kendall_kenyon

On a morning in May almost four years ago now, Lynne Roberts took a break from poring over depth chart projections and recruiting lists and headed out for some coffee. Just days before, a heralded freshman had decided to transfer from Pacific. Roberts, the Tigers’ head coach, suddenly had a scholarship available.

Serendipity at a Starbucks. When Roberts walked into one near the UoP campus in Stockton, CA, she ran into George Kenyon, father of Kendall, a 6-2 forward weeks away from graduating St. Mary’s High, the private school down the road with a powerhouse girls basketball team. Kenyon was committed to Cal State East Bay, a Division II program. Few DI schools had come calling.

Growing up, soccer was Kenyon’s main sport. She played goalie, and one can imagine the frustration strikers must have endured trying to coax shots past her considerable wingspan. At St. Mary’s, she played volleyball, basketball and soccer before deciding to concentrate exclusively upon hoops. She credits Tom Gonsalves and his varsity staff with helping build her confidence and convincing her she had a future in the game. “I wasn’t that experienced coming in, but the coaches really worked with me,” Kenyon says.

Roberts was well-versed with St. Mary’s, but when she’d head to Rams games, Kenyon failed to stick out. This had as much to do with the serious talent around her as it did with her demeanor. “Skinny, kind of quiet,” Roberts thought. She figured she’d pass.

That was then. After catching up with George Kenyon, Roberts headed back to her car. Realization crystallized quickly. Kendall Kenyon was the perfect fit for that open schollie.

Guess where Kenyon wanted to go.

She began her UoP career as a little-used substitute, though she did grab a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds, along with 2 blocks and a steal) in 12 minutes against Air Force. That was her sixth appearance in DI play.

In the conference opener her freshman year, Pacific lost a nail-biter to UC Irvine. “And our two centers, the starter and backup, went like 2-22 and had 3 rebounds. They were horrible,” Roberts says. “So I said, Screw it. When we play UC Riverside two days later, we’re starting the freshman. I wanted to send a message to my upperclassmen.”

Against Riverside, Kenyon finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds in 20 minutes. Pacific won by 21. She’s started every game since.

As a sophomore, she finished just shy of averaging a double-double (10.5 points, 9.7 rebounds). As a junior, she became the program’s all-time blocks leader…and averaged a double-double of 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds. More than a third of those boards came on the offensive end.

She’s currently four rebounds shy of Pacific’s all-time record, which she should get on Saturday against Saint Mary’s, a local rival. Her 41 career double-doubles are just three shy of UoP’s all-time lead. Despite only recently returning to full fitness, Kenyon is averaging a double-double through 13 games in 2014-15—15.0 points and 11.2 rebounds in just 26.5 minutes. The Tigers are 12-3 and off to a perfect 4-0 start in West Coast Conference play.

Says Roberts, who’d wanted to redshirt Kenyon as a freshman and now considers her belated scholarship offer to be one of her greatest coaching errors, “I’m either dense or dumb. She’s proved everyone wrong along the way.”

***

The coach speaks to SLAM after the Tigers’ 92-54 demolition of USF on December 27, which christened conference play. Roberts peeks at her team’s field-goal percentage: 53 percent, including 57 percent from three. She knows if they hit at those rates, they’ll be doggone tough to beat.

As Roberts turns her focus to Kenyon, she keeps glancing back at that stat sheet. Each time she passes over her senior forward’s 27 points, 15 boards and 6 blocks, Holy Cow and Wow are the descriptors of choice. Against the Dons, Kenyon hit her first seven shots. Her first two misses came during a sequence in which she mopped up with two offensive rebounds. She finished with a player efficiency rating of 39. Thirty-nine!

“I’m spoiled,” Roberts says. “I’ve had her for four years, and it’s just not that shocking to see those numbers. And it should be shocking.”

A masterclass in minimalism. Instead of wasted movement and over-dribbling, racing upcourt on the break, catching a lobbed pass over her shoulder, laying in without breaking stride. Blocking a shot, recovering the ball, getting it to a guard to initiate offense.

This season, Kenyon is averaging 4.7 offensive rebounds, along with 1.5 steals and 2.0 blocks. A “contributing to possession” statistic should be introduced in honor of the number of times she tips wayward shots out to teammates on either end.

In the Tigers’ four-out offense, guards have license to drive and create, and they do so to great effect. Kenyon, often positioned on the weak side of the low post, benefits from their distributive ingenuity with lay-ins. Though she has taken just one three-pointer this season (the Tigers average 22.2 attempts per contest), and does the brunt of her work from the free-throw line in, Kenyon is anything but an aberration. “She’s perfect within the system,” says Roberts.

Against the Dons, nine of her 11 field goals came off assists, the other two resulting from terrific individual moves. Kenyon has a blistering first step for a forward which allows her to get past defenders to the rim. “You wouldn’t necessarily know it from looking at her, but she’s a natural athlete. She can finish off either foot, with either hand,” Roberts says, before noting that Kenyon can dunk a volleyball.

Kenyon’s been known as “Sticks” since that fateful freshman season, when Kendall Rodriguez, then a Tigers junior forward, put her foot down and said, good-naturedly, that there was only room for one Kendall on the team. So, Sticks. And it stuck. Now, Kenyon’s family uses it. It’s part of her Twitter handle.

Despite her slight frame, Kenyon doesn’t get moved off the block on either end of the court. “She’s really tough,” says Roberts. “She’ll fall down seven, eight times during a game and get right back up. She’s not throwing 225 on the bench press or anything, but she’s strong. And our weight staff has done a great job of making her effectively strong.”

Speaking of effective, and stats that don’t show up on a sheet. Two nights after the USF win, Pacific nursed a one-point lead at Santa Clara. With less than a minute to go, the Broncos got the ball to forward Maddison Allen in the low post. Kenyon promptly rejected her shot. Then, with less than 10 seconds, the Tigers inbounded under their own basket. The pass was botched, a mad scramble ensued. Kenyon raced to the scene and forced the ball off a Santa Clara player.

Pacific retained possession and won by two.

***

Just before Halloween, Kenyon was bed-ridden with a sore throat, flu-like symptoms and a fever of 102. The training staff figured it for strep throat, but a blood test revealed Kenyon had contracted Mononucleosis. Her spleen was enlarged. She’d have to sit out an extended period.

Kenyon missed a closed-door scrimmage, an exhibition and the first two games of the season, including a showdown at home against Cal. In her first game back, a 62-50 Pacific win over Montana on November 21, Kenyon posted 7 points, 11 rebounds, a steal and a block in 21 minutes. She felt “pretty tired.”

“I was pretty much 100 percent after mono,” Kenyon says, “but it was the whole getting back in shape and getting endurance and strength back in sync. Now, I feel more like myself. I’m able to get up and down the court and do what I do.”

In last season’s game against Cal, then ranked No. 21, Kenyon dropped 29 and 16. What separates her, Bears coach Lindsay Gottlieb told reporters, is her speed. Kenyon concurs with this assessment. That’s what made her convalescence so trying. The most exertion Kenyon was allowed, other than hoisting jumpers, was walking.

“She doesn’t have the build where, if she doesn’t do anything for a month, she’s fine, because she’s already so slight,” Roberts says. “So it’s taken her awhile to get back. But I think she’s coming back healthy at the right time.”

To the tune of three double-doubles in her last four games. The latest proof Kenyon has become one of the preeminent low-post forces in America. Opponents attempt to negate Pacific’s dribble drives with zone defenses. They throw double teams at Kenyon in the low post. It works in stages, but eventually, Kenyon’s patience wills out. Her endurance, pace and skill take over. She always seems to post prodigious numbers in the end.

“She gets such attention from other teams, but she’s hard to match up against,” says Roberts. “She’s capable of going off in any game.”

Roberts still remembers her first impressions of Kenyon. What she soon learned was that beneath the mellow appearance burned an indomitable will. It was so nearly one of her biggest coaching errors, Roberts says with a chuckle.

“She’s a low-key kid, but she’s passionate about basketball,” says Roberts. “So she’s worked on her game. As a freshman, she was raw. She could catch, finish and rebound, because she has this motor that never stops. But she’s improved to where she can stop and take people off the bounce. She can even shoot the three, but she doesn’t need to in our system.

“I think she’ll continue to get better and better. I don’t think she’s come close to her ceiling.”

Toward the end of her interview with SLAM, Kenyon became obscured for a moment as a friend engulfed her in a hug.Good to see you. Welcome back. We missed you!

Kenyon was laughing as she returned to the conversation. These were indications of why UoP is so special to her: in addition to the gorgeous campus and great coaches, a family atmosphere follows you everywhere. A true home away from home. She went on to reveal one of her final goals: making the Big Dance as a senior. A feat she hasn’t yet fêted.

That’d be dope. Fun thing is, her teammates and fans already know they’ve got something special in Sticks.