Kennedy Leonard has smashed all kinds of WBBL records and made history for London Lions this season. This is her story, in her own words..
December 14th will forever be etched in my memory. The call that COVID-19, which had already taken so much, had now taken my grandma. It still doesn’t feel real, and more than anything, especially these days leading up to the final, I find myself wishing she was still here.
What I would give to be able to have her in the stands, or even call her and tell her that us, the London Lions, the team that went 0-16 a season ago, is in the final game of the WBBL Championship.
Man, she would be so happy. But COVID-19 took that opportunity away. COVID-19 really has taken and changed so much in the year and a half it’s been around.
The entire season for starters has been like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Weekly testing, no hanging out outside of workouts, no fans. A lot of the things that make basketball exciting haven’t been allowed; and that takes a lot of adjustment and getting used to. Eight months into the season and we are still trying to navigate it all.
Yet, here we are getting ready to play for a Championship, in the middle of a pandemic.
We have a lot of people to thank for that. And we can even give ourselves a nice pat on the back. We have made it this far despite all the setbacks we have been handed. We are still here, still going, and still fighting for one another. This team, these girls, they have become my family. I will forever be indebted to them. I’m 4,699 miles away from my house but somehow I’m still home. I can thank them for that. I’ll touch more on my girls later.
Now, if you were to have asked me a year ago where I would be right now, my answer wouldn’t have been London. And it definitely wouldn’t have been in the WBBL. But looking back, it was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life and playing career.
I had always known of the league, and of course known that London is an incredible city. But to think about being in a place, and to live and work in a place are two completely different things. With all the unknowns of COVID-19, when Mark Clark reached out to me, there was not a better time to come. This league is much better than I thought it was and much better than I had heard it was.
I think the good thing about it is that the league is only getting better. The increasing media coverage that our league gets, the more people who watch, the more people who can be reached by the game, the better the league continues to get. People can’t follow what they can’t see. Girls can’t be who they can’t see.
So, we gotta keep spreading this game, this league, the players within it, women’s basketball as a whole. The people who make it go. The competition in the league has gotten better and will only continue to get better. It’s on the ups. So, people better be ready for what’s to come.
This is a season I will always remember. When I first chose London everyone kept asking me if I was alright. What my thought process was going to the worst team in the WBBL. To me, that noise didn’t matter because I knew anywhere I chose, I could help to make a difference. And I could bring people along with me on that journey. I wanna thank my family especially for always believing in me and having my back; for always loving me and being there for me.
You learn quickly you can’t do anything alone in this life, and as soon as I arrived in London I knew I’d chosen the right place. You get this feeling in your gut when you know you’re at the right place and surrounded by the right people, and I’ve had that feeling since the day I arrived. I’ve never had this strong of that feeling in my career up to this point. That speaks volumes to me.
Once the season finally started, and we got through our COVID-19 mishaps (sorry team), we were off and running!! No one expected us to be here this year. No one believed in us. No one backed us. But, WE backed US. And through the course of the season us Lions have learned that’s all we need. Us.
We not only made the Trophy Final, but we won it. If you told anyone last year that the London Lions would be in a Trophy Final and win it this year, they would have laughed in your face. Well now, we can laugh in theirs because here we are, Trophy champions.
I managed to pick up Trophy MVP along the way, something that I never saw happening. Still to this day I’m shocked the announcers said my name after MVP that evening. And I want to thank my teammates for that.. for the way they make me look good. For the way they catch my passes. For the way they push me. For the way they trust me. For the way they believe in me. For the way they’ve taken me in. For the way they make me feel like I belong. And for the way they’ve made this home for me.
I wouldn’t be the player I am growing into everyday without them and I don’t thank them enough nor do they get enough credit from everyone else. They have helped me do things this year that no one has ever done in this league before. I’m thankful for the records I’ve set this season. It’s hard to put into words what some of those things mean to me.
It’s funny because growing up everyone always had things to say about how I’d never make it.. and how I’d never be anyone or how basketball wouldn’t ever take me anywhere special. And yet here I am, making it. So I wanna thank them for that. For pushing me harder. I owe you lot this.
At the end of the day, I’d trade the records I’ve broken this year and the end of season awards I’ve won for a win on Sunday. It wouldn’t just solidify the fact we are a good team, it would solidify the fact that we belong. That people better make room for us at the top and stop writing us off.
I never won a Championship in college, and I haven’t won one yet in my professional career. To win one this year, with every obstacle in our way, and despite everything thrown at us, would easily be the best thing I’ve ever accomplished in my career and is probably the same for my teammates.
Even if we don’t win, the experience of Sunday, after this year, would be the icing on our cakes. Like I said, it isn’t about anyone else, we for real ride for one another. And to experience these moments with my teammates is special. These are bonds for life. Bonds beyond basketball.
I’ve chosen London for two more years. We are going to change things here. We are going to change the stigma of British basketball to people from Britain and to people from the rest of the world. WBBL, EuroCup and beyond, we are ready, we are excited, and we are united in this fight and effort to reach new heights in British basketball.
Speaking of British basketball, I’d love to be a part of the National Team squad but because of issues with my naturalisation status, I haven’t had the opportunity to. I am looking forward to the day that I get that opportunity. I hope the rest of the country is too.
Last but not least, to my teammates and coaches, I ride for you guys, and hope you know that:
Nikola: Keep your head up and know we all believe in you. SMILE!! We love it.
Shanice: Clamps. 2 gawd. I’m so proud of you and for you. Not done yet, though.
Kian: Your energy is infectious. Please do not ever lose it. You’re perfect.
Ines: My mini me. Keep that attitude straight and we are straight. Keep laughing.
Nicholle: Shaken Udder for life. But seriously, your shot is water. Shoot!!
Cassie: My shooter. You already know the deal. Automatic bucket. Let’s finish this.
Anna: Never stop shooting. It all starts with you and your positivity!
Valentina: You have grown so much this year. Don’t stop now! And don’t think.
Chantel: Grandma. Believe in you like we believe in you. Keep defying the odds. Silent assassin.
Paige: What a year.. A year of personal and professional growth. A star.
Fatz: Where have you been, dude? Your potential is through the roof. Miss you.
Stephanie: I’m smiling. You have shocked this entire league. Just wait for what’s next!
Mark: What a journey it’s been. To go from the year you had last year, to this year is incredible and speaks to your ability as a coach. You’ve been everywhere, seen everything, and experienced more than a lot of people could ever dream of. You aren’t done yet. And you won’t be for a very long time, trust me! Thank you for taking a chance on me, and taking a chance on us. It’ll pay off. Mark my words.
Dave: My guy. Always picking my brain and me always picking yours. The shot perfecter. I am so thankful for your role on this team and the staff. You have helped my game grow in sneaky ways. And I know you will continue to help me grow as a player and person.
Zach: Your role has been instrumental to our success this year. The film work has been top notch and the commentary in form of your jokes have been ever better. Thank you for giving us your time, and your knowledge.
Well, this is me signing off. What a crazy ride this year has been, and it’s not over yet. I’m eternally grateful! And, I cannot wait to see what this next two years holds. If it is anything like this year, it’ll be EPIC.
Cheers & go Lions. Kennedy.
Watch Kennedy and the Lions in action in Sunday’s WBBL playoffs final, HERE.
Brad has been a writer for Hoopsfix since 2014 and has also had freelance roles at the BBL and with FIBA – working at two Women’s EuroBasket tournaments. Contact: [email protected]