Kenny Dennard: Playing on the Jagged Edge

Kenny Dennard

Kenny Dennard

Contrary to what some think, Kenny Dennard was not born in King, North Carolina. He was born in bustling Winston Salem, home of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. His favorite team growing up was Wake Forest; he even attended Wake Forest’s basketball camp. At age 13, he and his family moved to King, North Carolina, and Dennard began hearing more about other ACC teams. He starred in basketball at South Stokes High School in Walnut Cove. And just like in the movies, he later married his high school sweetheart. Duke wasn’t recruiting much in Carolina but CoachFoster heard about this 6’7”, 200 lb. forward and he liked what he heard. But the idea that Dennard showed up on the Duke campus, a shy stuttering country boy from the sticks is clearly not true. And he never had any problem with self-esteem.

Dennard wasn’t smooth as silk on the court. He was more like a rhino in a house of glass. He played his heart out every minute, whether in scrimmages or in games. The guy took charges like a robot, he dove for loose balls, he high jumped guards, he snatched rebounds, hounded the best shooters, and was not afraid to throw a well-placed elbow. In fact, Dennard fouled out 25 times at Duke and is tied for first with Willie Hodge, another guy who played for Foster. He was so crazy on the court, that his teammates nicknamed him ‘Crash.’

Dennard’s numbers at Duke are not eye-popping.  His career stats are 9.0 points per game, 2.1 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 58% free throws, 51% field goals, and 1.6 steals.

But in spite of his shortcomings, Dennard was a starter at Duke from his first game as a freshman. In fact, he started in almost every game he played at Duke. How do you figure?  The only answer, in my opinion, is that he brought such positive intangibles to the game that the coach could not help but start him.  Gene Banks, Kenny Dennard, and Mike Gminski very soon became known as the ‘Duke Power Company’ because few teams could stand in their way.

Was Dennard nasty or nice?  That issue could probably be very hotly debated, depending on who you asked. Off the court, he could be the friendliest, most gregarious kid in the world. Once, barely one hour before Dennard was to play in the NCAA finals, he showed up among Arkansas Razorback fans, with grins and compliments all-round. He then appeared in the Duke locker room wearing a Razorback hog head.  Off court, Dennard could be seen laughing it up with his chief Tar Heels rival, Mike O’Koren. But when his team went center court, Dennard suddenly transformed into an evil Grinch, a live steam roller, Godzilla’s first cousin. He has said that he hated the teams he played against and yearned, not only to defeat them, but to utterly demolish them. Did he say that for the cameras? No, he really had what coaches like to blandly call the ‘killer instinct.’

When the boy enrolled at Duke, a Carolina reporter who obviously had no clue about Dennard, the Destroyer, bet another journalist $100 that Dennard would not score 100 points in his college career. He could not have been more wrong. Kenny would end up with 1057 points at Duke.

Dennard boasts that he scored the very first reverse dunk ever filmed on TV in a landmark win against Villanova. And don’t ask him to describe his February, 1981 last second pass to Gene Banks to tie UNC and force overtime. He will be forced to demonstrate his humility once again by giving you his 25-minute version of the pass.

Every time he walked onto the court, ‘Crash’ pulled out all the stops, laid his body on the line, and played each game as if it was his last. In the end, observers had to admit, this guy played with the guts and abandon rarely witnessed in competitive sports.

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