When I sat down with Jeremy Kendle at a Kings media day last week, like many Kings fans, I had been pleasantly surprised by the calm and collected American guard, despite being one of his more vocal detractors when he was signed.
The leadership Kendle had brought to the Kings team in his few games since replacing Kevin Lisch was impressive. He wasn’t the flashy, high-scoring import point guard we had been promised, but he seemed like the closest thing to a natural 1 on the team all season. And as Boti Nagy said earlier this week, that was the one thing everyone seemed to agree that the Kings desperately needed.
Kendle was aware of the scrutiny he faced filling in for the talented captain.
“There’s no really replacing a Kevin Lisch. He’s MVP of this league, captain of this team, and he’s a Boomer… There’s no replacing a guy like that.”
Nevertheless, he had hoped to bring what he could anyway, including “playmaking abilities on both ends of the floor and just leadership, as far as setting the tone with being energetic and enthusiastic and positive in practice given the circumstances we’re under as a club.” (Polite euphemism of the century…)
However, as much as Kendle was an improvement on the Kings’ complete lack of point guard, whispers of the imminent signing of an import big and new point guard were already circulating at the time of our interview.
As we now know, the club understandably felt as though they needed a big impact player like Jerome Randle to dig themselves out of the ever-increasing hole they found themselves in. Kendle’s a great guy, but he’s not Randle, and more importantly, he was taking up one of the team’s precious import spots. As a local, he would be a far more attractive prospect – not only to the Kings but to many of the clubs in the league.
I impressed as much upon Kendle in our interview. He had turned down European offers in order to stay here in the hope of snagging an injury replacement spot in the NBL should one come up, he told me, and his wife is a New Zealander.
“I would love to play for the rest of my career here [in the NBL]” said Kendle.
Well, why not follow Kevin Lisch’s lead and naturalise?
“[My wife and agent and I] have talked about it…I’ve talked to other coaches, other people who have taken that road, and it’s just about what the best process would be; who to contact and who to connect with… Hopefully, I can just reach out to the right people and…get it done as quick [sic] as possible. But I think that that’s a ballgame changer for me, definitely, if that was to happen.”
Kendle, a profoundly religious man (“it’s the centre of everything that I do, being a believer”), also has hopes of starting a ministry in Australia called ‘Hoops for Christ’ in order to provide opportunities for kids from tough backgrounds.
Indeed, the softly-spoken guard with the slight Southern accent (the result of playing college basketball in Kentucky, he explains) reminded me of no one as much as Jesse Sanders, still a cult favourite on Kings social media pages despite only playing one season with the Kings back in 2013-14.
The very Christian Sanders showed impressive resilience and humility when he was infamously cut for Sam Young before the Kings approached him, cap-in-hand, mid-season, to replace Charles Carmouche, who many felt should have been the player cut in the first place, and Kendle seems to have the same qualities.
Feeling more than a little guilty about having called Kendle out so publicly, I hopefully asked if the doubters get Jeremy fired up to prove them wrong. “At this point in my life, no.
“Maybe a few years ago, yeah, but I’m at a point where nothing that anybody can say or do to me – their opinions, their beliefs…it doesn’t change my beliefs and convictions in myself as a basketballer. On or off the court.”
And unlike with many sportspeople who seem to say this as some sort of defence or justification, I actually believe him.
Having played with the Brisbane Bullets and now the Sydney Kings, Kendle is unemployed again, so I am hoping that this resilience can serve him well in what is no doubt a disappointing time. As I leave Qudos Bank Arena, I can’t help but hope that Kendle will get another chance in this league, if for no other reason than that he seems like a really nice guy. And banking on an NBL club needing an injury replacement in this day and age is quite a smart bet.
My feeling is that we haven’t seen the last of Jeremy Kendle this season. Moreover, if he manages to naturalise, I think we may see him in a sixth or seventh-man role for many years to come.