UK Recruiting

Ohio prep star Kennard considering UK among others

2015 prospect Luke Kennard
2015 prospect Luke Kennard

KETTERING, Ohio — Mention the series of visits that Luke Kennard has taken to Lexington recently, and the high school basketball star's father smiles and nods, knowing what's coming next.

That "Kentucky's the leader" is obviously a notion that Mark Kennard has heard before.

Many recruiting observers predict that Luke — one of the top scorers in the country — will ultimately end up playing for UK.

Ask the player himself, or those closest to him, and that's not necessarily the case.

It's true that the five-star junior guard has taken at least five unofficial visits to UK since Coach John Calipari offered him a scholarship last summer.

It's also true that he grew up rooting for the Wildcats, and that his grandfather is a Kentucky native who regularly attends UK's home games.

The truth of his recruitment is that, for the time being, UK is merely one of seven schools vying for his commitment.

"Right now, I don't have a favorite," Kennard said. "I've liked Kentucky for a few years. And ... I've gotten closer to them. But it's just a hard decision. I've gotten close with a lot of schools."

His finalists also include Duke, Louisville, Ohio State, Michigan, North Carolina and Florida.

Five of the head coaches on his list have won at least one national championship in the past seven years. The other two have taken teams to the national title game in that span.

Calipari and two assistant coaches were in the stands for Kennard's game Saturday night, watching him score 38 points in the Flyin' To The Hoop Invitational. It was the second time the UK coach had seen him play this season.

U of L Coach Rick Pitino stopped by Kennard's practice Monday. Every coach on his list has been through town at least once in recent months.

"They've all got great coaches, and they've all been great to us," Mark Kennard told the Herald-Leader. "And you look at the tradition — you've got a lot of NCAA championships in there. And the schools — the education at some of those places is great. It's going to be a great opportunity for Luke."

Many of the folks in Franklin, Ohio, hope the opportunity takes him to Lexington.

When asked for an estimate of the number of UK fans in the town of 12,000, Kennard's father simply said, "a lot. There's a lot of Kentucky people, a lot of Kentucky fans."

Many of them have roots in the state but moved to southern Ohio decades ago for better work opportunities and ended up staying put in what Mark Kennard calls "a neat, little community" that fervently supports its local sports teams.

Luke says he doesn't feel any local pressure to pick the Cats, but he does hear the suggestion from time to time.

"A lot of people tell me, 'Hey, Kentucky. You should go there.' But, like I said, I've just grown so much closer to these schools," Luke said. "And it's just going to be real tough."

The decision will come down to what's best for his basketball future and what school best fits him as a student. "I know people say that all the time, but that's true," said his father.

The plan is to play out the rest of his junior season and then start scheduling official visits. Each recruit gets five such trips — the school pays for expenses.

He and his father both said that no specific visits have been set up yet and wouldn't name any schools that will definitely get an official visit.

Kennard is hoping to commit to a school in May or June, in time to enjoy his final summer as a high school kid and his senior year at Franklin, where he's also the star quarterback for the Wildcats football team.

Franklin Coach Brian Bales — who was coached by Mark Kennard in junior high school — spoke after Saturday's game about Luke's season and his recruitment.

Bales described a player who somehow plays unselfishly while averaging more than 40 points per game. He described a kid who's humbled by the opportunities that have come his way but doesn't get caught up in the revolving door of Hall of Fame coaches who come to Franklin just to see him play.

As Bales spoke, a few dozen kids — not that much younger than Luke — formed a line to get his autograph.

"We get excited about it, his parents get excited about it, but he goes home at night and he's the all-time quarterback for the 10-year-olds in the neighborhood," Bales said. "He's just a special kid. He's a can't-miss kid."