Luke Kennard hated it so much, he would cry.
He was 6.
“A few times, he started crying saying ‘Daddy, I don’t wanna,’ ” his dad, Mark, said. “We laugh about it now. My wife (Jennifer) said it was child abuse. He was just a little tyke, then. I wanted him to get used to using both hands.”
Mark’s tactic one summer created a lethal, ambidextrous basketball player.
With his left hand behind his back, a young Luke had to dribble home along the sidewalk. It was roughly a three-block stretch to his house in Franklin, Ohio, from a nearby school. He traveled with Mark rolling alongside in his car.
Mark Kennard’s tough love prevailed.
“I hated it. I hated doing it … but I’m thankful for it,” Luke Kennard said.
Kennard, Duke’s 6-6, 220-pound sophomore guard who is naturally right-handed, grew up inexplicably shooting and dribbling with his left hand. He said his father’s training contributed to his gifted skill set, which has made him particularly difficult to guard.
Kennard is a lefty shooter who can easily drive and finish with his right, leaving defenders questioning which hand they should contest.
I don’t know if it was that far. There was a little school up the road from my house.
A three-time letterman quarterback in high school, Kennard threw footballs with his right hand, channeling his playing days when he helped throw T-shirts to fans on Thursday at the end of Duke’s open practice at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C.
Kennard and the No. 2-seeded Blue Devils defeated No. 15 Troy 87-65 in the first round of the NCAA tournament Friday. Kennard had eight points in the win, his first time not finishing in double figures since Jan. 7. The Blue Devils will play South Carolina, which beat Marquette 93-73, on Sunday at approximately 8:40 p.m.
Growing up, Kennard also threw a baseball with his right hand.
But his left hand, when it came to basketball, was more of a natural fit.
“I remember watching some videos of myself when I was really, really young, and I would shoot it kinda with two hands, but my left hand just started taking over,” said Kennard, the ACC scoring champion who led Duke with 20.1 points a game going into the tournament. “I write with my right hand. I throw with my right hand. I do everything with my right hand. It’s kind of weird.”
His unique play didn’t only leave opposing defenses twisted. His teammates at Duke had to adjust to it, too, which they’ve accomplished.
Kennard shot up an alley-oop pass to fifth-year forward Amile Jefferson in practice Thursday, and the 6-9 captain finished with ease. The pair connected that way a couple of times.
(He has) great footwork in the paint. He’s a really hard cover.
Duke assistant Jon Scheyer
Capable of driving and finishing with his right and turning either way to fire a mid-range shot, Kennard prefers to finish with his nonshooting hand. Earlier this season, Jefferson said Kennard, a 50 percent shooter, works off his pivot foot like no other in the country.
“We had to get adjusted to that, because he’s throwing a lot of his passes right-handed,” junior guard Grayson Allen said, with a grin, of Kennard, who is second in assists with 2.5 (87 total) for the Blue Devils. “I think the only thing he does is shoot 3s left-handed. It’s dangerous because you see a guy who’s a lefty, you’re expecting to contest his left hand in the lane and he shoots a right-handed floater or curling and shoots a right-handed hook. It definitely makes him special being able to do that in the lane, where he can just turn either way and get off a shot that looks natural.”
Kennard was the only unanimous first-team All-ACC selection, and he won the ACC tournament MVP after he carried the Blue Devils to a historic four games in four days to win the league tournament. He averaged 20 points over the course of the tournament.
Coming into the season, Kennard was excluded from the preseason ACC mentions.
“He’s more than a shooter. I don’t know why people thought he was only a shooter,” said Mark Kennard, a sentiment Luke’s teammates and coach Mike Krzyzewski have also expressed this season. “A lot of people don’t realize Luke’s been playing point guard since he was in the first grade. He’s a playmaker-scorer.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan
Duke vs. South Carolina
NCAA tournament second round
When: Approximately 8:40 p.m. Sunday
Where: Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C.