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The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Kennedy embodies team first leadership skills as walk-on

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(Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

NEW YORK — From playing pickup basketball on his driveway in Mequon with former Marquette head coach Tom Crean’s children to dressing up like his favorite players for Halloween, Michael Kennedy always dreamt of playing on the Marquette basketball team.

“Both of my parents went to Marquette and they always took me to the games,” Michael said. “I’ve been a Marquette fan pretty much my whole life.”

When his mother looks back on Kennedy’s time at Homestead High School, she realized she was watching him play the same role his first year that he would play at Marquette.

“As a freshman, he was on the varsity team and he didn’t play as much so he knew his role was to be the cheerleader,” Wendy said. “Even when he started to play more he would still be energetic. So when he figured out that would be his role on Marquette, he knew he would fit right in.”

From his first practice in 2019, Kennedy said he learned a walk-on’s first priority: bettering the scholarship players, not themselves.

“The role of a walk-on is to get the guys who are scoring all the points and getting all the rebounds better whether that be on the court or in the weight room,” Michael said. “We will run the opposing team’s plays in practice to get them as prepared as possible while also giving them the energy to work hard.”

Director of program development, Tyler McDevitt said one of the primary ways a walk-on can contribute to a team is through the enthusiasm they bring.

“Walk-ons energizing the team is by far 1A, the most important thing every single day,” McDevitt said. “The walk-ons are able to be an extension of the coaching staff. Especially when they can bring that same energy, are composed and supportive. It’s so impactful when there are five or six other people on the bench that you know are in your corner besides just the coaches.”

Outside of providing energy sophomore walk-on RJ Walson said that Kennedy has always been a leader for him and the others.

“Mike is like a big brother to me, I really look up to him,” Walson said. “Everything in myself always looks up to Michael to see what he and the rest of the walk-ons should do to further their own paths that they’re making.”

Michael said he has been able to grow into this mentor role as a walk-on, but at the same time, he has realized how much of his life it has consumed.

“It’s hard because it’s a big time commitment. Sometimes I miss out on things I would want to be at but can’t because I have the commitment with basketball,” Michael said. “Going into this, I knew I wasn’t going to be the one out on the court getting points and I accepted the dedication along with it. That was all right with me. It’s been such a huge part of my life, but it’s been a great experience.”

Former Marquette walk-on Brendan Carney said Kennedy showed nothing but commitment to the program during their time together in it.

 

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A post shared by Michael Kennedy (@mkennedy2_)

“There’s been a lot of program changes that the team has had to go through and so many people have left. He could have easily done so too, yet he’s still there, which is a huge testament to his commitment,” Carney said.

McDevitt said that during the transition between coaching staff’s in 2021, Shaka Smart brought a very different style than Steve Wojciechowski’s.

Despite this, McDevitt said Kennedy was one of the first to buy into Smart’s vision which he said helped all of the other walk-ons adopt it as well.

“From day one he bought into the coach as soon as Smart got here,” McDevitt said. “He was committed to the team, the statement and the culture that they were building. He spearheaded getting all the walk-ons on board and taking care of business on their side.”

Sophomore guard Kam Jones said that the team wouldn’t be where it is without the walk-ons.

“Seeing that the walk-ons want to win and that they’re on our side instills confidence in us. They mean a lot to us and the program and they’re a great contribution of energy,” Jones said.

McDevitt said that the effort the walk-ons bring in practice carries over to scholarship players wanting to improve on their skillset.

He recounts many times that Kennedy has given junior forward Oso Ighodaro a bloody noise in practice because of his physicality. McDevitt said this is just one of the reasons why Kennedy and the other walk-ons are held to the same standards as scholarship players.

“Coach Smart will hold the walk-ons just as accountable as he would Tyler Kolek,” McDevitt said. “If they’re failing in any facet of the sport, they’re going to hear about it. Though, he’s also going to have the same relationships with them as he would with the scholarship players which is one of the most vital things to uplift them. The coaching staff wants them to know that they’re a part of this and not just dummy players.”

Walson said that walk-ons contribute to points being scored and defensive stops being made during games which brings energy to the whole team.

“During the game on the bench, Mike and I will always be talking to other players court side or emphasizing stuff to those on the court,” Walson said. “We’re communicating things such as kill zones and yelling plays that the other team is going to run that we’ve gone through in practice.”

With his college career winding down, Kennedy said he holds the memories made with those on the team close to him. 

“I have learned to cherish the opportunities that I’ve been given and to really be appreciative of them,” said Kennedy. “So many people never get the opportunity to be a part of a Division I program, especially at Marquette. I’m really thankful for everything that Marquette and the team has given me and I have no doubt I’ll be a Marquette fan until I’m six feet under.”

This story was written by Ben Hanson. He can be reached via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @benhansonMU.

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About the Contributor
Benjamin Hanson, Sports Reporter
Ben Hanson is a sophomore from Minneapolis, Minnesota studying journalism, digital media and advertising. He is a sports reporter and the assistant social media producer for the Marquette Wire for the 2023-2024 school year. When he's not in the newsroom, he likes creative writing, being with friends and going to sporting events. He is excited to be able to spread the word of the Marquette Wire because it has done so much for him while also refining his sports writing.

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