By RUSTY MILLER
AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS — When you ask Luke Kennard where he’s going to play college basketball, he lists five of the biggest names in the sport and then quickly adds, “Not in any particular order.”
Those schools already know he’s the best player in Ohio. Now it’s official.
The 6-foot-6 Franklin High School junior is a unanimous choice as winner of the Ohio Associated Press Mr. Basketball award.
Franklin’s Luke Kennard, left, drives past the Bellbrook defense during a high school basketball game earlier this season. The 6-foot-6 Franklin High School junior was a unanimous choice as winner of the Ohio Associated Press Mr. Basketball award. (AP Photo)
Even though he was a first-team all-stater in football, make no mistake about it: He’s a blue-chipper in basketball. His final five are Duke, Ohio State, Kentucky, North Carolina and Michigan.
“It’s just been my favorite sport growing up,” he said. “My dad likes to tell people that I was born with a ball in my hands. Basketball comes a little bit more naturally to me. I just think it would be neat to be in that kind of atmosphere in college.”
Kennard’s numbers on the court are staggering.
He averaged 41 points, 10.4 rebounds, four assists and two steals a game. He scored 50 or more three times while shooting over 50 percent from the field, 42 percent on 3-pointers and 85 percent at the line.
Add the fact that last fall as a quarterback he completed 162 of 276 passes for 2,145 yards and 26 touchdowns with just five interceptions and it’s easy to see why people rave about his athletic acumen.
“Not to put down other kids, or to seem boastful, but he just seemed like he was playing chess and the other kids were playing checkers,” said Brian Bales, his coach at Franklin. “He’s two plays ahead of everybody. He’s kind of like that on a football field. It’s amazing. It’ll be a dead play and all of a sudden he makes something out of it.”
This basketball season, he led Franklin — located not far from Middletown, hometown of the legendary Jerry Lucas — to a 20-4 record. The Wildcats have won 35 consecutive conference games. They also traveled all around the country, showcasing their star player and exposing him to some of the best players and trickiest defenses imaginable.
Everybody has tried to stop Kennard. And with little luck.
“This year? I’ve probably seen them all,” he said of the array of defenses.
Asked the weirdest X’s and O’s he encountered, Kennard laughed and remembered an early-season game against Oxford Talawanda.
“Oh, man. There was a guy face-guarding me, it wasn’t really a box-and-1,” he said. “It was like a 1-1-2 with a guy standing right on me.”
Kennard isn’t just a leader on the court or on the field. He carries a 4.3 grade-point average and is near the top in his class academically.
His dad, Mark, works in a bank and played college ball at Georgetown, Ky., where Luke’s sister, Lauren, is a senior. His mom, Jennifer, is a substitute teacher.
During the summer, Luke, who throws a football right-handed but is a lefty shooter in basketball, has played on the King James AAU team which features many of the top players in the state.
Luke is a marquee player wherever his teams play.
“After games, it’s nothing for him to sign autographs for 30 or 45 minutes,” Bales said. “And that’s even in showcases. We’ve been to Myrtle Beach, and he’s the No. 1 player they want autographs from and that’s probably the best event in America. Flyin’ To The Hoop, there was a line for 45 minutes with him signing autographs after that game.”
His signature will be mighty valuable to a college team soon. He expects to scribble his name on a letter of intent in the next month or so.
“It’ll be pretty nice to get it over with and to be able to enjoy my next year and kind of get the pressure off,” he said. “I’m kind of looking forward to it.”
Past winners of the Ohio AP Mr. Basketball award, determined by a vote of sports journalists from around the state, include NBA players LeBron James (the only three-time winner), O.J. Mayo, Trey Burke and Jared Sullinger.
Others considered this year include Elida’s Dakota Mathias, Javon Bess of Gahanna Lincoln, Esa Ahmad of Shaker Heights, Brady Arnold of Millersburg West Holmes and Peyton Aldridge of Leavittsburg LaBrae.