Jeremy Kendle wasn’t sure if he was going to have a chance to play basketball this season. Kendle, a Bellarmine guard, spent the offseason playing the waiting game, hoping and praying that the NCAA would grant him another year of eligibility.
Injuries had pretty much wiped out the first two seasons of his career at Olney Community College, and because of that, there was a chance he would get more time at Bellarmine, the team he helped lead to an NCAA Division II national championship in March.
“I tried not to worry too much about it because I had no control over the situation,” Kendle said. “I put my trust in the athletic department that it would help me out. I was surprised and shocked when I found I was given two more years of eligibility.”
Kendle has seized the opportunity so far. He is averaging in 20.7 points per game and has helped guide the top-ranked Knights to wins in their first three games.
The most important thing for Kendle is that he is healthy, a stark contrast to the first two years of his career. It was during that time that Kendle was rocked by injuries. He had ankle surgery twice and dealt with foot fractures as well.
His plan was to land a spot on a Division I roster after a successful run at Olney. The injuries derailed those dreams.
“You aren’t going to get a lot of offers when you really haven’t played much,” Kendle said. “ I wasn’t sure where I was going to end up but I ended up talking with coach [Scott] Davenport at Bellarmine and was given a tryout. I was very lucky.”
Defending champion Bellarmine returns its All-American backcourt and tops the preseason NABC poll. Take a look here at the rest of the top teams to begin the season.
• NABC Poll, click here
Kendle made a good impression at the tryout, and the rest is history. A former Indiana high school star, Kendle averaged 17.7 points per game during the 2009-10 season, leading the Knights in scoring. He was also named the MVP of the Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament despite the fact that Bellarmine fell short in its bid to win a national title.
A year ago, Kendle earned third-team All-American honors and averaged 17.3 points per outing. He was named the GLVC Player of the Year and helped the Knights claim their first national title with a 71-68 victory against BYU-Hawaii.
“Bellarmine has been a good fit for me,” Kendle said. “It took time for me to adjust to this level at first because I had been out for so long, but I was able to get back on track. One thing I started doing was eating differently. I did a better job of taking care of my body and I feel like I’m in the best shape I have ever been in as an athlete.”
Not only is Kendle in good shape and not only has he worked on his shooting skills, taking 400 to 500 shots a day in the offseason, but he still plays with extra motivation. It is motivation that stems from recruiters overlooking him while he was in high school and in junior college.
“It has always sparked a competitive fire in me,” Kendle said. “It has pushed me to work hard and to prove people wrong.”
Kendle has certainly accomplished his goal, but there have been moments where life has thrown some vicious punches.
His mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer while his dad suffered two heart attacks. The toughest thing for Kendle was dealing that adversity while trying to play basketball for the Knights.
In no way was that an easy thing to do.
“You want to do something more for them because they are your parents, but it’s tough to help as much when you are at school,” Kendle said. “It was tough on me. It was hard to focus on everything else when I knew my parents were dealing with so much. It taught me a lot about life.”
Fast forward to a March afternoon in the MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield, Mass. Kendle is in a sea of fans as music blares over the speakers, celebrating a national championship with his teammates.
A long, hard journey is complete, and for Kendle the moment is something he will cherish forever. He knows what it’s like to get back up when life kicked him down, and to be able to achieve something most players only dream about has made the journey all worthwhile.
“Our team unity is so strong and to be able to win a national championship with that group was awesome,” Kendle said. “We had a great run and we want to do it again this year.”
It won’t be easy, but no matter what happens from here on out, Kendle is pleased with how life has been lately.
“My mom is cancer free, my dad is doing a lot better and I won a national championship last season,” Kendle said. “Things are so much different than they used to be. It feels good to be where I am today.”