Before the Reign: The Shawn Kemp Story - Fox 28: South Bend, Elkhart IN News, Weather, Sports

Before the Reign: The Shawn Kemp Story

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Long before becoming a NBA All-Star, Shawn Kemp was just another kid in Elkhart County who dreamed of becoming a professional basketball player.

"It started in junior high (laughs)," said Kemp. "I mean that in a positive way. I mean we shared these dreams together. We practiced my autograph in 7th and 8th grade, so we had a lot of expectations not just for myself. Not only goals I wanted to reach but the guys around me wanted me to reach."

For Kemp, the dream was more realistic than it was for others. From the first day he stepped on the Concord campus, he was already earning praise from his future coaches and teammates.

"I knew from when he came up as a freshman that he would be starting [varsity]," said former Concord head coach Jim Hahn.

With loads of talents though, came some early arrogance and growing pains.

"I think our hardest job was to find ways in practice to motivate him and continue to try and make him better every day," said Hahn.

Some of that motivation came in the form of having to run extra laps or in some cases getting told to leave.

"This was the gym (the Concord high school gym) I practiced in and I've definitely been put out this gym before because of bad practice habits," said Kemp.

Other times the motivation came from one of his senior teammates.

"I think he thought he could just kind of glide on through a little bit," said Dan Freeze, who was a senior forward Kemp's freshman year. "But we worked him hard. If he wanted that dream, we pushed him."

By the end of his freshman year, Kemp helped Concord do something they had not done in eight years; win a sectional title.

"When we got a couple of the banners up there it just made us feel like rock stars, so that made it even better," said Kemp.

Just a week later, Kemp found winning a regional was entirely more difficult than winning a sectional title.

"We were so happy that we kind of forgot that we were playing the next week," said Hahn. "So that is when we really adjusted our goals and said 'hey we're not going out to say our goal is to win the sectional or regional' from that point in time we said our goal was to win the state."

Between his sophomore to senior years, Kemp continued to work hard to become a better player and eventually became a household name throughout Michiana.

"I remember the Indiana Pacers coming into here and doing a camp right here in this gym and I ended up being him in a game of one on one to ten (laughs)," said Kemp.

His game improved to new heights. Not only could he jump higher than any player he matched up against, he could also handle the ball and shoot like a guard.

"There were times where there were things that happened in the game and you just kind of shook your head and said that's unbelievable," said Hahn.

When his senior year rolled around, every place Kemp and the Minutemen played was packed. 

Former South Bend St. Joseph head coach Steve Austin realized the Indians gym could not hold the crowd Kemp would bring, so he came up with the idea of playing at the Notre Dame Joyce Center.

"Actually I had to go to my principal five times and he told me I was crazy because I was giving up a home game," said Austin.

Eventually the St. Joseph Athletic Department approved to move the game. By game day the match-up had sold out and scalpers were selling tickets at double and triple face value outside.

"When we got there it was just the padded seats down below and by the time the JV game started that was completely full," said Hahn. "So the next thing you know they started pulling out the bleachers from up above and as a section at a time came out, they were filling up, just as quick as they could pull them out."

Fans who were able to get inside were left impressed as Kemp impressed with his athletic ability in a Concord win.

"We had our one kid, there was a dunk play for Shawn and my center was in perfect position. His hands were probably at the rim and all of a sudden all you saw was his waste line at his head and he had to be at the box high, if not higher and he just dunked it on him," said Austin. "That's when my kid turned around and was like what can you do. You can't stop that."

While there were plenty of fans who cherished Kemp's talent at Concord. There also were many who tried to tear him down when the Minutemen played on the road.

"Just ignorant fans throwing things at him and saying bad words," said Hahn, who added many times those words were racially directed. "Just to say some of the things that were said, it was disheartening."

Some players would crumble under that type of scrutiny, but Kemp instead used it to fuel the greatest run in Concord history.

"Sectional, regional, semi-state were great," said Hahn. "It just seemed like we were destined to win it."

For the first time ever, the Minutemen had a chance to win a State Championship against powerhouse Muncie Central.

"We had a chance to be the small little school to upset the big school," said Kemp.

Unfortunately for Concord, Kemp fouled out of the game and it was Muncie Central celebrating on the floor at Market Square Arena.

"We just ran out of steam," said Hahn.

That was not the only let down of Kemp's senior season. After committing to the University of Kentucky, the Minutemen star forward was not voted as the state's top player.

"Coach [Bobby] Knight (who coached at Indiana University) would come up here and watch me practice and we had a lot of meetings in this area," said Kemp. "He was the type of guy who let you know right away if you go blue, well there's no Mr. Basketball if you go blue."

Kemp says he somewhat regrets not choosing an in-state school like Purdue or Indiana. Instead the Indiana Mr. Basketball Award was given to Richmond High School's Woody Austin, who had committed to Purdue.

"It was a disgrace," said Hahn. "[Kemp] was absolutely the best player in the state."

Even without a Mr. Basketball award in his trophy case, Kemp is still remembered by many as the greatest player to ever play in Northern Indiana.

"In my opinion he was the best player ever in the northern part of the state," said Hahn. "I don't think we'll ever see another one like him."

Kemp however hopes another great talent will come around sooner rather than later.

"I want to see the next Shawn Kemp," said Kemp "I don't want to be the best player in this area. I want to see the next Shawn Kemp rise up and I think if you look at this area it will definitely happen. If you see a kid like me in 25 years that it took to develop his game I think there's no doubt about it the future is waiting to happen."

Prior to 2014, Kemp had not returned to McCuen gym to watch Concord play. After returning for a 1988 State Runner-Up celebration, Kemp said he would like to continue to come back to Elkhart in the summer and hold a kids basketball camp.

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