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Canada basketball
Holly MacKenzie

Thomas Kennedy is Canadian through and through

Thomas Kennedy’s fourth CEBL season is officially underway. The 2023 U SPORTS Player of the Year is suiting up for the Scarborough Shooting stars this summer — an opportunity he’s certainly excited for.

“This will be my fourth year, so I have been a part of it since the beginning,” Kennedy said an interview before the season began. “Each year I've had an amazing experience and I don't expect this one to be any less.”

Though this is just the second season in the league for the Shooting Stars, after reaching the championship game last season, before falling to the Brampton Honey Badgers, Scarborough has high hopes of being the last team standing this year. Kennedy is aiming to help them in their quest.

“They're welcoming me into their second year, they welcomed me as a new piece and a new addition and I’m just trying to help and impact winning in any way I can,” Kennedy said. “Playing with this talent so far has been really awesome and the conversations that we're having, we expect nothing less than a championship this year. They want to make that final push.”

The 22-year-old enters his fourth CEBL season after closing out a spectacular university career where he played four years with the Windsor Lancers. In his first three years with the program, Kennedy captured Rookie of the Year, Super Sophomore and Team MVP awards. In his senior season, he was an OUA MVP, and OUA First-Team All-Star, and he was awarded the Olympic Shield as the University of Windsor’s Male Athlete of the Year. 

After averaging 20.3 points and 13.8 rebounds per game this season, Kennedy’s run culminated in being named the winner of the Mike Moser Memorial Trophy, which goes to the most valuable player in U SPORTS men’s basketball. 

On the CEBL side, Kennedy was named the 2022 CEBL U SPORTS Player of the Year after averaging 14.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game with the Bandits last summer. Despite a haul of individual accolades, Kennedy would rather talk about the teammates and coaching staff he has had around him.

“With every individual award, they're not achieved without support around you,” Kennedy said. “Last year I had an amazing experience in Fraser Valley [with the now-Vancouver Bandits], where I had a wonderful coaching staff and teammates who believed in me and believed in my playing style. In many other situations I've been in, I've also been blessed with always having those people around me to support me and let me be me.”

Kennedy credits Lancers head coach Chris Cheng with giving him the trust and freedom to expand his game over his career at the University of Windsor.

“I make a lot of decisions on the floor and when he gives me the full reign and the trust in a lot of situations, it was definitely empowering,” he said. “It allowed me to be the player that I am. I learned a lot from it. I was really happy being coached by him for the past four years. And now it's a relationship that will last for a long time off the court as well. 

Though individual awards are not what drives Kennedy, he admits that being named the Mike Moser Memorial Trophy award winner was a special moment for him and his family.

“I was honoured to get it because I'm the first person, not only in our university’s history, but my city's history [to receive the honour],” he said.

Kennedy has worn his share of jerseys over the years, but regardless of what the front of the jerseys says, he is always representing Windsor. The self-proclaimed mama’s boy is extremely close with both of his parents, choosing to follow in his father’s footsteps in attending the University of Windsor. In the final home game of his playing career for the Lancers, Kennedy broke the school’s scoring record, previously set by father James.

“Windsor's per capita for producing high-level athletes has to be one of the best in the country,” Kennedy said. “We are a smaller town. I know we're a small town, but we've produced NFL athletes, Major League Baseball athletes, Olympians, NBA players. It’s pretty incredible, the hotbed for athletics that was there.”

With two older siblings that have played basketball ever since he can remember, as well as his father who played for the Canadian national team and his mother, Lorraine, who played through high school, the game is a family affair.

The 6-foot-9 forward has represented Canada on the Senior Men’s National Team in the 2022 FIBA Men’s AmeriCup as well as in the FIBA Men’s Basketball World Cup 2023 Americas Qualifiers.

“There's really nothing like it,” he said. “Like, calling it an honour isn't saying enough. I've done it now on a few occasions, and I'm still eager for the next chance to do it. It never becomes less of a feeling to wear Canada across your chest and represent your country at the highest levels and know that the work you're putting in has got you there. It's been amazing every time I've done it. And I'm looking forward to every next time that I do it.”

Kennedy is planning to play overseas professionally, but in the meantime he’s thankful for the opportunity that the CEBL provides for Canadian hoopers to play in the offseason at home in front of friends and family. 

“It's a league that just emphasizes Canadian talent and shows how much talent there is on the come up in Canada,” he said. “It gives so many people the opportunity to, not only as players, but as fans to come out and see it.”

Kennedy also likes to pass along what he’s learned to the next generation. It should come as little surprise that he is passionate about giving back to the youth in Windsor, again following in his father’s footsteps.

“The biggest shoutout is to my program in Windsor, which my dad is now the president of, Riverside Basketball,” Kennedy said. “That's where I really, I guess, fell in love with the game and now I get the opportunity to coach within the program.

“I get to help my dad out,” he continued. “Help the young kids develop skills and some fundamentals, and it's always fun to imagine that I was one of those kids in the same program.”

After experiencing so much individual success in his young career, Kennedy’s focus remains on the work.

“It doesn't it doesn't happen overnight,” he said. “There's this opportunity that we all have to go to work every day and achieve the goals that we set for ourselves and become not just the best player, but the best person for each other. I know I'm putting that work in every day and I hope whoever is coming up next helps to take that next step forward for Canada basketball [by] doing the same.”

When it comes to basketball in Canada, whether it’s U SPORTS, CEBL or Team Canada, Kennedy is committed to improving the path for those following his own.

“What I've taken away the most is always the connections,” he said. “It's all about the people within the program. I've been guided by those before me and I'm on to the next. It’s a continuous cycle of guidance and making sure the next is always better.”