FRANKLIN, Ohio -- While the college basketball world speculated about his future, Luke Kennard spent two days taking shots inside Franklin High School’s gym this week.
The Duke guard blocked out any potential distractions while he embraced a familiar setting he’d practiced in for years in this Warren County high school.
The 20-year-old was less than a month removed from completing a second season of basketball at Duke, but he had already made up his mind to declare for the NBA Draft with the intention of hiring an agent.
“Razor-sharp focused,” is how Franklin boys’ basketball coach and athletic director Brian Bales described the 2015 Franklin graduate.
A very close circle of family and friends knew about Kennard’s decision. But the secret was tightly guarded by just a handful of people as he spent a brief amount of time in his hometown.
“I couldn’t tell a soul,” said Taylor University sophomore guard Evan Crowe, a longtime friend of Kennard and a former high school teammate.
At 3 p.m. Thursday, Duke sent a news release making it official. The media pounced on the news. Franklin’s favorite son was going to The League.
“This is a dream of his,” said Mark Kennard, Luke’s father. “It’s a life-changer.”
The decision wasn’t easy. Luke loves Duke. He loves college basketball. He enjoys being a student on track to earn a sociology degree.
But the desire to fulfill a dream was too much. The timing was right. The iron was hot.
“I have nothing but love and respect for everyone in the Duke program,” Kennard said in a statement. “I want to thank my coaches, teammates, the best fans in the game and everyone in Franklin for being by my side every step of this journey. I have a lot of hard work ahead of me, but I’m confident that I’m ready and have a great foundation for success at the NBA level.”
Mark and his wife, Jennifer, had several conversations with their son asking if he was ready for the next step in life. It may sound trivial to outsiders but they asked questions any parents would in this situation.
Was Luke ready to live on his own? Would he be ready to buy his own groceries?
“People think it’s funny,” Mark said. “But it’s life.”
The basketball aspect became clear as time went on the past few weeks. Luke had proved himself to be more than a spot-up shooter this season. He impressed NBA scouts going back to the preseason.
A consensus second-team All-American, he led Duke in scoring with an average of 19.5 points while shooting 49 percent from the floor, nearly 44 percent from outside the arc and nearly 86 percent from the free-throw line.
At least 10 NBA teams conducted phone interviews with Bales about Luke’s background.
It was just a matter of consistency with the intelligence Mark and Jennifer gathered with draft projections.
The deadline to declare for the NBA Draft was April 23.
The family was confident. And so was the Duke coaching staff and its connections to the NBA.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski advised the Kennard family Luke would be a first-round pick.
“Luke’s skill set is such a perfect fit for the way the NBA game has evolved and we’re all excited to see him flourish at the next level,” Krzyzewski said in a statement. “He is a wonderful person who will immediately be an asset to an NBA team.”
Mark and Jennifer left nothing to chance. They prayed together during the process.
Mark admits he will be naturally nervous on draft night. But each time the couple came away with the same conclusion.
“Everything we’ve heard is that he is going to go between 15 to 26,” Mark said. “That’s been so consistent the whole time.”
The family has already met with three or four agents and will hire someone within the next 10 days. That agent will work with Kennard in all aspects of preparing for the June 22 draft.
“He was not going to test the waters,” Mark Kennard said. “Coach K said, ‘You’ve been tested the last four months.’”
And if Luke wanted to return to Duke to get his degree 10 years down the road, then the school would pay his tuition.
“I would love to see him get his degree eventually,” Mark said.
The opportunity of a lifetime
In 2015, Bales gave Luke Kennard a piece of paper with the NBA logo on it. It was simple in design and message.
Bales never doubted Kennard would excel at Duke two years ago. Coach K had told Bales during the recruiting process that Luke had the potential to be an American favorite one day.
But the high school basketball coach wanted the former high school quarterback to aim higher.
“What have you done today that will help get your name called (in the draft)?” it reads above a logo and a hash tag “dream chasing.”
The framed message serves an inspirational reminder to Kennard. It still hangs above his bed at his boyhood home in Franklin.
Now, two years later, Kennard has answered the question that stared at him each night before bed.
“He is off-the-chart focused,” Bales said. “He is staying in the moment.”
The McDonald’s All-American and two-time Ohio Mr. Basketball winner is back at Duke today working to finish up his classes.
Former high school teammates and classmates congratulated him and tweeted photos Thursday night. One Eaton player facetiously tweeted a photo of when Kennard posterized him during a game at Franklin.
Thanks for this memory pic.twitter.com/qShnQXIY3L
— Lew Bowser (@LewBowser) April 6, 2017
“Since we were kids we knew this day would come,” former Franklin teammate Matt Thompson tweeted. “This guy (is) the hardest worker I know and one of my best friends. Congrats bro.”
Crowe saw a mock draft that had Kennard pegged to a particular Eastern Conference team. Kennard told him he didn’t have any preference on which team or city.
The Kid From Franklin just wants to play basketball.
“I’m super excited,” Crowe said. “I can’t wait to find out where he is going. It’s crazy it’s actually happening.”