HAMILTON, ON – If you had to compare Hamilton Honey Badgers forward Thomas Kennedy to a piece of kitchenware, it would be a sponge. The 20-year-old Windsor Lancer is enjoying a successful first professional season in the CEBL after being selected in the second round of the 2021 U SPORTS Draft.
While he has thrived in the dawn of his career, his focus remains with the Windsor Lancers while soaking up as much knowledge as possible playing in the Canadian summer league.
“I’m trying to soak everything up. Every chance I have to talk to someone, I take that opportunity and gain that knowledge,” said Kennedy. “I’ll make sure to share everything I learn with all my [Windsor] teammates, they look up to me as a leader, so if I can bring that back to them, it’s the best thing I can do.”
When Kennedy walked off the floor following the Lancers OUA playoff loss to the Laurentian Voyageurs in February 2020, he expected his next time on a court to be in the OUA. Instead, 16 months later, he had not played another OUA game and is in the midst of his first pro season with the Honey Badgers.
“Honestly, the biggest challenge was getting back to playing 5v5 after a year without it; you just have to get back into that rhythm of having nine other guys on the court,” Kennedy waxed about his transition to the pro level. “Just playing against bigger guys who are as skilled and intelligent as I am is a big step, but it’s been great.”
The 20-year-old from Windsor had previously brushed shoulders with the Honey Badgers program, training with them in 2019 as a prospective U SPORTS player during the league’s inaugural season. While he did not play a minute in the league, the experience helped him make the eventual adjustment in 2021
“It was a developmental position where I was able to join a training camp, be around pros, pro coaches and staff,” he said to Postmedia after being drafted. “By the end of the year, I had a chance to dress and play 30 seconds in the final game, and it was great to put on the black and gold.”
In 2021, Kennedy is no longer in Hamilton for just the experience. With injuries ravaging the Honey Badgers, the 20-year-old has found himself playing big minutes for the league’s second-place team. “To be honest, I didn’t know how much he [Kennedy] was going to play this season,” said Hamilton Head Coach Ryan Schmidt.
Kennedy scored 11 points in Thursday night’s 99-63 loss to the league-leading Edmonton Stingers, second only on the Badgers to Lindell Widdington, who has arguably been the league’s best player in 2021.
Although the point total proved that Kennedy could score as a young player in a physically demanding pro league, the Lancer knows that losing by 36 points is not what his team needs to do to have a shot at the championship. “It feels good doing that, knowing my teammates have that trust in me,” Kennedy said. “But it doesn’t feel great to do that in a big loss.”
After missing out on an OUA season, the Windsor Lancers have to be happy with what they are seeing from their star forward. “The biggest thing right now is he comes in, and he competes at a high level,” said Schmidt. “He works hard every single day, he’s a willing learner, unselfish, and you see him, just kind of thrown into the fire early on.”
With the Lancers set to play a travel-limited, 16-game season in 2021-22, Kennedy has his sights set on more success with his university team. In 2019-20, he finished third in the OUA for most blocks, at 1.3 per game, something that he has continued to do in the CEBL, sitting sixth on Hamilton in the category.
The Lancer program has not won an OUA championship since 2006-07. Still, it has produced many successful players in the CEBL, most notably 2019 Finals MVP Alex Campbell, who is thriving in his first season with the Fraser Valley Bandits.
“When he [Campbell] was at Windsor, he was my guy,” said Kennedy about Campbell, who played three seasons with the Lancers. “I spent a lot of time with him, workouts and not. The first time he was in Orangeville, I spent a week-long camp with him with the former coach Chris Oliver.”
While Campbell has years of experience under his belt, Kennedy is thriving in his rookie season, soaking up knowledge as a sponge does water.
Campbell’s Bandits and Kennedy’s Honey Badgers have jockeyed for second-place all season, with Fraser Valley sitting undefeated at home with a 5-2 record and Hamilton at 6-2. When the two sides meet on July 23, it will be a reunion of sorts for two of Windsor’s best. “I’m sure when we face each other, we’ll have a time together.”