Duke's Luke Kennard makes big leap from first-year stalwart to second-year star

But will Franklin High great leap into NBA Draft?
Posted at 1:51 PM, Jan 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-28 02:12:22-05

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - No matter where the game of basketball takes him, Duke star Luke Kennard is never more than a drive away from home.

We learned that in a recent trip to Louisville to see the Franklin, Ohio, product play. There were autographs to sign and pictures to take. There in the Yum Center stands were his mom and first cheerleader Jennifer, and his dad and first coach Mark, along with the rest of his extended family.

"Makes you feel comfortable, like a piece of home is with you before every game," the 20-year-old Kennard said

When his parents can't be with him, they appreciate knowing their son is in good hands.

"They've put their arms around Luke, they support him and they love him," his dad said. "They've been a great community to grow up in."

And Luke has grown up quickly.

In just a year and a half, the 6-6 shooting guard has gone from being one of the nation's best high school players to one of the best in the collegiate ranks. He's Duke's top scorer, an All-American candidate and - who knows – maybe a first-round pick in the NBA Draft this year or next.

According to draft projections, Kennard might be a first-rounder this year if he takes the leap after his second college season.

"That decision hasn't crossed my mind," the sophomore said. "Guess it's kinda cool, but I haven't paid any attention to that. Not sure where I am with that spot. Right now, I'm just focused on us. We'll see how the year goes."

It's already been leap year for Luke. He has increased his scoring to 20 points per game from 12 a season ago. He's hitting 3s at a 43.8 percent clip  and shooting 53 percent overall. Meanwhile, he's averaging  5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.

All of that  is somewhat surprising since it was expected that Luke would would take a step back after Duke signed the nation's top recruiting class.

Instead, he's leading the team in minutes played (34.7) and making a case for being  Duke's most valuable player.

"There's a lot of eyes on that program, so I think he's grown a lot, physically and mentally," his mom said.

Physically, he's gained about 20 pounds since he was the national player of the year at Franklin. Mentally? That amount of knowledge can't be placed on a scale.

"He's got that 'it' factor that the special ones have," said his high school coach, Brian Bales. "And that's why I think the sky's the limit for him."

Luke's skills were on full display in Duke's 78-69 loss to Louisville. He made 6 of 10 from the floor, scored 17 points and had three assists.

It's no fault of Luke that the Blue Devils (15-4) have fallen out of their usually lofty spot in the Top 10  to No. 17 in the AP rankings.

"We've hit some adversity with injuries," Kennard said. "When that happens, it's next man up."

On top of players'  injuries, coach Mike Krzyzewski took medical leave after surgery on his lower back. Duke is 2-2 since then.

But nobody will count out the Blue Devils  come tournament time - not with five projected first-round picks in the lineup.

"It's a dream come true," Kennard said of playing for Duke.  "I'm proud to wear this jersey and fight with these guys. It was like that at Franklin. We were real close and we're real close here.

"Brotherhood and family - it's been good for me."