Back home in Ohio, Clippers’ Luke Kennard ties for second in NBA three-point contest
It was no accident Saturday that Clippers guard Luke Kennard began the NBA’s three-point competition by starting in the right corner of Cleveland’s court with a rack of balls to his left.
This was Kennard’s first time competing on the league’s All-Star weekend stage, but not the left-handed shooter’s first three-point competition. Even a decade ago while in high school, “I can remember Luke running to the rack right to left,” said his Franklin (Ohio) High coach, Brian Bales, “and always wanting to get it off that rack with his left hand.”
Those contests included winning the prestigious McDonald’s high school All-American competition. They also included stops at a southern Ohio amusement park a short drive from where Kennard grew up outside Dayton, which Kennard, Bales, the coach’s son and a teammate would buy season passes to and bring extra cash nearly every summer weekend to play the $5 three-point contest. The shooting games Kennard had cribbed from watching college practices during unofficial visits, the ones he then brought home to try to master, were apparently not enough of a challenge.
LeBron James’ impact on Akron, Ohio, stretches across the city, including St. Vincent-St. Mary High, where he inspires future basketball stars.
And so they visited Kings Island’s three-point competition, with its three racks carrying four, suspiciously underinflated balls, and fired at unforgivingly tough rims. It didn’t matter, Kennard’s domination reaching a point that he had won so many top prizes — NBA jerseys and the occasional video-game console — that it was no longer good for park business.
“King’s Island did ban us after a while from that game on certain summers,” Bales said.
“I don’t know if I got the official ban,” Kennard said, “but I’m sure they told both of us at some time that, ‘Look, we get it, but you need to just take a break from this, just for a little bit and save some for the other people.’”
Kennard’s shooting, which once got him shooed away, nearly led him to be celebrated back in Ohio on Saturday as the NBA’s three-point champion.
After posting a score of 28 to lead all eight first-round shooters, with Stephen Curry — whose jersey was one of the many Kennard won — watching from the sideline inside RocketMortgage Arena, Kennard scored 26 points in the final round to tie for second with Atlanta’s Trae Young behind champion Karl-Anthony Towns of Minnesota, who had 28 points in the final round.
“I wish I would have come out with a win, but made it to the finals, which was my first goal,” Kennard said in a phone interview. “[Towns] put some pressure on.”
While training against Clippers coaches last week Kennard posted scores of 24, 30 and 30, coach Tyronn Lue said, but the real thing of using 70 seconds to shoot 27 balls was different than his preparation. For one, the two green balls worth three points apiece were not made from the NBA’s traditional leather but microfiber like balls used in college, Kennard said, which took a moment for him to get used to when he found out during a warmup.
While the Lakers have dealt with a frustrating season, LeBron James heaps praise on Thunder general manager during All-Star media session.
The second was the adrenaline.
“I think I airballed my second one in the first round,” he said.
He was no longer at an amusement park, once borrowing $5 from Bales to keep playing — and eventually beat — his coach.
“The adrenaline definitely kicked in,” Kennard said. “I was talking to some of the guys that have done them before like CJ [McCollum] and Zach [LaVine], they said, ‘This is different.’ This is a lot different. It’s a bright stage, a big-time stage, and they said just to enjoy it, and that’s what I did.”
When he passed 20 points with several racks still to go in the first round, he began to feel more at ease that he would reach the final and not bow out early in front of a crowd filled with the dozens of family and friends who traveled the three-plus hours from Ohio’s southwestern corner to support Kennard, the leading scorer in the state’s high school history.
Bales was not among them, unable to watch live because his attention needed to be on Franklin High’s playoff game that evening, as he explained Friday afternoon. He did not sound too regretful. Though Kennard was a “once-in-a-lifetime” high school player, there could be many more competitions in the future for the career 42% three-point shooter.
“Hopefully I’ll be back in the next coming years,” Kennard said.
In other All-Star competitions, New York’s Obi Toppin won the dunk contest marred by misses over other finalist Juan Toscano-Anderson of Golden State. ... A team of three Cleveland Cavaliers — Jarrett Allen, Darius Garland and Evan Mobley — won a new, three-team format of the league’s skills challenge.
Get our high school sports newsletter
Prep Rally is devoted to the SoCal high school sports experience, bringing you scores, stories and a behind-the-scenes look at what makes prep sports so popular.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.