Luke Kennard possesses something extremely rare for a basketball player—bragging rights over LeBron James.
Kennard has the second most career points in Ohio High School Athletic Association history with 2,977. James ranks fifth with 2,646. Considering Kennard once played on the King James Shooting Stars—a LeBron-sponsored AAU team—that’s a pretty cool accomplishment. But unlike James, Kennard had to attend college before heading to the NBA. He ultimately chose Duke University after mulling offers from other powerhouse programs like Kentucky, UNC and Michigan State.
After a solid freshman season at Duke, Kennard exploded into the national spotlight as a sophomore. He averaged 19.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game en route to first-team All-ACC honors. And he scored with ruthless efficiency, shooting nearly 49% from the field.
Now, the 6-foot-6, 202-pound shooting guard is on his way to the NBA. STACK recently caught up with Kennard at Proactive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, California, as he continued to prepare for the next level.
STACK: Could you tell us a little bit about where you grew up?
Luke Kennard: I’m from a small town called Franklin, Ohio. It’s in between Cincinnati and Dayton, so it’s southern Ohio. Great town. I was really involved in sports there. I definitely take pride in where I’m from. I will never change who I am, I will never forget where I came from. Franklin is a special place to me [and] the people there. It’s a small town, everybody knows everybody, and I have been humbled by the people in that area. It was a great place to grow up, and I definitely take pride in coming from there.
How competitive is Ohio basketball in your opinion?
Ohio basketball is really competitive. There are great teams. It made me better. We played some really, really, really talented teams growing up. My high school team travelled a lot and played in different tournaments. But when it got to state tournament play in Ohio, playing against some of the northern teams, we were able to go up against some really talented teams. Like LeBron’s high school team [Akron’s St.Vincent-St. Mary] is always really good; they were in our division. That competition definitely made me better as a player.
You’ve credited your dad Mark with helping you become a better player. What role has he played in your preparation over the years?
My dad always jokes around, saying I was born with a basketball in my hand. My dad started me when I was really young, 3 or 4 years old. I think at that time I just fell in love with it. My dad has helped me in so many ways. He coached me since when I was probably 5 or 6 until I was about 12. And then once I got to high school, he was still coaching me on the sidelines, but just as a fan. He would work with me all the time, going into the gym during off days, or late nights, early mornings. Just every chance possible, he was there to work with me and make me better. And then my decisions that come along with basketball, like where I want to go to college, and whether to enter the NBA or not, he’s been really involved with all of that. So, I really looked to him for advice in everything. He played basketball [at Georgetown College in Kentucky], and he is really smart when it comes to the game. So, I listen to him every chance that I can and I have really learned a lot from him.
How difficult was it for you to forgo your final two seasons at Duke?
The decision to leave was a difficult one. Honestly, it was. Leaving Duke was a tough choice, Duke was a special place for me. I built so many great relationships there with so many different people. I grew not only as a player, but as a person. And the relationships that I built there were kind of hard to leave, honestly. My dad was really involved with the decision-making process. I talked to my coaches from Duke a lot, and we kind of just decided that it was a good opportunity for me at the time. And I felt no pressure from anybody about the decision that I was making. I followed my heart, I prayed about it a lot, and I thought it was the right choice.
Is there anything you want to prove to NBA teams during the pre-draft process?
One thing that I want to prove to teams is that I’m more than just a shooter. I’m a playmaker. I take every opportunity I can on the court to make other guys better and make the right play. My basketball IQ is high, and I take advantage of that. Being able to make the right decisions at the right times has been one thing I have really worked on in my game. To get that point across to teams—not only just to talk about it, but to show it on the court—is something I’m really looking forward to.
You’ve gotten the chance to train and play pick-up ball alongside Paul George during your CAA Sports pre-draft training. What’s that experience been like?
Playing against Paul George was a great experience. Playing against one of the best—you can’t get better than that. Just being able to pick his brain during the workout then being able to play against him and learn different things. See the way that he approaches the game. He is a smart player. He’s obviously one of the best in the world. It was a lot of fun, being able to go up against him and see what I can improve on and what I need to work on. We definitely talked a lot about that. One thing that I took away from him was just always staying calm and in control and making sure that you’re changing speeds and making sure you stay physical. Working on my strength will definitely help me with that.
How has your nutrition evolved along with your game?
I like to eat. Growing up, I wanted to eat healthy and I did. But I still liked the sweets and still liked to snack on some junk foods here and there when I was growing up. As I’ve gotten older and matured as a player, [I’ve learned] that my body is what keeps me going. Putting the right food in my body and making sure I have a great nutrition plan has helped me a lot with energy and strength and all of that. My body is really important, and the more I’ve matured, the more I take pride in it.
What foods are you trying to stay away from and what foods are you trying to load up on nowadays?
I’ve tried to stay off the candy as much as possible. I’ve done really well with it, but I love chocolate. So I’m trying to stay away from that. A typical dinner for me would be beef steak, rice and vegetables on the side. I enjoy it—it’s good food and it’s good for me.
What are your goals from a training standpoint during this period?
My main focus since I’ve been here is working on my body to make sure I’m getting stronger. I think being stronger in the league will help me a lot on both ends of the court. Just getting my body right and making sure that I’m able to be really physical in my play. I have a mentality where as a player I want to get better each and every way I can.
Has it sunk in that you’re on the precipice of playing in the NBA?
Just imagining draft day still seems surreal to me. Before my sophomore year at Duke, I didn’t think I’d be in this position. Now that I am, I’m working with great people who want the best for me. It just seems so surreal, but I’m blessed to have this opportunity. I’m looking forward to it. Wherever I end up, I’m going to make the most of it and I’m going to work hard and I’m going to compete.