Kennedy Umeh is sitting in the driver’s seat of one of the world’s fastest and shiniest race cars. It can take her anywhere she wants to go. The only problem is she’s not allowed to touch the gas pedal -- at least not for just a little bit longer.
“This is mind numbing. I don’t know how much longer I can take this,” said Umeh, a 6-foot-3 junior post player at McDonogh School, who is ranked 27 in the Class of 2024 by ESPNW Hoopgurlz Recruiting.
Ever since the day in early September when Umeh went up for a layup, landed awkwardly and injured her left leg, McDonogh coach Brad Rees and Umeh’s parents have been preaching the fine art of patience. They haven’t been having much luck.
“This was the first injury she’s ever suffered,” Rees said. “The initial reaction was that we were happy it wasn’t an ACL or something serious that might impact the rest of her life. But, once she found that out, she wanted to be back out there right away.”
Naturally, Umeh came back too soon and that only aggravated the injury by colliding with a teammate and winding up with a bone bruise. The only prescription doctors saw fit for recovery was rest and lots of it.
“It wasn’t like she was on crutches or immobile,” Reese said. “So, it was very hard to convince her to just slow it down for a little bit.”
Sitting still doesn’t come naturally to Umeh, whether it’s on the basketball court or in the classroom. Let’s start with the basketball side.
Remember that part about Umeh being in the driver’s seat?
She literally is. More than 50 colleges, including all the big-time programs have shown interest and she has received offers from the likes of Maryland, North Carolina, Michigan, South Carolina, Notre Dame, Louisville, Penn, Northwestern, Marquette, Harvard, Penn State, Boston College, Georgetown, Columbia and Virginia among others. UConn, Duke and Stanford also have shown interest.
Even though, she still has two full high school seasons left, Umeh has put herself on everyone’s radar with her play.
“I thought Kennedy did a really nice job for the Under-17 USA team this past July,” All-Star Girls Reporter Basketball’s Director of Scouting Nate Altenhofen said. “She finishes around the rim on offense and plays aggressively on defense. That type of two-way player will be in high demand.”
Umeh said she spent the summer trying to improve on and be more consistent with her inside moves.
“I want to be known as ‘The Finisher,’” Umeh said.
“The Finisher” plans to begin cutting down her list of potential colleges soon. That’s fitting because the time frame for Umeh’s return to the court is narrowing rapidly. In recent weeks, she has done some light shooting and light running. At the moment, the plan is for Umeh to begin full practice Dec. 6 and make her season debut when McDonogh makes a swing through Florida in mid-December.
She’ll miss three games – all important games, but Rees said it was a no-brainer because the Eagles would rather have a healthy Umeh for the long haul. If they want to be one of the top teams in DMV and maybe even the nation, they need Umeh at the top of her game.
If she is, the chances of McDonogh being a powerhouse are excellent. Umeh will join senior guard Paris Locke, who has committed to North Carolina A&T University, to form the nucleus of a team that will be looking to repeat as the Interscholastic Athletic Assocation of Maryland (IAAM) A Conference champion.
Last season, the Eagles ended a five-year streak of championships by their biggest rival, Baltimore’s St. Frances Academy.
One thing you need to know about Umeh is that she’s upbeat and exuberant when she speaks. At the same time, she also firmly believes what she says. Just ask her if she thinks the Eagles can top what they did last year.
“Absolutely, I think we can and will be better,” Umeh said. “We’re going to be a really good team. Our team chemistry is excellent. We all like each other. We’re willing to take criticism and learn from it. If we can continue on the trajectory we’re on and work like we have been, anything is possible.”
Now, let’s move on to what Umeh does in the classroom because it’s equally impressive. She had a 4.3 weighted grade-point average last year and Umeh said she is on course for a similar number this year.
Now, go back and take a look at the list of colleges that are chasing her. Not every top player is cut out for the Ivy League, but Penn, Harvard and Columbia believe Umeh is. It’s the same with programs such as Georgetown, Notre Dame and Virginia that are known as much for their academics as well as their athletics.
Right now, Umeh is getting a little break on the basketball side. But she’ll be back playing at an elite level in just a few weeks. So, how does Umeh balance basketball and academics? Oh, and throw in all the time that is taken up with considering colleges and all that comes with it.
“I have a very give-and-take schedule,” Umeh said. “Some days, I come home and sleep and get up early in the morning and do my homework then. Other days, I do my homework as soon I get home and go to sleep later. Academics are a big part of my life,. I’m up for that that challenge in college.”
That much is evident. Remember, with Umeh, the engine always is running at top speed. Whether it’s basketball or academics, she’s a force that can’t be stopped. Take what happened when she and Rees went for a ride on a recent day.
“We had a practice at 6:30 a.m.,” Rees said. “I picked her up at 5:30 at her house. On the 25-minute drive, all I heard was a non-stop recital of everything she studied for her U.S. history exam that day.”