- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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There isn’t a specific moment Luke Kennard remembers as the point he stopped being a regular kid and turned into a mini-celebrity in Franklin, Ohio. His new normal has been this way for two years now.
Friends will make a big deal. As he wanders around his hometown, occasionally people will give a second glance. Yes, the nation’s No. 30 hoops prospect in the Class of 2015 is only entering his junior year of high school and just turned 17. But in a town halfway between Cincinnati and Dayton, where the population of 11,819 would be less than half the enrollment of some of the major colleges trying to get him to play basketball for them, he is Franklin’s star.
“A lot of my friends, they think I’m famous now,” said Kennard, a shooting guard who holds offers from the likes of Michigan, Ohio State, Indiana, Dayton, Notre Dame, West Virginia and Xavier. “Around quite a bit of places, when I walk around, they’ll kind of notice me.”
None of this, however, has bothered or changed Kennard. He remains the same kid who goes out and plays pickup football or basketball with the neighborhood kids. He is the same kid who used to dominate his youth basketball leagues so much that Franklin’s basketball coach, Brian Bales, said, “He was almost on another planet compared to the kids.”
None of that has changed. Only the attention has.
It all started before he even played a high school varsity basketball game. He already had multiple colleges interested in him and some schools offering scholarships. The scholarship chase began the summer before his freshman year when he went with Franklin High to a team basketball camp at Michigan. Every year, Bales picks a different college camp to attend and the program had never been to Ann Arbor.
The Michigan coaching staff asked Bales if he had any players they should watch. At first, he wasn’t going to say anything because, well, Kennard was just entering his freshman year of high school.
Bales recalled explaining to a Michigan graduate assistant, “You know, this is going to sound crazy, and I don’t know how good he is, but we think he’s pretty special. We have an eighth-grader who is going to be a freshman that you should take a look at.”
By Franklin’s second game at the camp, one of Michigan’s staffers was watching Kennard play. His third game, the entire Wolverines staff was watching. Like that, his recruitment had begun, even if an offer from Michigan, one of the many schools recruiting him, didn’t come until June 15 of this year.
“At the time, Luke had not received any offers,” Kennard’s father, Mark, said. “He had just gotten out of eighth grade.”
The last two years has changed that. Franklin, largely due to Kennard, occasionally sells out its basketball arena. He has offers -- or at least interest -- from most of the nation’s top 25 college basketball programs. Also a star quarterback on the gridiron, Louisville offered for football and Big Ten schools have expressed interest.
While he doesn’t yet know where he is going to college or even what sport he is going to play when he gets there, he is certain of one thing: He will only play one of them. There will be no attempts of doing what Charlie Ward, Ronald Curry and Donovan McNabb, among others, have done before him by balancing both sports in college.
He will choose one. And that will be it.
“It would be almost impossible to play both,” Mark said. “To me, that would be really tough to do. So he would probably just pick one. I think basketball is his favorite right now, but I talked to him [recently] about football and he was like, ‘Dad, I love to play.’
“I’m not going to have him pick one now. I’m going to have him leave his options open.”
Those options have increased by the month, part of a two-year journey that has seen him already break some of his father’s high school basketball records and put him on pace to break most of Franklin’s scoring records in basketball and passing records in football.
Kennard already holds the school’s record for single-season touchdown passes in the regular season (22) and for an entire season (24). In his first season as a starter last fall, he completed 140 of 264 passes for 1,880 yards, 24 TDs and seven interceptions.
In basketball, he’s already fifth in career points at Franklin with 990 and could pass his uncle, Todd Kennard, for the school’s career scoring mark of 1,434 points next season. He holds the school’s single-season scoring record (624 points) and record for most free throws made in a season (135). His 27.1 points per game as a sophomore is also a school record.
So what does Kennard want? Right now, he says he likes basketball better. Why? He’s not sure.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” Kennard said. “I just feel like I would play [basketball] any time of the day. It’s just my passion, pretty much. I like football a lot, but I am getting more looks for basketball right now, so that’s probably why.”
There is little doubt, though, how good he can be. Bales said he thinks Kennard could eventually be an NBA player. His football coach, Rodney Roberts, considers Kennard a “once-in-a-lifetime” type of player to coach. They both believe he’s that good.
The attention he has received has elevated Franklin into bigger tournaments and more exposure. When Kennard plays basketball, it’s an event. The school pre-sells tickets, most of which are often gone by the end of the day. The Franklin gym, which has sold out twice, turns into a loud crush of people trying to get a glimpse of the hometown star.
“It’s packed. It’s just packed,” Roberts said. “There’s a buzz around the whole city, a buzz around him.”
It’s a buzz that should only increase over time as Kennard figures out what sport he wants to play and where he wants to continue with it.