Every team needs its stars, and every team needs role players — the athletes who put in extra hours at the gym, work tirelessly to craft their skills, exude their passion for what they do and are as energetic on the bench as they are on the court.
Loyola men’s basketball team has that role player, and his name is Cal Kennedy.
If you have attended a game at Gentile Arena to watch the men’s basketball team play, you probably had no trouble singling out Kennedy from the rest of the maroon and gold clad players seated on the pine. He is loud, rambunctious and you better believe he cares just as much as anyone else on the team even though he does not see the same amount of court time.
Kennedy began playing basketball in his backyard in Oak Lawn, Illinois. He joined a club team and then became an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball standout. The lean and lanky high schooler excelled as a member of Brother Rice High School’s varsity team, and following a successful summer playing AAU ball, Kennedy had Division III schools knocking on his door. However, the 6-foot-6 forward caught the attention of Loyola head coach Porter Moser with his dedication to the game.
Moser offered Kennedy a preferred walk-on spot to come to Loyola. Kennedy said being a part of a Division I institution appealed to him.
Kennedy took the walk-on offer and arrived at Loyola’s campus in the fall of 2013, determined to earn his place on a Division I roster.
Senior guard Devon Turk said Kennedy might not see the same amount of playing time as others, but that doesn’t mean he slacks at practice.
“I would see him every day after practice in the gym, just working,” said Turk. “[His work ethic] is inspiring.”
But Kennedy’s inspiring work ethic goes beyond the court. Craig Paulson, a close friend of Kennedy’s since their first year at Loyola, said he believes Kennedy’s work ethic, energy and passion for the sport have molded him into the player and person he is today.
“He was a walk-on, but he’s very humbled about it,” Paulson said. “He always worked hard. He’s very passionate [and] he puts in the hours on and off the court. That [is what] I respect him for.”
When Kennedy started at Loyola, he made the decision with his father and Moser to redshirt. According to Kennedy, the redshirt year allowed him to get adjusted to the pace of the game and become a stronger and more dynamic athlete. He spent extra time in the weight room and at practice, which helped him develop as a player on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Kennedy’s dedication has been noticed by fans, according to Paulson.
“When he goes on the court, the whole student section at Loyola goes crazy because we all know how passionate and how dedicated he is to this sport and to the game,” Paulson said.
There is something different about the way Kennedy composes himself. He is an attention-getter by definition, with home fans chanting his name mercilessly and pleading for Moser to call his number late in the game. People are drawn to his wild and wacky gestures, priceless reactions to highlight reels, goofball sense of humor and energy tank that rivals the Energizer Bunny’s. Yes, Kennedy is different, but he sure isn’t apologizing for it, and you can bet he isn’t changing.
“People always tell me, ‘man you’re so crazy. Why don’t you ever sit down?’” said Kennedy. “I don’t really ever think about it. I’m just being myself, and I’m lucky enough to have a personality that people like and people relate to.”
Kennedy attributes his fervent attitude and optimistic persona to his father, who is equally hardworking and dedicated. His father’s temperament taught Kennedy to be an upstanding, committed man and player, he said.
Loyola men’s basketball team holds a 13-14 overall record and are 6-9 in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Ramblers are scheduled to welcome Wichita State to Gentile Arena on Feb. 24 at 8 p.m.