Photo by James Parrish
No one on the state-tournament-bound North Platte High School boys' basketball team enjoyed practice last week more than Jack Kenny.Kenney said that it's great, not only that he will get to play at state for the first time in his career, but he got another week to be with his teammates after NPHS entered the state tournament as a wild card.
"It's awesome to get new life," said Kenny. "I am thankful to be around my teammates again."
North Platte (16-7) is the No. 7 team in the state tournament. The Bulldogs will challenge No. 2 seed Omaha South (23-3) at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Sports Center.
But the Bulldogs almost didn't get that berth, or the extra week of practice in preparation -- and a lot of the blame would have rested on Kenny's shoulders.
In the district semifinals against Papillion-LaVista South on Feb. 23, with 2.8 seconds left and North Platte down by one, Kenny was fouled on a drive to the basket. The officials ruled that the foul did not come in the act of shooting. Because of that, Kenny received a one-and-one.
On the first free throw attempt, Kenny's attempt fell short and Papillion South rebounded. The Titans made the next two free throws with less than a second left to ice the upset of the Dawgs on their home floor.
Kenny said that it certainly wasn't an enviable position.
"It was like a nightmare," he said. "I felt like I let my team down. But you have to put it in the past and move on."
After the game, NPHS coach Matt Kaminski said that if it weren't for Kenny, the Bulldogs wouldn't have been in position to win the game in the first place.
As the starting point guard, Kenny has been steady and consistent all season. Not only has the 5-foot-8 senior been masterful in running the offense, but he's been a threat as a deadly outside shooter. He also brings a lot of speed on the fast break, which is no surprise considering his bloodlines.
Between Jack and his six older siblings, the Kenny family has won some 20 letters at in their respective careers. Like Dan, his older brother, Jack is a four-sport athlete. He plays football, basketball and soccer during the school year and a Legion baseball in the summer.
Kenny said it's hard to pick a favorite sport because he dedicates so much time between them. But, he said it would probably be between basketball and soccer.
As a sophomore two years ago, Kenny got limited playing time as the backup to leading scorer Trey Moore. But after Moore transferred to Papillion-LaVista for his senior season, he was thrust into the starting lineup as a junior.
"I had big shoes to fill," remembered Kenny. "Trey's such a great player and I wasn't sure that anyone could replace (all he did for the team)."
Playing his first significant minutes, Kenny fared well. But with only one senior starter in Trevor Schramm, the Dawgs suffered several narrow losses in a season that Kenny refers to as a learning experience.
"It was tough," said Kenny. "I thought we could have played better. But I don't think it was all negative."
As an upside of that 8-14 season, the Bulldogs returned most of its nucleus this season. NPHS got off to a strong start with a big win over Lincoln Southeast in the second week and then the team won the GNAC tournament for the first time in school history.
"It seems like we had all the pieces," Kenny said. "We had great team chemistry and everyone knew their roles."
The Dawgs finished the regular season No. 6 in the wild card standings giving them home court for districts. But after the loss to Papillion South, it looked like Kenny's last memory of his career would be his gaffe at the charity stripe.
North Platte still had a chance at the wild card, however, if all five top seeds won their district titles on Feb. 25.
That night, the players kept track of those games via Twitter. The top four teams -- Omaha Central, Omaha South, Papillion-LaVista and Omaha Benson won their games fairly convincingly.
But the fifth team, Millard West, had a battle on their hands against Omaha Creighton Prep. The game between the Wildcats and the Junior Jays went into overtime, but in the end, Millard West won, handing the wild card to the Bulldogs.
"(After losing in districts) I thought we were done," said Kenny. "But when we got the wild card, the whole team was super-excited. I was just happy to be around my teammates and coaches."
Besides being redeemed somewhat, Kenny is glad that he gets to play one more game.
"It's going to be a great experience," Kenny said. "It will be the last time I get to play with my teammates."