McCrabb: Kennards make a great team

Luke Kennard, left, was introduced to the game of basketball by his father, Mark Kennard. They cherish their close relationship and are looking forward to celebrating Father’s Day together at the Cincinnati Reds game.

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Luke Kennard, left, was introduced to the game of basketball by his father, Mark Kennard. They cherish their close relationship and are looking forward to celebrating Father’s Day together at the Cincinnati Reds game.

For as long as Mark Kennard can remember, he and his son have been best friends, a relationship built on basketball.

He started taking Luke to the gymnasium when he was 3, and nothing has changed in the last 15 years. Luke the shooter; Mark the rebounder. He taught his son how to hold the ball, dribble the ball, shoot the ball.

They were a team, this father and son.

Throughout Luke Kennard’s career at Franklin High School, the hundreds of AAU games, the thousands of miles in a car, the overnight stays, the fast-food drive-throughs, Mark Kennard has been there for his son. He guesses in the last 15 years, he has missed one, maybe two, games.

That will soon change. Luke Kennard, the two-time Ohio Mr. Basketball and Parade High School Player of the Year, will continue his basketball career at Duke University and will leave for Durham, N.C. next week to get a jump on his studies. For the first time in their lives, when you see Luke, you won’t see his father.

His job in the gym will be replaced by ball boys, all dressed in Duke attire.

“I’m really gonna miss that,” Mark Kennard said Thursday after his son and other Wildcats spoke at a luncheon at Wildwood Golf Club. “I’m thankful that he’s going to Duke. One time I told Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski), ‘I’m handing him over to you. I’m trusting you. That’s my boy.’ He said, ‘We got him.’ When he told me that, I knew he was in good hands.”

That’s all every father, every parent, wants, to know their child is protected.

Mark Kennard has planted the seeds to assure his two children, Luke, 18, and his older sister, Lauren, live life the right way.

“Honesty and integrity,” Mark Kennard said when asked the lessons he taught his children. “Give God the glory for everything because without Him none of us would be here. Always treat people the way you want to be treated. I always told Luke, ‘You are no better than anybody and nobody is better than you.’ Treat people the way you want to treated and it will pay dividends one thousand times.”

More than that, considering college tuition. The value of a four-year education at Duke is $256,000.

There is no disputing Kennard’s accomplishments on the court. He’s the No. 2 all-time scorer in Ohio history. He averaged 38.4 points per game, 10 rebounds and 5 assists for the 26-2 Wildcats. Kennard had a 4.3 GPA, hit 89 percent of his free throws, 49 percent of 3-pointers and 59.3 percent from the field. He scored 50 points in a game five times this year, and his team went 86-11 in his four years at Franklin.

But even more impressive, but not as flashy, is the way he handled himself off the court and in the classroom. He never turns down an autograph or selfie request. When he played in the McDonald’s All-American Game with the greatest high school players in the country, his teammates gave him the sportsmanship award. All the accolades, all the praise, has ruined some teens.

But as Kennard’s T-shirt says, he’s “Just a kid from FRANKLIN.”

“I’m so proud of Luke,” said his father, a banker at LCNB National Bank in Springboro. “If I had to brag on him…it’s the way he has handled this.”

When Kennard was a sophomore, he visited Ohio State University and Thad Matta, the Buckeyes coach, offered him a full-ride scholarship on the spot. Most kids in this situation would have updated their Facebook page. Look at me. Look at me.

Not Luke.

“He didn’t tell one person about it,” Mark Kennard said. “That’s the way I want Luke to be. We are so thankful that God blessed him. But I’m really thankful that He made Luke the person he is. I tried to let him do things on his own. I told him, ‘I trust you. You give me one reason to not trust you and things will change.’ Believe me, we probably are on the side of being a little over protective. But I trust Luke, I really do.”

Then he added: “We have a great relationship.”

Luke said his father taught him the importance of being faithful and work ethic. To pray hard, to work hard. He wants to be more like his father.

“I’m proud to call him my dad,” he said. “He’s my hero. He supported me through everything.”

Growing up, his father pushed him to work on his basketball skills. Sometimes, Luke pushed back. But he didn’t want to disappoint his father, so he grabbed the basketball and got into the car. There were shots to take, drills to complete.

“Looking back,” Luke Kennard said, “it was all worth it, totally worth putting all the time in. I love to work hard now.”

Since the Wildcats’ season ended, Kennard said he practices twice a day, and lifts weight every other day. He has put on 14 pounds.

Make that 16 pounds after today. The Kennards will spend Father’s Day at the Cincinnati Reds game and their tickets include all-you-can eat.

“It will be pretty special,” Luke said of Father’s Day.

Then he flashed that smile.

“I’ll tell him, ‘Go ahead and eat. Happy Father’s Day,’” he said.

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