“Tim was probably one of the best players I played with ever. The kid was a phenomenon, he was the embodiment of a professional, why shouldn’t that guy be considered Irish, he was Irish. Those guys raised the bar”. Gareth Maguire
Tim arrived into the Irish team at a time of significant change in 2001. He was part of the key group that finally helped Ireland reach the semi-final round of the European Championships scoring in double figures in all of the qualifying games. Tim also was different than most of the Irish Americans as he enjoyed a very brief spell in the Irish league before going on to bigger and better things (including the Euroleague).
Growing up in California, Tim Kennedy knew that his back story wasn’t like anyone else’s, if he started to explain how his parents met it would almost sound like the start of a bad joke “My dad was born in Belfast and he was the only one (of the family) that came over to America. The only reason he came over was that his buddy was becoming a priest in the LA area so he joined him to be a priest. (While there) he met my mom who was a nun! They fell in love and they were grappling with what to do and they ended up leaving the church and getting married and having a family.” Little did anyone know how important that decision would be for Irish basketball in the future, as Tim grew up in California to become a 6’6 lethal sharpshooter on the basketball court, and exactly the type of scorer Ireland needed.
Kennedy developed into a high school star locally before being recruited to play D1 NCAA basketball at Loyola Marymount in California. While there, the team competed in the West Coast Conference against perennial powerhouse Gonzaga and other well known basketball schools including Santa Clara and St. Marys. Tim was originally recruited by John Olive who had played in the NBA for the San Diego Clippers. Under Olive, Kennedy bloosomed into key guard who averaged 11.3 points a game as a sophomore. Olive, who despite having been named the WCC Coach of the Year in 1996, was relieved of his duties after Kennedy’s sophomore year and Charles Bradley a former NBA first rounder replaced him. Under Bradley, Kennedy’s production took a hit in his junior year as his points dropped to 7.7 a game but he bounced back and finish his career strongly averaging 11.6 in his senior year as he finished with impressive career totals of 946 points, 387 rebounds and 200 assists in 109 career games.
After graduating the opportunity to play professionally was on Tim’s radar but he had no idea that his Irish heritage was such an advantage to him. “I didn’t realise how powerful having the passport was. When I was coming out of college I had a friend who’s dad was an agent and had something in south America lined up and that actually fell through and I was scrambling. So my dad was able to get in touch with some of his relatives and they were able to put me in touch with Star of the Sea in Belfast and I went and played there for almost two months and then I was able to get picked up by a team in Portugal.” It was in Portugal that he linked up with the Portuguese Champions Ovarense and he played with them both domestically and in the Euroleague, a major step up from the Irish league.
During his short Euroleague experience a small footnote in Irish basketball and Euroleague history happened. November 16th 2000, Benetton Basket hosted Ovarense Aerosoles in Italy. There was almost nothing memorable about this Euroleague game in Milan in 2000. Benetton lead by 21 at the half and won the game easily, 106-81. The significance for Ireland though was that it was the first time two Irish internationals went head to head in the Euroleague. Alan Tomidy who had represented Ireland so well in his early twenties, had since retired from the international team, but was now playing at Euroleague level with Benneton alongside the likes of top players including Jorge Garbajosa and Bostjan Nochbar. On this night he scored 15 points and grabbed 8 boards in the win. His opposition on the night included Kennedy who would score 13 for the visitors.
Playing for Ireland
Kennedy’s short time in Ireland with Star of the Sea in Belfast, included living with Gareth Maguire and a bond between the players quickly developed. Maguire and Adrian Fulton alerted the Irish coaches that Kennedy was eligible to play for the National Team and he was more than willing to do it. Like so many of the other players born in America, Tim’s relationship with his dad was a critical factor in wanting to represent the country “My dad loves Ireland, everyone from his family was still over there and we went every four years. I was connected and playing for the country was so special for him he was the proudest father being able to brag that his son played for the Irish national team.”
Tim came into the squad alongside Billy Donlon and Jay Larranaga as Bill Dooley took over as head coach. His Championship debut came in a loss to Switzerland on the road but in the loss he showed what he was capable of scoring 14 points in 37 minutes. For the remainder of that campaign he played an incredible 36 minutes a game and was Ireland’s second leading scorer with 15.8 points a game. The magnitude of playing for Ireland was something that hit home for him from the beginning “The thing that stands out is playing in the Arena and having my dad there and having a lot of our family members there from Ireland. Having them come out to the game, relatives I haven’t met who were younger and how cool it was for them that I’m playing there in an international game. I think that hit home because my dad would never have pictured it because basketball wasn’t a huge thing for him growing up.”
Post Playing Career
Disappointingly for Ireland, Tim’s time with the team ended up being very short as he only played for a two year period. He continued playing at a high level in Portugal and Spain (LEB Gold) until 2005 but then returned home to begin what he thought was the start of a career in the police force. While starting the process to join the police, an opportunity came up to do some high school coaching and quickly Kennedy would find his true calling. He remains a high school coach in California and calls NBA dunk contest winner Aaron Gordon as one of his star alumni. Despite being retired from the professional game for many years Kennedy continued playing in local pro-ams for years after his time in Europe. In 2009 he played alongside Jeremy Lin and even won the co-MVP of the league alongside former New York Knick Landy Fields.
Kennedy was a talented shooter and scorer and Ireland only got a glimpse of what he was capable of. Ireland did get great production from Kennedy but, just like his Euroleague opponent Alan Tomidy years earlier, there was a definite case of wanting more. It’s something that Tim himself wishes too “Looking back at it now, I wished we played more and soaked it up more and realised how special those moments were. When you’re younger you take it for granted.”