Friends, family of Luke Kennard celebrate his selection in NBA Draft

Posted at 8:53 PM, Jun 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-23 11:15:47-04

FRANKLIN, Ohio -- When NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stepped to the podium shortly before 9 p.m. Thursday he stopped his introduction of the 12th NBA Draft selection in mid-sentence.

That pause added yet another element of drama to the scene for the dozens of anxious family members and friends clustered around the television on the back porch of Jim and Louise St. John's Franklin home.

A moment later, it was official. Franklin's favorite son, Luke Kennard, would be headed north up Interstate 75 to play for the Detroit Pistons.

"I can't stop choking up," Franklin boys' basketball coach Brian Bales said from the Barclays Center.

Bales said he didn't stand up but was on cloud nine.

"What an unbelievable feeling," Bales said. "This young man was not only taken in the first round but was a lottery pick."

Bales said he's heard good things about the Pistons organization and head coach Stan Van Gundy. One thing is certain -- the Franklin fans will instantly be wearing blue and red.

"Just call Detroit Franklin North," Bales said.

With tears in their eyes, Luke's grandparents -- Jim and Louise -- couldn't be happier.

"It's been very emotional," Jim St. John said. "We are so proud of what he's achieved. It's beyond anything I could've ever dreamed."

It couldn't be a more fitting way to complete "Luke Kennard Day" in Franklin.

Prior to the draft, family and friends privately confided they were hoping Kennard would be selected within the Midwest. It all worked out.

"What happened tonight -- I can't explain it," Jim said as raindrops fell Thursday night. "It's great."

Kennard will play in the new Little Caesars Arena in Downtown Detroit starting this upcoming season. He worked out for Detroit in early June.

"It's awesome -- close to home," Kennard told ESPN. "I love it."

Everyone in Franklin loves Luke, and the Pistons will surely gain some tickets from Southwest Ohio.

Fans, family and friends of the 2015 Franklin High School graduate flooded A&G Pizza Thursday afternoon in such numbers that another customer, entering around 6 p.m., could only stare in shock. This kind of crowd for a Thursday night? 

Suddenly, a wave of reality came across her face.

After all, this was the night of the NBA Draft, and in Franklin, it doesn't getting more significant.

"I knew I should've called ahead," she said.

Yes, all the tables had been reserved well in advance. Nearly 2 1/2 years ago, the restaurant was packed to watch Kennard's selection to the McDonald's All America Game.

Time does indeed fly.

Banners, basketball soft drink cups and commemorative water bottles were available. Trivia contests challenged fans to recite how many free throws Kennard made in his high school career. Smiles were everywhere.

"It's unreal," said Taylor University forward Evan Crowe, a longtime friend and teammate of Kennard. "It's not just his dream; it's everyone's dream at this point. It's like everybody wants this for him. It's another buzz he's created around this town."

Crowe kept in contact with Kennard via Snapchat in the days leading up to the draft. Crowe teased Kennard that the former Duke guard and Indiana Pacers superstar Paul George would go to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Kennard took the good humor in stride and spoke with Crowe via FaceTime around 10 a.m. Thursday in New York while he was playing an NBA 2K video game in the draft room of the Barclays Center.

"He didn't act any different -- he was the same old Luke," said Crowe, a 2015 Franklin graduate.

A few miles down the street in Franklin, a large contingent of family and friends gathered for another watch party at the home of Jim and Louise St. John.

"I am proud of him -- he is such a sweet young man," said Louise, the mother of Luke's father, Mark.

Louise sat the dining room table just a foot from the sofa chair where she took a Christmas gift request he had in December 1998. All Luke wanted was a ball.

Jim and Louise smiled at the memory. The basketball was used for the Fisher Price basketball hoop.

That helped propel an NBA career. Mark worked with Luke in countless hours behind the scenes.

Todd Kennard, who is Mark's brother, is a former Franklin standout. He excitedly walked around his boyhood home looking for Twitter updates on the progress of the draft.

"If you write anything -- write this," Todd said. "My idol is my brother Mark. He's helped Luke so much. He is a class act individual."

Mark, his wife Jennifer and their daughter Lauren hugged as Luke's named was called Thursday night. This was a moment to cherish forever.

A consensus second-team All-American, Luke, who turns 21 on Saturday, led Duke in scoring with an average of 19.5 points while shooting 49 percent from the floor this past season. He was nearly 44 percent from outside the arc and nearly 86 percent from the free-throw line.

"Luke just surprises us all," Crowe said. "I don't expect anything different in the NBA. People can speculate and say it's going to take him a minute for him to play. It might but who would've thought he would've averaged 20 points a game last year (at Duke). I wouldn't ever doubt him."

The McDonald's All-American and two-time Ohio Mr. Basketball became the area's first four-year high school product to be selected in the first round since Brian Grant (Xavier/Georgetown High School) was taken by the Sacramento Kings at No. 8 overall in 1994.

Former North College Hill standout OJ Mayo is the most recent area high school product to be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft when he went No. 3 to the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2008.

Kennard, a two-time Ohio Mr. Basketball winner, was just the sixth player in Ohio to win the AP Mr. Basketball award more than once since it started in 1988.

He was named the Parade National Player of the Year his senior season.

Kennard is second atop the OHSAA's all-time career scoring list with 2,977 points (2011-2015). He averaged 38.4 points, 10 rebounds and five assists his senior season as Franklin (26-2) was a Division II regional runner-up in 2015.