in front of coaches like Calipari, Krzyzewski and Tom Crean on a regular basis.

"Obviously, as a father, you're proud of him and proud of the stuff he's done," Mark said. "He's worked hard though. He's sacrificed a lot."

Both father and son listed Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State as the three schools standing out at the moment. A scholarship offer could move Kentucky into that group.

"I love Lexington," Mark said, a few minutes after Luke talked about wearing Wildcats gear as a kid and touring the "unbelievable" facilities on UK's campus.

Louisville could also be a factor. The Kennard family has visited U of L, and Cardinals coaches were among those who watched Luke play at Peach Jam.

Rick Pitino hasn't offered him a scholarship yet, but Charlie Strong has. It turns out Kennard — also a 4.0 student — is a pretty good quarterback during the basketball off-season.

"Every time we asked what he wanted for his birthday gift, it was always a ball," Mark said. "That's all he's known."

Ben Roberts twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com

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