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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Late signee Elijah Kennedy’s road to Florida

After overcoming serious injury and a lack of college offers, Elijah Kennedy found a home with the Gators just months before the 2021-22 season

Elijah Kennedy plays a high school game for Green Run. Kennedy committed to the Gators on Aug. 2, two years after a severe leg injury.
Elijah Kennedy plays a high school game for Green Run. Kennedy committed to the Gators on Aug. 2, two years after a severe leg injury.

Adversity is nothing new to Elijah Kennedy. Two years ago, his leg was immobilized, and many would have given up on the game of basketball. Without his grit, the payoff would have never been so sweet. 

Kennedy announced his commitment to the University of Florida over Twitter on Aug. 2 after receiving an offer from the school on July 18. 

The Virginia Beach, Virginia, native played high school basketball for the Green Run Stallions— the team he grew up with. As a kid, he was often found dribbling a ball on the sidelines of Stallion’s games, dreaming of his chance to be out on the court. 

“He was born a Stallion,” Green Run’s head basketball coach Kenneth Harris said. “When I was coaching in my early age, there would be this little short kid with a lot of hair shooting around.”

Kennedy called it a surreal experience when he and his best friend, Jacob Cooper, finally got the chance to play for the school they looked up to their entire lives. 

Kennedy was on the junior varsity team his freshman year at Green Run before he came off the bench for the varsity squad the following season. 

“We felt he was ready to go,” Harris said. “He wanted to come off the bench and learn his role and learn our system.” 

It was during his sophomore year that Kennedy’s future in basketball came into question. 

On Feb. 23, 2019, Green Run was playing in the Class 5 Region A semifinals. Kennedy attempted a layup, nothing he hadn’t done before. This time, though, he slipped. Kennedy suffered an injury to his tibial tuberosity, the bump on the top of the tibia where the patellar tendon connects.

The injury left Kennedy in a straight-leg cast for three months followed by nine months of physical therapy. The already year-long recovery process could have taken longer, but Kennedy opted to attend physical therapy five days a week as opposed to three. 

“I hate being on the sideline watching people play,” Kennedy said. “I just dedicated all my time to getting back.”

Harris credits the pain and struggle of recovery for molding Kennedy into the mentally tough player he is today.  

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Once Kennedy was finally able to move around a little bit, all he would do is shoot. 

“He already had good bounce, good athleticism,” Harris said. “But he was able to add his shot in after the injury.”

In his first season back from injury, Kennedy would splash in 55 3-pointers in 27 games. He would later go on to set a new Green Run school record with nine 3-pointers in a single game his senior year.

Kennedy averaged 22.0 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 3.1 steals per game in his final season at Green Run. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard was named the 2021 Virginia High School Coaches Association Class 5 Player of the Year. 

Despite the accolades and his impressive senior year, Kennedy still wasn’t fielding the college offers he was hoping for. His dream of collegiate basketball and his future on the line, he turned his attention to Combine Academy — a boarding school and professional sports performance center located in Lincolnton, North Carolina. 

He committed to attending Combine on April 19, 2021, hoping to improve his game and attract DI offers. 

Kennedy also competed on the EYBL (Elite Youth Basketball League) summer circuit along with many other players looking to make more of a name for themselves. The highlight of his summer was playing at the prestigious Nike’s Peach Jam. These events expedited the process he expected to happen at Combine.  

“When he was able to play at the Peach Jam and continued to play EYBL, Florida continued following him,” Harris said. “That’s when they pulled the trigger.”

All of Kennedy’s plans quickly changed with a single phone call from Florida’s head basketball coach Mike White. White offered him a scholarship and encouraged the guard to come to Gainesville for this upcoming season. 

“I was pacing back and forth. It was a lot,” Kennedy said. “I was so focused on Combine. I talked to my mom just trying to calm me down, because that was really overwhelming to hear that news.” 

His D1 breakthrough finally upon him, Kennedy also received interest from Texas A&M University and Virginia Commonwealth University.

Kennedy visited UF before he accepted the scholarship and immediately took to what Florida had to offer. 

“The facilities were beautiful, the campus was beautiful,” Kennedy said. “I don’t know about the weather though. The weather is kind of outrageous, but I’ll get used to it.” 

Kennedy also took a trip to Florida forward Keyonte Johnson’s apartment where he, Johnson and guard Tyree Appleby hung out together and played games. 

“That was just a bonus for real. I already knew what I wanted to do. I didn’t really tell nobody at that point,” Kennedy said.  

Now the secret's out —  Kennedy is a Gator. He plans on moving to Gainesville Aug. 15 and starting classes when the fall semester begins Aug. 23. 

According to Harris, Florida is the biggest basketball program a Green Run alum has ever gone to.

“With the support of Keyonte from the 757 (area code) and the Florida staff, I feel that they are gonna put him in the right direction to become a major impact for that program,” Harris said. 

Kennedy joins Johnson in upholding the 757 legacy at Florida which notably includes Vernon Macklin (2009-11) and Dorian Finney-Smith (2013-16). 

Even at just 17 years old, Kennedy is prepared for the challenges set to come his way at the collegiate level. 

“I’m just ready to play, get out on the court and produce. Give it all I got,” Kennedy said. 

He gets his first chance to suit up in the orange and blue when Florida’s season kicks off Nov. 9 against Elon University. 

Contact Joseph Henry at jhenry@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @Josephhenry2424.

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Joseph Henry

Joseph Henry is a fourth-year sports journalism major and is the Alligator's sports editor. He previously worked as senior news director, assistant sports editor, men's basketball beat reporter, volleyball beat reporter and golf beat reporter. He enjoys sitting down to watch a movie as often as possible, collecting vinyl and drinking Dr. Pepper. 


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