By LARRY VAUGHT
If there is one thing that stands out about Kentucky point guard recruiting target Kennedy Chandler it would be his speed with the ball.
“Whether he is in transition or getting a head of steam up in the half court off a ball screen, he can fly,” said Briarcrest Christian (Memphis) coach John Harrington about his 6-1 point guard. “He can really pass the ball, especially to 7-footers or 6-10 kids who like lobs that lead to dunks. He’s very gifted at that but he’s also gifted scoring baskets around the rim with his body. He uses angles and English with the ball very well.”
That sounds similar to how former Wildcat Shai Gilgeous-Alexander managed to score inside against bigger players in high school and college and has continued to do in the NBA.
“Kennedy works on all types of moves whether it is with his left hand, right hand, floaters. He practices all kind of shots,” Harrington said. “He’s very competitive, too. During open gym before the season started I would always put him on the worst team with four knuckleheads for pickup games. Then he would make sure you knew his team had won three or four games in a row any way.
“Kennedy has grown a lot physically in the last year. When he was a sophomore he was not really dunking the ball a lot. Now he’s driving and making some spectacular dunks. I think he’ll just keeping getting bigger and stronger, too.”
The five-star point guard recently narrowed his list of potential college choices to 10 — Duke, Florida State, Kansas, Kentucky, Memphis, Michigan, North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee and USC. He’s considering a visit to Kentucky later this month.
“I think every kid enjoys recruiting at first but when you are a high profile player with social media being the way it is, everything you do is scrutinized and watched. When he got down to 10 schools, school 11 was not happy,” Harrington said. “There has been some criticism and comparing him to other point guards and saying he’s not as good. I just told him when you are really good, you are just on an island by yourself with everything aiming for you.”
Despite facing a lot of gimmick defenses, Chandler has still averaged about 23 points, four assists and four rebounds per game. His team has four Division I football commits, so Chandler also plays a lot of minutes because he’s the team most skilled basketball player.
Harrington admits that Chandler doesn’t fit the size mold of the prototypical point guard that John Calipari has had at Kentucky where most have been in the 6-4 range.
“But the one thing Kennedy has is the unique ability to get away from people because he is so fast,” Harrington said. “The team I would actually see him fitting in best with would be North Carolina because they get the ball out of the net, throw it to the point guard and take off. That’s when he’s at his best.”
Harrington, who is the school’s vice principal along with the basketball coach, does see one favorable trend for Kentucky.
“I think Cal coaches more like I coach Kennedy, getting on to him and holding him accountable,” Harrington said. “If the team messes up usually Cal will get very animated with the point guard. He and are I lot alike.”
Harrington watched a lot of Calipari’s practices when Calipari was head coach at Memphis — Calipari’s daughter, Megan, was a student worker in Harrington’s office and Calipari’s son, Brad, attended middle school there.
“I have told Kennedy that he (Calipari) knows how to get him prepared for the next level (NBA),” Harrington said. “I also told him that Cal or any coach will be patting him on the back now but after he graduates they will have you on scholarship and will wear you out coaching you.”
Obviously hometown Memphis — and coach Penny Hardaway, a former NBA star — has recruited Chandler heavily. Chandler said at the Marshall County Hoopfest in December that he knew many were assuming he would go to Memphis but insisted then he was not close to a college decision and was “wide open” about where he would go.
“Memphis always has great talent but what Penny is doing is creating a national program where he can go and get some players across the country. He does not have to depend just on Memphis for players,” Harrington said. “Cal did not have a lot of Memphis kids on his team and I know why. He did not recruit Memphis players unless they were special.”
Harrington said he has know Chandler since “he was just a little knucklehead” playing with son in third grade at Briarcrest.
“I got to see him grow and develop into a special player,” the coach said. “He has always played up a grade or two because he had so much potential. He and his mom and dad talked about him being a leader and the intangibles of how to be a good leader for teammates. They take it serious. It’s a process they know for next year at Briarcrest and then however many years in college and Lord willing then he might make a future out of it.”