FRANKLIN, Ohio — The theme of 'Luke Mania' was in full effect Tuesday night at Franklin High School.
Los Angeles Clippers guard Luke Kennard, a 2015 Franklin High School graduate, returned home to a packed gymnasium and significant fanfare as his No. 10 high school basketball jersey was retired by his alma mater in this proud Warren County city.
The high school parking lot filled up quickly before 5 p.m. Tuesday in anticipation of the pregame ceremony some two hours later.
The atmosphere was reminiscent of when the state's third all-time leading scorer played under a bright spotlight for the Wildcats during his senior season.
Cameras followed Kennard whenever and wherever he spoke inside the school.
"It's like going back to 2014, 2015 again," said Franklin boys basketball coach Brian Bales, the school's athletic director. "He just has this effect on people. He's humble. He's easy to cheer for. In this community he's beloved."
It was difficult to believe it was seven years ago when Bales had to post a sign on the door saying game tickets were often sold out well in advance of that particular night. There was a time when students from an opposing school tried to resell tickets for $40 each.
A large contingent of media followed Kennard's record-setting moments at Franklin and college coaches were never far away.
So it was no surprise that family, friends and fans listened intently to every story Tuesday night before Kennard watched his uniform number get unfurled from the rafters.
There were stories about Kennard's extra practice time in the gym on a Sunday afternoon and how the former high school quarterback learned to shoot layups with both hands as a 5-year-old.
Or how Kennard checked with his high school teachers early in the day to see what some students scored on a test so he could aspire for the best grade.
Bales told the memorable story to the crowd's great enjoyment about Mark Kennard, Luke's father, who had to somehow quickly get into Franklin High School after his son forgot his size 13 1/2 shoes before a tournament game at University of Dayton Arena.
The venues have changed but Luke Kennard hasn't forgotten the city where he learned the game.
Even though the Los Angeles Clippers have been on the road the past few weeks including Monday night's game at Indiana, in some ways it was like Kennard never left.
"Driving home, driving through the city a little bit last night after our game in Indiana it started bringing back some memories," Kennard said. "I was watching some old tape (on YouTube) on the drive home just to take a little trip down memory lane. It's an exciting time and exciting day not just for me but for my family, friends and Franklin as a whole. It's good to be home."
Kennard, 25, signed autographs, posed for photos and participated in a question-and-answer session prior to the ceremony.
Some fans asked if he wants to participate in the NBA All-Star Game's 3-point contest later this month in Cleveland (he does) or how he scored seven points in the final nine seconds of a game in late January.
Kennard patiently answered every question with a smile. He's stayed connected to the community and has given shoes and backpacks to the Franklin boys and girls basketball teams.
There is no wonder why he was easy to cheer for at Franklin, Duke University or in the NBA.
"Once in a lifetime," Bales said. "I'm just so proud of him."
Later, Kennard was ushered into another room where he answered plenty of questions from the media - everything from the NBA to playing high school quarterback to his reaction about the Cincinnati Bengals going to the Super Bowl. Kennard is enthusiastically predicting a Bengals' victory.
"It's in L.A. so I'm going to try my best to get there and root them on," Kennard said. "I know we don't play that day. So let's go Bengals. 'Who Dey.' I can't wait. I'm so excited. It's going to be cool when they win."
That exuberance for his hometown NFL team is synonymous with the link to Franklin and Southwest Ohio. He purchased his first home in California, but he's never far from the city that adores him.
"I'll never forget where I came from," Kennard said. "This community has been so supportive of me. I've seen them all over the country coming to my games. It's been insane how supportive they've been. I thank them all the time. I'm happy to be from here."