As a teenager, Bendigo Braves import Jeremy Kendle had every reason to give up basketball.
At high school in Jeffersonville, Indiana, he was told he wasn’t good enough to make the varsity basketball team.
In college, he played two games of basketball in three years because of injuries to his feet and was told by doctors he may never play the game he loves again.
At the same time he was watching his mother battle ovarian cancer.
“It all happened for a reason. It made my character stronger. Having that perseverance in you is a key to life in my opinion,’’ Kendle said this week.
Kendle has made a huge impression on and off the court since arriving in Bendigo three months ago.
The shooting guard is one of the best imports in the SEABL and has already been chased heavily by NBL clubs.
However, if Kendle’s high school varsity coach had his way, the sweet shooting guard would have been lost to basketball.
“My sophomore year at high school I was probably five-foot seven inches tall and 140 pounds. I looked like a 12-year-old,’’ Kendle said.
“There were probably kids in band and on the chess team that were better athletes than me. Physically, I was behind the other kids.
“The head coach on the senior varsity team wanted to cut me, but the junior varsity coach knew my Dad and they had a mutual respect. He kept me on the team and I rode the bench for the whole season.
“The next year I hit a six-inch growth spurt, I worked really hard physically and everything came together. I started on the varsity team. Eight months earlier I’d been told I’d never play varsity basketball.”
Kendle’s high school career led to the opportunity to play at Olney Central Community College.
His basketball world came crashing down when he broke the navicular bone in his left foot. Multiple surgeries and complications saw him play just two games in three years at Olney Central.
“After my left foot healed I went back to junior college and the first day of practice I broke my right foot,’’ Kendle said.
“After three months out I came back and I broke my right foot again in two different places.”
A less driven athlete would have pulled the pin on his basketball career. Kendle had other ideas.
“I completely changed my diet, went through a vigorous therapy program and worked really hard,’’ he said.
“I came back again and that’s when I was given the chance to go try-out at Bellarmine University. I was meant to be a walk-on at University of Southern Indiana, which is a rival school of Bellarmine.
“I played well in the trial at Bellarmine and a few days later I was given a full scholarship. It’s crazy how things work out.”
Bellarmine was only a 20 minute drive from his family home which allowed him to spend time with his ill mother and gave his family the chance to watch him regularly.
Through all the ups and downs of his high school and college career, Kendle’s belief in himself never wavered and he found an outlet that he previously never imagined possible – religion.
“I didn’t grow up in church or with a religious background,’’ Kendle said.
“My parents didn’t say grace before meals. I love them to death, I couldn’t ask for better parents, but growing up I didn’t have a relationship with God.
“The pain and suffering through my injuries led me to search for what was out there.
“I began to read the bible and I started to go to a church behind my house at home.
“Culmination of everything got me to the point where I am now. My faith is what sustains me.
“I’m human and I make mistakes all the time, but I know that Jesus paid the ultimate price for my sins and mistakes.
“Ultimately, that’s where my identity is. People try to identify me as a basketballer, but basketball is not going to last forever. I’d like to hope that through basketball I can share something that’s going to last forever.”
Kendle played three seasons at Bellarmine, became the only player in school history to be named an All-American at NCAA Division II level two years in a row and helped the Knights to win their first national championship.
He’s spent the past four years playing basketball professionally in Morocco, Switzerland and Australia.
While he still has dreams of playing in the NBA, Kendle won’t judge his life on what he achieves on the court.
“People define success differently. Most people see success as what money you make or what car you drive or how popular you are,’’ he said.
“I don’t define success that way. I look at success as what are you doing with the gifts and talents you’ve been blessed with? How hard are you working? Ultimately, how much are you making the people around you better?”
Right now, Kendle is making the Bendigo Braves better.
They’re on top of the SEABL east conference ladder with a 7-2 record.
This weekend the Braves play the Melbourne Tigers in Melbourne on Saturday night before facing the Dandenong Rangers on Sunday at Bendigo Stadium at 2pm.