If you’re going to be the best, you might as well watch the best.
That is the message Kylan Chandler was trying to get across to his son, Kennedy, when he accompanied him to the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in St. Louis.
For the 11-year-old Kennedy, that he was among thousands in attendance to witness mighty Kentucky shock top-seeded and previously-unbeaten Wichita State is something he will recall for some time.
“I had a lot of fun,” Kennedy said. “I learned a lot from watching those (college) players. I learned to always have a good attitude when you lose. I’m happy because God made a great person to play basketball. You should keep your head up no matter what.”
To Kennedy’s credit, he has gone to great lengths to become a fixture while playing competitive basketball, particularly on the AAU circuit, where he has skills have drawn rave reviews from his peers and coaches.
A fifth grader at Briarcrest Christian School, Kennedy has been playing AAU basketball since he was seven but, according to many who have followed his progress, his skills are more advanced then players his age. For starters, this 5-foot-2 speedy point guard has been successful as an amateur, in large part because he his relentless ball-handling skills, let alone his ability to become a facilitator.
In a nutshell, as Kennedy goes, so does those to whom he’s dishing nifty outlet and crosscourt passes.
That was evident Saturday when Kennedy checked into the game midway through the first quarter at Memphis University School. Playing reserve point guard for one of Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway’s 11-and-under AAU teams, Kennedy was his usual reliable self as he wasted little time dictating the pace of the game.
He broke down opposing defenses with his blazing speed and breath-taking penetrations to the basket. He went for loose ball and converted baskets in transition. He routinely got other playing involved in an offensive rhythm while helping propel his team to a decisive 15-point win.
“At his age, God has given him a gift,” said Kylan Chandler. “His court awareness on the floor is impeccable. His court awareness on the floor is special. He’s all about getting his teammates involved. If he scores 15 points, you won’t know it because he’s so focused on getting others involved.”
Raheem Shabazz, Kennedy’s strength and conditioning coach, said among the things that separates Kennedy from other players is his relentless work ethic while preparing for competition.
“Kennedy has progressed tremendously during training,” said Shabazz, owner of Team Shabazz Speed And Agility Training. “He had become more explosive through speed, agility, and strength training through various techniques and explosive moments. He is an extremely hard worker and is eager to become stronger and more athletic everyday.”
Said Kennedy’s AAU coach Carlos Williams: “I have been watching Kennedy since second grade when he won the AAU nationals. It’s just a blessing that he’s playing with us now. Of all the talent I’ve seen, Kennedy is the top-ranked point guard in the Class of 2021. There is nothing he can’t do. He can dribble under pressure. He can shoot from three or mid-range, play man defense, make plays for his teammates, and facilitate for his team. He’s just a point you would love to have.”
While Kennedy, in most instances, is the smallest player on the floor in many of his games, his skills essentially overshadows his small frame. Among the reasons is that not only this self-proclaimed “gym rat” works vigorously on his mechanics, but he spends an ample amount of time watching the brightest floor facilitators in the world.
Los Angeles Clippers star Chris Paul and Cleveland Cavaliers phenom Kyrie Irving to name a few.
“I always watch other point guards so I can learn their moves,” Kennedy said. “They’re really good and they work hard and so that’s what I need to do to get to the NBA.”
With the guidance of his father and his step mother, Rosalind Chandler, Kennedy has become a force in his brief time on the AAU circuit. As a member of the We All Can Go All-Stars 11-and-under team last year, he averaged a team-best 23.3 points, eight assists, four rebounds, and three steals per game. In addition, he engineered the eight-and-under team to national championship in 2011 and guided the nine-and-under squad to 31-3 mark in 2012.
That he has developed a keen knack for winning and has proven to be unselfish at his age prompted one premiere college coach to applaud his rise as a young athlete, one whose best days are ahead of him.
“Coach (University of Memphis) Pastner told him to work on his assists-to-turnover ratio,” Kylan Chandler said.
He will have plenty of opportunities to do just that in the coming weeks and during the summer months.
Kennedy’s AAU team is scheduled to make trips to North Carolina, New Jersey, and Ohio over the next few weeks, most notably an appearance to play in Miami Heat star LeBron James’ James Shooting Stars Tournament in Akron, Ohio.
For the Chandlers, their son’s itinerary will allow him to generate more exposure, let alone add to his basketball repertoire on the AAU circuit.
“You should always have fun while playing and then take (what you learned) to the gym and work on them,” Kennedy said. “When I don’t have anything to do, I work on (my skills). But first, I do my homework and then I work on them.”
Yet another message about which his parents have taught him since he first picked up a basketball.