By MATTHEW BROWN
Journal Sports Writer
High school basketball in Houston County hasn’t seen many – if any at all – like Christian Kennedy at Northside High School.
All of 6-foot-10 and 14 shoe size (since eighth grade), the shot-blocking sensation of Ken Price’s defending region champion Eagles club made a big decision in the months leading up to his senior hoops season. On the last day of school before the Thanksgiving break, Kennedy was joined by family, coaching and teammates for his scholarship signing with the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga of the Southern Conference.
“It’s hard to find a 6-10,” said Price, not referring to the difficulty in spotting one so tall in a crowd of players, but just in having one like that arrive at your school. “He’s very athletic, runs the floor well, and makes good grades.”
But was Kennedy an intimidating presence right away on the basketball court? Or was he himself a bit intimidated?
“He was like most freshmen,” said Price. “They have to get experience. He’s been able to play so long. Last year he led us to the region championship. He controls the paint, and at the last of each quarter we make sure we have him in there.
“As a senior, we expect him to be a leader. He’s a quiet kind of guy, so you have to get him to be more of a leader from talking, be more verbal. He’s very mature now, no problems in school. He’s going to have a good college career.”
Height, just like speed, are those traits no coach can teach. With Kennedy, it was up to the coaches of Northside to teach him how to use that height to his optimal advantage.
“We had to teach him when to block, not to get in foul trouble and when to take charges,” said Price. “Don’t try to block every shot; pick and choose when so you don’t get in foul trouble. We have to have him for the whole game.
“At the beginning, he would be in foul trouble within half the first quarter and have to sit until the third quarter. Now he knows when not to block and when to back off. Most of the schools don’t want to go in the paint because they know they’ll get their shot blocked.”
“A lot of people on my team are very confident,” said Kennedy about the help he’s had building his own confidence. “All the running we do at practice. We run so much it’s ridiculous. That actually helps out in the long run. It builds up your wind.”
To get more optimal use out of Kennedy, plus to go along with his own convictions as a coach, Price has not started him too often. Northside is a deep team with several matching parts at other positions that Price substitutes five at a time, and in the past two seasons Kennedy was part of the second unit.
“He would have started for any other team,” said Price. “I’m very loyal to my seniors (like previous post players Dess Culpepper and Dennard Williams, both in college basketball). He had to humble himself because I know a lot of people didn’t understand our two-platoon system. I explained to him if there’s 32 minutes in a game, he got 16 minutes.”
Now Kennedy is the senior who will be in the starting lineup as the regular season begins Nov. 27 at Rutland in Macon.
“I hope I can bring my school and team a state championship this year,” said Kennedy. “Just make everyone around me better, leave some good memories with my senior friends and leave a good foundation for the upcoming classes.”
Kennedy could always be counted on for a double-double … in rebounds and blocks. It wasn’t unusual for there to be double figures in one of those statistics, but nothing for him in points in the scorebook.
That’s something both he and Price expect to change as Kennedy develops his offensive game.
In the preseason scrimmage the day before the ceremony, Kennedy scored six points in the first three minutes.
“Once he slows down and relaxes, he’s going to score more points,” said Price. “He’s going to have to learn to be a bit smoother. But that’s the last thing that comes on a big man, scoring. Hopefully by January he’ll be scoring pretty good.”
“The idealistic thing … about 25 points a game,” said Kennedy about a scoring average he’s aiming for. “Ten to 12 boards and five blocks. It’s hard (to score) especially in high school. Everybody tries to make an example out of me. It’s not like in college where you have to keep a defensive presence on everybody on the court.”
Even with the work Kennedy still needs on the offensive end and in physical development, Price said Tennessee-Chattanooga doesn’t see him as a ‘project.’
“He’s played with some of their guys in AAU ball,” said Price. “I think they’re graduating some bigs, so he should get some playing time his first year.”
That will be in the 2013-14 school year, and Price said he plans to take his Northside teams to see Kennedy and the Moccasins play.
“It’s a great fit for me,” said Kennedy. “I feel like it’s a place I can build my character and athleticism, basketball skills for the next four years.”
“He’s going to have to be in the weight room and gain some weight,” said Price. “It’s hard for those tall types to gain that body mass, but he’ll get in there and work and have people work with him in college to get 15 to 20 pounds on him the first year. You don’t want to get fat on him, but muscle. His best years are in front of him.”
“I just want to get in and get everything right my first year,” said Kennedy, who is looking at sports medicine and physical therapy as possible college majors.
Some of Kennedy’s other basketball experiences in AAU include the Columbus Blazers, the Columbus Knicks and the Atlanta Express. He’s played in Orlando, Texas, Pittsburgh, Arkansas and the Carolinas.
Kennedy’s first ‘idol’ in basketball has Georgia roots, but he’s someone the Northside Eagle isn’t trying to emulate much anymore. That would be current Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard.
“I like to move around a lot more instead of standing under the goal,” he said. “I guess if you could put a (Kevin Durant) and a Dwight Howard together, that’s who I want to be like.”