Jermel Kennedy

Kennedy feels at home in Beira and ready for Elite 16 challenge

JERMEL Kennedy wants a return to the Basketball Africa League (BAL). In his quest to achieve this desire, he has returned to Ferroviario da Beira. But before he can even dream of a second BAL appearance, Kennedy and Beira must navigate the Elite 16 Division East tipping-off in Johannesburg, South Africa (21 November – 26 November).

The veteran forward, who played for the Mozambican club in their BAL debut (2022), spent time overseas and in his home country, Canada. He spoke to the Big Tip Off about his return to Beira and the upcoming Elite 16. Kennedy also talked about his experience of the basketball scene in South Africa.

The 34-year-old’s decision to rejoin coach Luis Hernandez’s team results from a strong and positive relationship between the two. Despite having offers from elsewhere, the prospect of playing in the BAL swayed Kennedy’s decision.

The relationship between Kennedy and his Spanish coach begun a few years earlier. Although Kennedy couldn’t recall the exact year, he and Hernandez have stayed connected from around 2019. “We see basketball for the most part through the same lens, so we mesh well,” Kennedy recalled.

Jermel Kennedy in second picture
Jermel Kennedy says his bond with coach Luis Hernandez led him back to Beira. Pictures: The BTO

In their debut season, Beira failed to progress past the group stages, ending with a disappointing 1-4 record. Despite this, Kennedy viewed the experience as a valuable lesson. It taught him and the team the importance of making an impact within the short window that the BAL provides. He acknowledges that the team needs to improve rapidly to compete against other African clubs. Also, they cannot take their time for granted – whether on the court, watching film, or in the weight room. Unlike countries with longer leagues, they must progress quickly.

After that season, Kennedy had various options to consider, including playing in the United Kingdom’s British Basketball League (BBL). However, he ultimately decided to return to Canada to join The Saskatchewan Rattlers for his fourth season in the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL).

Kennedy has previously played in the CEBL during the offseason to stay active and improve, and he felt that playing at home would be a bonus, allowing his family and friends to see him in action. As he explains, “Although I had the option to play in the BBL, which was appealing at the time, it’s always great to have the opportunity to play at home.”

In an impressive Elite 16 Road to BAL performance last year, Beira proved their mettle as a serious contender, finishing second only to the Cape Town Tigers last year. Emboldened by their success, Beira set out to conquer the BAL Season 3 with renewed vigour.

Despite a valiant effort that took them to the playoffs, Beira was unfortunately eliminated by Senegal’s AS Douanes in the quarter-finals. 

 

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Kennedy’s initial visit to Beira left a lasting impression on him. The strong bond he had developed with Coach Hernandez and his team members left a lasting impact. This connection made his decision to return to Southern Africa an easy one.

“The coach approached me about the prospect of coming back, and I knew that my good friend Will Perry was also planning to return. I’ve always enjoyed playing alongside him, and our shared history of winning only made the decision more obvious.”

Kennedy, it seems, has found it easy to settle in with the team. He feels like he has never left Beira.

“I have built strong relationships with all my teammates and it’s as if I’ve seamlessly picked up where I left off,” said Kennedy. “We have great camaraderie. There are a few changes to the team… But I’m excited to see the impact we can make this time around”

Kennedy shared his thoughts on the growth of basketball on the African continent. His views come in light of the expanded BAL Season 4, which will see South Africa host the new Kalahari Conference early next year. He contrasted this with the CEBL, which is also in its early stages of development.

“Despite operating on different continents, both the CEBL and BAL share similar frameworks that have led to solid growth. They offer opportunities to players worldwide, fostering diversity and talent exchange. Innovative marketing, fan engagement, and partnerships contribute to their success,” said Kennedy.

Jermel Kennedy playing in the 2021 Elite 16
Jermel Kennedy says Beira has to improve vastly if they qualify for the BAL.

Kennedy got a taste of the South African basketball culture when he participated in the 2022 Ashraf Lodewyk Memorial tournament alongside Beira teammate Will Perry. From that experience, Kennedy feels teams that will qualify for the Kalahari Conference are in for a treat.

“I think the energy and the passion of the fans in South Africa is underrated,” said the forward. “I think teams will be surprised by the number of fans that will be in attendance and their knowledge of basketball.”

With Kennedy’s versatility, a readiness to take on any role, and a winning mindset, he can make the team tick. The Canadian will be a key piece to Beira’s quest for a third BAL appearance.

* Beira are in Group B in the Elite 16 alongside COSPN (Madagascar) and City Oilers (Uganda), JBC (Zimbabwe). 

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Swiss army knife Kennedy, the sharp point of Beira offence

Beira learnt lessons from loss to Tigers

BASKETBALL runs deep in Jermel Kennedy’s family. The influence of his kin is one of  the main reasons he plays the game.

Community also played its part in providing the fertile ground for the Canada-born player to grow, spread his wings and further his ambition in the sport.

“Growing up, where I am from, basketball is popular. It’s something I enjoy doing. The city of Malton has a huge basketball culture. In a way it propelled me to achieve my dreams,” said Kennedy. “Also, basketball runs in the family. My mom played in high school and my older sister played as well. In fact, my older sister’s influence was what encouraged me to take on the sport. I used to watch her high school games. She was pretty good.”

Second Picture
Jermel Kennedy believes lessons have been learnt from the loss against Tigers Pictures: The Big Tip Off

The 32-year-old forward would go on to chart his own path as he learnt the ropes at Lincoln Alexander Secondary School and refined his game in the American college system. With  a clear foundation laid and a physical growth spurt, the signs were there that he had the potential to be a good player.

“In my second year of high school, I grew taller and realised there was an opportunity there. I was probably one of  the tallest players in my area or team and decently athletic. I was slowly developing, and people recognised that I had certain attributes that translated well,” said Kennedy, who had spells with two junior colleges in the United States before joining Division II college team, Lander Bearcats.

Kennedy says while he enjoyed his time at the South Carolina school, where he also graduated, he was far from the polished player that he is now.

“I liked what Lander offered me. It was perfect for me, a good fit. It was different. Although, in the beginning, I was more like a four or five and did not shoot very well. I was more like a get-out, run and dunk the ball kind of player, but I still had most of the tools I use now although I was more of an inside than outside player,” said Kennedy.

The road to the pro-ranks saw Kennedy return home to the Canadian National Basketball League (NBL). Although he was a high draft pick for the NBL, he did not see himself playing on home turf, as the league was relatively new and painted in a negative light by players who had participated in it.

“I took a year off and played in tournaments or basketball leagues. Anything basketball-related, I immersed myself into. I also wanted to be a part of the NBL draft (in 2013). So, to get there, I went to the combine,” said Kennedy, who landed at the Moncton Miracles. “I ended up getting drafted sixth, but I had no intention of playing in the NBL. Some friends and players did not have good experiences playing in it. The league was new at the time, so how they handled players was not professional. I used my high draft value as a way of marketing myself and leveraging a move overseas.”

In addition to realising his dream of playing abroad, Kennedy has also been a bit of a journeyman. Spain (CB Clavijo Logrono), Britain (Worcester Wolves), Portugal (ADO Basquetbol SAD Overanse), Canada (Guelph Nighthawks and Hamilton Honeybadgers), Argentina (Ferrocarril Oeste) and France (AS Kaysersberg, Besancon BCD and Toulouse Basket Club) have all been home to the Canadian player.

 

 

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Mozambican club Ferroviario Da Beira, is where he now earns his keep. The Beira-based club is on a mission to qualify for the Basketball Africa League (BAL) and was in South Africa three weeks ago, where they successfully progressed to the Elite 16.

Beira won their first two games against Matero Magic of Zambia (81-51) and Roche-Bois Warriors of Mauritius (132-36) and crumbled in the final minutes against hosts, Cape Town Tigers (86-85) in a game the Mozambican’s dominated.

Reflecting on the qualifiers, especially in the final game, Kennedy says it was a good thing that they lost the game against the Tigers. In his opinion, it provided Beira with some teachable moments that will come in handy at the Elite 16 in December.

“I would say our biggest plus in that tournament was losing that game. It made us aware of certain things we had not noticed. We are not going to waltz into games and expect to win,” said Kennedy. “We were leading that game, and we were dominating. There were little things that we slept on. Little things like turnovers, not finishing easy plays, getting back on defence and rebounding. There are so many takeaways. It sucks when you have to understand that lesson through a loss. So, the loss provided those lessons.”

Despite the loss, Kennedy’s scoring feats for Beira was the highlight on the court during the regional qualifiers held at the University of Johannesburg Soweto Campus. In the opener against Matero, he dropped 16 points and in the second game against Warriors he again scored 16 points. In the loss to the Tigers, Kennedy did not disappoint as he notched double figures scoring 22 points. The Canadian has so far shown that he has a high basketball IQ in terms of scoring. His stats in the game against Tigers speak to this fact. He was 9/12 in field goals and was 4/5 from behind the arc.

Third Pic
Jermel Kennedy used his high NBL draft to leverage a move overseas.

Kennedy has shown that he is a proven scorer for Beira. He also sees himself as an all-around player and does what the team requires of him.

I am like a Swiss army knife. There are a lot of things I do on the court. I don’t do everything super amazing, but I do everything good. I am like the glue guy, but my role in this team is different. The coach expects me to be more aggressive, rebound, drive in, kick out and create for the team. I try to do that at a high level as much as possible,” concluded Kennedy.

On his experience with his new teammates, Kennedy says the process has been seamless as he has joined a good team with quality players that understand basketball. He feels this group of players will turn it up a level for the club when the Elite 16 tournament begins.

“It’s way easier than people make it out to be. These guys are smart players and easy to play with. Our system is not that difficult, it’s actually quite easy.” said the new Beira recruit. “We are definitely going to turn the intensity up this month as the Elite 16 approaches. Hopefully we are able to resolve the issues we have identified.” 

The Elite 16 will require a different attitude from Beira and Kennedy. There has been introspection, and moving forward, the Mozambican team will have to dot their i’s and cross their t’s, as the road to the BAL tournament will not get any easier. Beira will need Kennedy and his teammates to step up and play consistently at an elite level.

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