On and off the floor, Luke Kennard is a true Dukie.
From his clean-cut appearance, Hollywood smile, nasty jumper and nastier on-court demeanor, the Ohio native has all the makings of Duke’s next star.
Six years ago, Mason Plumlee was in Kennard’s shoes -- an in-state basketball hero just beginning to establish himself on the national stage. Like Kennard, a left-handed scoring machine, Plumlee participated in the McDonald’s All-American Game, Nike Hoop Summit and the Jordan Brand Classic. It's where NBA scouts, including the Nets staff, got their first look at him ... and began building a database like they're they're doing with Kennard. It's what NBA teams do.
NBA scouts lined every inch of sideline at the JBC practices at Terminal 23 on the Wednesday and Thursday leading up to the Jordan game. Nets assistant GM Bobby Marks was in attendance, as were Steve Mills and Allan Houston from the Knicks. All 30 teams, in some way, were represented.
Pro teams scout players like Kennard and store video from events like the McDAAG, Summit and JBC in databases and use it as a baseline for scouting at the next level.
Why? Because these are the kids who pro after one year. Each of the projected top-five picks of this coming draft played in the Jordan Classic a year ago. At least 10 JBC alum will get selected in Round 1 this year, per Draft Express.
Inside the lines, Kennard like Plumlee knows the scouts are there, sees the NBA in his future. And so, the 6’5" youngster admires how the Blue Devils and Mike Krzyzewski have churned out some quality pros -- like Brooklyn’s big man -- in recent years.
"They have a lot of guys in the NBA," Kennard told NetsDaily at media day for the Jordan Brand Classic last week, though he sat out the actual game with knee soreness. "And three more [Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow] coming this year. That just shows how Duke can really improve players, really get them to the next level. I’m excited about that."
• Attends Franklin High School (Ohio), where he averaged 41.0 ppg., 10.4 rpg., 4.0 apg. and 2.0 spg. while shooting 84.0 percent from the free throw line this past season, leading the Wildcats (20-4) to the Division II sectional final.
• Has amassed 1,910 points, 642 rebounds, 305 assists,132 steals and 51 blocked shots during his three-year prep career.
• Set a school record and posted a career single-game high of 59 points (2/12/14) and scored 50 or more points three times and 40 or more points 13 times as a junior in 2013-14.
• As a sophomore in 2012-13, averaged 27.0 ppg., 10.0 rpg., 4.0 apg. and 2.0 spg., as Franklin went 19-4 and reached the Division II sectional final.
• Started all 22 games during his freshman season in 2011-12, helping the Wildcats to a 21-1 record and reaching the Division II sectional final. Averaged 16.0 ppg., 4.0 apg. and 7.0 rpg.
• Member of the National Honor Society and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
• Maintains a weighted GPA of 4.3. Currently ranked No. 4 in his graduating class.
NBA scouts no longer haunt dusty high school gyms looking for the next Kobe Bryant or Dwight Howard. That ended when Billy King drafted the last high school player, Lou Williams, in 2005. But they flock to the high school all-star games. No one is saying what's in the files so far, but you can be sure everything highlighted above is included.
And here’s something that packs a more powerful punch than all of those prestigious honors: On Feb. 6, Kennard leapfrogged LeBron James on Ohio’s all-time scoring list.
"It was a good time," Kennard said with a smile. "Passing LeBron was pretty cool…He didn’t [reach out], but somebody asked him and he talked about it. So he knew who I was, so which was really cool.
"Points are just points," the combo guard humbly continued. "It wasn’t anything spectacular. It was cool at the moment, but I’m putting it aside, trying to improve and get ready for next year."
Next season, Kennard will have an opportunity that Plumlee didn’t in year No. 1 -- playing time ... and a chance to fill up that scouting file a lot quicker.
The Dukies raised a national championship banner during Plumlee’s freshman year (2009-10), but he really didn’t play much of a role in a slim 14.1 minutes per game (3.7 points, 3.1 rebounds).
The blonde big fella, who had just months earlier dominated the high school level (see video below), got relegated to a bench role not because he wasn’t good enough, but because the team was stacked.
Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith all tallied over 35 minutes a night while Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek and Miles Plumlee, Mason’s older brother, were getting in the neighborhood of 15-to-20.
Plumlee had to bide his time and wait his turn. But with Okafor, Winslow and Jones leaving for the pros, Kennard will have the opportunity to play a ton right from the get-go. And scouts will be there along the way, adding to the database, one entry at a time.
"We’re gonna have a lot of shoes to fill," Kennard said. "Or, at least try to. We’re excited about that. [Winning it all] is the ultimate goal for everybody at the college level."
Plumlee greatly improved each year in college and the Nets took him with the 22nd pick in the 2013 draft. The move has paid off. While he goes through some sky-highs and super-lows, the 25-year-old has been a better NBA player than anticipated. The Nets like to think they got value because they scouted him so intensively for so long.
It’s hard to see Kennard sticking around at Duke as long as Plumlee did. His smooth lefty stroke paired with an elusive transition game and uncanny playmaking ability make him an intriguing NBA prospect a year or two down the line. He likens his game to another southpaw.
"Ginobli," Kennard responded when asked which comparisons he thinks are appropriate. "Of course, he’s a lefty. I definitely like him. And then James Harden, too, such a great scorer. I’ll take those comparisons."
Of course Kennard’s mind went to the NBA, instead of pointing to a collegiate player, because that’s the culture he’s lived in the past few years.
And NBA scouts are now interested in him. They absolutely, 100 percent care about what goes on before these kids reach the NCAA. It's the first page, the first line of their scouting history. They have to be prepared for a one-and-done year, even one that's shortened by injury. Another Duke player, Kyrie Irving, played only 11 games at Duke, but NBA scouts had the benefit of watching him in games like the Jordan Brand.
Kennard might only stay at Duke before declaring. The Nets, or some other team intrigued by his potential, will go back and review these All-Star games and weigh them against whatever he does or doesn’t do under Coach K.
So don’t think these games are all for fans and fun. They are, in part -- but they're also for your favorite NBA team.
The Nets knew about Plumlee long before he was a household name at Duke. Kennard is no different.