A roar of delight rang out in the Simeon gymnasium. A ripple of grins crossed the faces of players, some of whom doubled over in giddy disbelief at the one-handed dunk that livened up a Wednesday afternoon practice.
The perpetrator of the disturbance, Wolverines senior Kendrick Nunn, is a quiet, laidback type around all but his closest friends. But the 6-foot-3 left-handed guard really doesn't need words to rouse his teammates.
"Me being the leader of the team, I bring the most energy," said Nunn, who has played for Simeon's last three state championship teams.
Nunn's energy effect could be key during the Wolverines' try for a fourth consecutive Class 4A state title, and was evident during their opener Saturday. He had 11 points and teamed with fellow Illinois recruit Jaylon Tate to score on a couple of athletic plays during which Melvin Nunn, his father and Simeon's girls basketball coach, leaned over to the person in the seat next to him and said, "Uh oh, watch this."
"It always helps when you've got somebody like that who can get everybody going after some plays," said Simeon coach Robert Smith, who has known Nunn since he was a baby. "He's been great for the program. He's strong, he can shoot the basketball and his tenacity on defense is what he brings to the table every day."
Nunn began developing those skills under his father, who was on Simeon's 1986-87 team with Smith, played in college and abroad and coached Kendrick until the eighth grade. Their backyard hoop became a gathering place for friends and family, including older sister Kendyl, who once could beat Kendrick one on one and now plays at Toledo.
"It was intense," Kendrick said. "Every day I was in the backyard playing basketball — summer days, hot, cold. It was competitive."
Melvin Nunn said Kendrick had good shooting form even as a toddler, and recalled his son's desire to play basketball by age 4, when a scary accident from which Kendrick still has scars briefly kept him away from the game.
Kendrick was leaning over a kitchen counter at dinner, trying to reach the microwave because he said his food had gotten cold, when a candle's flame caught his T-shirt. He suffered burns on his chest, chin and arm and stayed in the hospital for a couple of weeks because he needed skin grafts. The scar on his right bicep still shows underneath the arm of his T-shirt.
When he arrived home from the hospital, there was one place he wanted to be.
"He didn't come home like a normal person that got out of the hospital, (who's) going to sit around and relax, (be) a kid watching cartoons," Melvin Nunn said. "He went out and played some ball."
"I was in the hospital so much, I missed playing basketball," Kendrick said.
He hasn't stopped playing since.
Nunn and Jabari Parker were the only freshmen to play on Simeon's 2010 championship team. That year, Nunn received his first scholarship offer from late St. Louis coach Rick Majerus. He joined Parker on the USA Basketball U16 and U17 basketball teams the last two summers. Now he's preparing for life at the next level under Illinois coach John Groce.
That means a lot of dribbling. When Simeon runs during practice, Nunn finds a ball and his iPod and uses the 20 minutes of loops to work on his ball handling and developing his right hand.
"That's one of my weaknesses, something I have to definitely get better on going to the next level," Nunn said.
"I think I'll fit in great with (Illinois') system. The way he coaches his guards, he lets them get a little freedom, and the tempo is pretty fast. That's the way I like to play."
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