Levon Kendall is the unquestionable leader of Canada’s Under-21 men’s basketball team, and in case you didn’t know what his game is about, here’s the lowdown.
The 6-9 power forward is the “go-to” guy on a squad that qualified for the FIBA Young Men’s World Championship for the first time in this country’s history. He’s 6-9, but don’t let his height fool you. He’s got a 15-foot jumper, can shoot the three, and when he’s ready, he will gladly take his defender off the dribble for a lay-up or slam. Versatility is what he takes pride in. “It’s good to be able to have different weapons. That’s the new wave big man, someone who’s skilled and can shoot and play that inside-outside game.”
Kendall led the Under-21 team in 2004 at the FIBA qualification tournament with 11.4 points per game, 7.8 rebounds per game with 2 blocks per game, and his 10 blocks in 5 games were the most by any player in the tournament.
The 21 year-old was also instrumental in Team Canada winning the Gold Medal in the Jack Donohue Classic in July of this year in Mississauga, Ontario. Canada won the 4-country event that included Australia, Greece and China.
In early August, Kendall and the rest of the Canadian ballerz ventured to Mar del Plato, Argentina for the Under-21 Championships. Kendall led the team with 13.4 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game. He also recorded 11 blocks, 9 steals and led all players with 24 offensive rebounds. The highlight of the tourney for Kendall and Team Canada was the victory against a U.S. squad that featured several NCAA division one players, including J.J. Redick of Duke and Rudy Gay of Connecticut.
Kendall torched the Americans for 40 points and 12 rebounds. Canada was actually down 4 with under a minute left and Kendall sunk two baskets to tie it at 82-82. The game then went into overtime, where Kendall along with his Canadian teammates, won it 93-90 in the biggest upset of the tournament. In fact, it was the first time a Canadian men’s team defeated an American opponent in a FIBA sanctioned event.
Canada went on to play Greece in the semis but lost 74-61, due to an emotionally draining victory over the Americans. But the Canucks rebounded to defeat Australia 79-74 capturing the bronze medal. Kendall was stellar again, adding 15 points and 9 rebounds to pace the team. And, for his outstanding play in Canada’s 7 games, Kendall was named to the All-Tournament team. It was truly a great basketball accomplishment for this country because the last time a Canadian men’s team medalled in a FIBA sanctioned event was at the 1936 Berlin Olympics where they took silver, losing 19-8 to the U.S.
Then in late August, Leo Rautins and the rest of his coaching staff took notice of Kendall’s efforts and asked him to join the Canadian Senior Men’s National Team for the FIBA America’s Championship in the Dominican Republic. This time, Kendall proved he was no fluke by having 2 outstanding games. Against Venezuela he poured in 14 points while hauling in 7 rebounds in limited time. Then against Brazil he scored 14 points, grabbed 6 rebounds and blocked 3 shots. Unfortunately, the young and inexperienced Canadian team struggled and didn’t even qualify for the 2nd round. Nonetheless, it was still a great learning experience for Kendall and the rest of the squad.
When not balling for Team Canada, which he has done for four summers now, Kendall can be found hooping it up in the Big East for the Pittsburgh Panthers.
But the Vancouver, B.C. native’s basketball journey didn’t start off with a lot of fanfare. He wasn’t a top prospect out of Kitsilano High School, he wasn’t recruited by dozens of schools and he wasn’t even sure that he wanted to go to Pittsburgh.The school caught a glimpse of him at the All-Canada camp after his grade 11 year of high school. Kendall recalls, “At first I didn’t really know much about the school. I remember Jay Triano came up to me at the camp, as he was friends with the Assistant coach at the time, Jamie Dixon, who was expressing some interest. Jay was quite excited about that and I kind of just shrugged it off like Pittsburgh, can’t be that big of a deal.” Kendall liked what he saw in the school. “I flew to Pittsburgh and they offered me a letter of intent and really from there I figured it’s unlikely that a better offer would come along.”
Kendall ended up red shirting his first year because of the amount of talent at power forward position, and learned a lot from the bench, but his playing time has steadily increased. Departing senior and 1st team All Big-East player Chevy Troutman has been a staple on the team at the forward spot for the last four years, so you can see why Kendall is looking for this, his junior year to make a splash in the conference. He feels his time has come “Most likely I will be starting at the four and taking a bigger role. Last year I was hoping to play more than I did. I got a chance to start at the three for 8 games, which was great. It wasn’t really my natural position so that was a learning experience and I think it’s been really good for developing my game and the versatility aspect of it. I have a couple years to play so now I can step in, make some noise and take a bigger role.”
Kendall fashions his game after Dirk Nowitzki, and his Pittsburgh teammates actually call him Dirk as his hairstyle and game resembles the German’s. In a game against Syracuse this past January, Kendall was Nowitzki-like dropping 3 threes, good for 9 points in a 76-69 win, that showed the range that the sometimes low-post banger has in his game. Kendall, however, has always faced a dilemma. He’s usually one of the biggest guys on the court, and he was always pushed to play inside, but he loves to jack it up from the outside as well. “I’ve always been more outside oriented. I always liked to shoot. In the 10th grade I actually had to learn some post moves because I was so much taller than everyone, so I was forced to play in the post and learn the jump hook. I like to drive and stuff so I actually did it backwards from most big men.” This kind of versatility from their “go-to” guy can only benefit Canada Basketball and the Pittsburg Panthers in the future, and as long as Kendall keeps improving we should see him hitting the hardwood for Team Canada for many years to come.