By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Kurt Johnson, Ari Davis & Ravell Call (DeseretNews.com)
It’s not just the fact that she stands 6-foot-3 that makes Kennedy Redding stand out in a crowd. The Bountiful two-sport star has the kind of personality that draws people in despite the fact that she is looking to make your life difficult on the hardwood.
“Kennedy is just a happy-go-lucky person, just a likeable, loveable kid and totally awesome to work with and deal with,” said Bountiful girls basketball coach Joel Burton. “You never know what she’s going to come up with because she is such a jokester about so many things. That’s one of the things you love about her is that in pressure moments, she’ll make you laugh and help the team relax.”
It’s when she’s on the court that her relentless effort makes her a nightmare for opposing teams. She lightens the mood for her own team in those big moments, but when the game is live, she also lightens its load.
“As a player, when things get tight she wants the ball,” Burton said. “Even though she is light-hearted about stuff, she does want the ball and expect to be out there as a big contributor for the team.”
You would think someone who describes herself as having always been tall would have immediately migrated to sports like basketball and volleyball, but it wasn’t until she was in the seventh grade that Redding put aside her various other athletic pursuits. The Reddings are an athletic family, but from the list of activities in which young Kennedy participated, her parents’ biggest challenge may have been shuttling kids to event after event.
“I did soccer, softball, golf, I did ballet, I did modern dance,” Redding said. “I really liked (ballet). I think it kind of helps me actually, but it was really fun. Sixth grade was my last year. It was kind of getting a little crazy with club sports and junior high and I had to choose, so I dropped soccer, I dropped softball and I dropped ballet.”
Perhaps her work on the dance floor in part explains the impressive agility with which Redding plays the two sports left on her dance card – basketball and volleyball.
“She’s just an athlete. She’s fast, she jumps well,” Burton said. “She’s got good hands. Being 6-4’s only a blessing for her, on top of that. I’m glad she’s on our team and we’re not having to find the answers for her.”
At Home in the Paint
While she would like to see herself as a perimeter threat and a ball handler, Redding is a realist, and she has made herself extremely comfortable down in the painted area. Her days as a backcourt star ended before she even arrived at Bountiful High.
“I was always the tallest, but in Junior Jazz I’d bring the ball down, but once I got in junior high I was always the four and sometimes the five,” Redding said. “I’ve always thought it would be cool to be a point guard, but that’s really not in my future. My coaches are good with it, when I get a three, they let me take it, and if I get a rebound I can bring it up the court on a fast break. They really don’t put restrictions on me. I can still dribble and shoot the threes if I want to.”
Burton agrees that his center’s range extends beyond the arc.
“Honestly, when she’s out on the 3-point line, if they don’t guard her, I’ll let her shoot it,” Burton said. “She’s got that kind of touch.”
That shooting ability can come in handy, but where Redding is most valuable is down around the basket. She averages a double-double and is a rebounding machine. Her 6-foot-3 height helps in that regard, but she believes that rebounding is about attitude.
“Someone told me a while ago that rebounds come from the heart and so I really try to take that and every ball that goes up and try to go get it,” Redding said.
Her coach believes that what sets Redding apart is not necessarily her height, but the work ethic that she brings to the gym every day.
“She’s spent a lot of time working on her game,” Burton said. “She spent a lot of time with Natalie Williams who was her summer coach this past year. She’s got a dad that’s coached basketball and can help her out along with anything we can do. She really wants to learn and get better skill-wise, technique-wise. It’s not just that ‘I’m 6-4 and I’m taller than everybody else.’ She works hard on her technique.”
As talented as she is at both basketball and volleyball, Redding has no desire to play both at the next level, at least not now. That means the junior has a difficult decision to make in the not-too-distant future, and just as she did in the seventh grade, she will once again simplify, this time to just one sport.
“The truth is I like them both,” Redding said. “When I play volleyball, I love volleyball and when I play basketball, I love basketball, so they’re equal. It’s kind of hard when I’m trying to pick one (for college), but I want to stick with just one. I kind of want to choose and then focus everything on that sport.”
The Title Chase
For now, however, she and her teammates are focused on just one thing. The Braves have lost in the state quarterfinals the past two years, but this year’s team went into its final regular-season game having yet to taste defeat. They have state title aspirations.
“We knew with the group of kids we had coming in as sophomores a year ago that we had one of those stellar classes coming in and that we’d be able to go compete and do pretty well with this group,” Burton said. “It’s been a process and a lot of hard work has gone into this last seven years to get us where we’re at.”
Both Redding and Burton feel that the unity on this team is one of the biggest keys to its success.
“The word ‘Team’ is the biggest thing,” Burton said. “It’s a group of kids that really get along very well and they enjoy being around each other. When practice is done, they’re still hanging out with each other and doing everything together. Even though we have a couple of kids whose names stick out more, it really is a team. Even Kennedy doesn’t want to draw all the attention because she loves being with this group of girls. They have so much fun together, competing together.”
Part of that comes from years of playing together and getting to know how their talents mesh.
“We’ve always all gotten along and we’ve kind of all played growing up together, so being able to know each other’s tendencies and really our team chemistry is really what’s made us so strong,” Redding said.
It also helps when you have the kind of talent this team has. Redding is always a difficult match-up for any opponent, but this is a team loaded with other weapons as well, beginning with point guard Amy Chidester.
“I honestly think (Amy) is the heart and soul of our team,” Burton said. “She’s only a junior also, and she’s really grown the last couple of years to where we function so much better when she’s on the floor. She has that ‘know-how’ and the desire to say we’re not going to lose. I’m going to take this game over and we’re not going to lose.”
Freshman Jaimee Stahle is another player to whom Burton looks to provide a certain tenacity in addition to a high talent level.
“I would liked to have had her in years past even though she’s only in ninth grade,” Burton said. “She has great ability and loves to go compete. We have a hard time keeping her backed off to keep her body healthy because she loves to be on the floor so much. She just loves to go compete and she’s become one of our core players.”
The player who is most often overlooked, at opponents’ peril, is Bountiful’s other post player, Lovely Tukuafu.
“She’s one of the strongest girls I’ve ever coached,” Burton said. “She’ll just bully them down low. She’s the exact opposite of Kennedy in that.”
While the Braves have enjoyed some large margins of victory this season, it’s in those few close contests that they find their greatest source of strength.
“Those close games that we’ve pulled through have been some of the greatest learning experiences we’ve had,” Redding said. “To have that confidence that when it comes down to tight moments, we can do it and we can come through. I think that’s been huge this season.”