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Catching Up With Luke Kennard

Duke’s outstanding wing is emerging as a respected NBA player

Detroit Pistons v Milwaukee Bucks - Game One
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - APRIL 14: Luke Kennard #5 of the Detroit Pistons is defended by Nikola Mirotic #41 of the Milwaukee Bucks during Game One of the first round of the 2019 NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs at Fiserv Forum on April 14, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

I had Luke Kennard pegged as the next Duke player to score 2,000 points.

I was wrong; not because Kennard wasn’t good enough but because he was too good. Too good to stick around longer than two years.

Kennard came from Ohio to Duke in the same class as Brandon Ingram, Derryck Thornton, Chase Jeter and Antonio Vrankovic, the latter the only one to stick around longer than two years.

Duke thought it would keep Kennard longer but he had a breakout season as a sophomore in 2017, averaging 19.5 points per game, while becoming a consensus second-team All-American. Kennard was the leading scorer on a Duke team that has already produced six NBA players.

Kennard scored 1,147 points at Duke, well on his way to that 2,000.

The Detroit Pistons selected Kennard 12th in the 2017 NBA draft. The Pistons were coached by Stan Van Gundy, a defensive-minded coach with an aversion to playing rookies.

Still, Kennard got on the floor enough to average 7.6 points per game.

Then, Van Gundy was gone, dismissed after a 39-43 mark.

“We went through a little coaching change, which was an adjustment,” Kennard told the Duke media earlier this week at the K Academy. “But it’s been good. One of the first things I heard when I got up there was ‘it’s a business.’ You never know what can happen. I never thought I would get a new coach in a year but things happen.”

Van Gundy was replaced by Dwane Casey.

“I think this past year was another good step for me,” Kennard said of his first year with Casey. “I ended the year pretty well. It’s an exciting time up there. I like it a lot. I’m excited for the years to come.”

Kennard averaged 9.7 points per game last season. Over two seasons he’s hit 40.3 percent of his three-pointers, 84.7 percent of his foul shots.

He says he’s not content.

“I’m pretty hard on myself. I always think I could have been a little better than I was. There’s still a lot of things to work on. I’m excited for this off-season, just to work on those things, just get better.”

Kennard acknowledges that defense is one of those areas.

“We had some really good defensive coaches that I’ve worked with since I’ve been in the NBA and they’ve allowed me to grow tremendously. The defense has been one of my biggest focuses and I’ve definitely gotten better. But there’s always room to get better.”

The Pistons made the playoffs last season but were swept by Milwaukee. Still, Kennard had a break-out series, averaging 15 points per game, while playing 33 minutes per game.

“It was awesome. We didn’t make it my rookie year. It was a lot of fun. It wasn’t easy making it. Hopefully, next year we can continue to work on the things we need to work on and hopefully keep getting better and get further along.”

Kennard says he expects Casey to return and he’s looking forward to the stability.

“You’ve got to get used to it. You’ve got to feel like you’re learning something new every year. You’ve just got to continue to get better. Just continuing to work with him, figuring him out, getting comfortable with him. Obviously, it’s an adjustment getting a new coach and then a new coach again this year.”

Kennard has two more years left on his rookie contract and says he’d love to stay in the Motor City.

“I really do like it up there a lot. We’ll see. You’ve just got to continue to get better. I like the people there, I like the fans. It’s close to home to, close to Ohio, so that’s good.”

But he hasn’t forgotten Duke.

“The people, the fans, it was a special place to me. Every chance I have to get back, I’ll take advantage of it. We all still stay connected. I developed as a person, as a player here. This is the place to be, the place to get to the next level.”

Getting his degree?

“Last summer, with the coaching change, was rough. But I’m going to take advantage of coming back. About a year-and-a-half left. So, I’ve got to get to work.”

So far, that getting to work thing has taken Luke Kennard a long way.