While America is the home of basketball, Australian Aidan Kennedy has shown that he, too, has some game as a member of the Delano basketball family
By Matt Kane
DELANO The Delano junior varsity basketball team has had to learn the meaning of a new word this season; a word not generally spoken around the basketball courts of America.
The word is: Oui.
The unofficial definition is: give me the ball; or I’m open.
Think of the term as a synonym for American athletes saying, “Hey.”
“Oui,” with a strong Australian accent, is how Delano junior guard Aidan Kennedy calls for the ball from his junior varsity teammates during games, and from his varsity teammates during practices.
Once Kennedy gets the ball, he knows what to do with it, according to one teammate.
“He has really picked us up. He is a really good guy. He is always passing the ball, and he is a really good ball-handler, which brought a new threat to our team,” said sophomore Matt Ditty, a junior varsity teammate of Kennedy’s. “He can make shots, too, which we were falling back on.”
Those skills and the mop-top hairdo blend Kennedy in with the other teenagers in the Delano High School basketball family, but it’s that accent that separates him from the rest of the pack.
Kennedy and that accent are the product of Koroit, Australia, a town of 5,000 in western Victoria that sits 173 miles west of Melbourne.
Kennedy, 17, left Australia and landed in Minnesota in mid-November, just in time to join the Delano basketball team for preseason practice. The last time Kennedy was in the United States, he was 3 years old.
His solo trip 14 years later wasn’t because of basketball, but because of family.
“It was mainly an extra thing, where I could kill two birds with one stone,” Kennedy said of playing basketball at Delano. “The main reason I came over was because of family and to become a better person in general and to experience a new culture and new atmosphere. Basketball was just something that jumped out at me. It is a sport I have loved since I was younger, and it has really helped me in my life, so far.”
Kennedy’s connection to the Delano area is his mother, Stephanie, who grew up in Medina. Stephanie attended grade school at Sts. Peter & Paul in Loretto and high school at Benilde-St. Margaret’s.
Stephanie, whose maiden name is Gubbins, married Australia native Martin Kennedy, and has lived in Australia ever since with their two children, Aidan and daughter Cailin, 12. Stephanie and Martin are currently on a sabbatical, teaching in Thailand, and Cailin is in Australia, where she is an established equestrian.
Kennedy, who is a dual citizen of Australia and the United States, is currently living with his uncle, Tom Gubbins, in Medina.
Attending school in the United States was something Kennedy had expressed an interest in since the sixth grade, he said.
“I just thought it would be a great experience to come over here. I had never met any of my relatives or family members, and I thought that I didn’t want to go through life without meeting my relatives. I thought it would be an unbelievable experience,” Kennedy explained. “I wanted to meet my relatives and I wanted to experience the culture over here. And I enjoy basketball, too, so I thought it would be a great opportunity to come over here. This is the basketball nation. Everyone loves it here.”
Gubbins was more than happy to open his home a bachelor pad near Peter Lake to Kennedy.
“He’s talked about this for a couple of years of playing and going to school in the states, and getting to know his relatives in the states,” said Gubbins. “They asked me and, of course, I was more than willing to have him come over and experience something. A dream of his was to do this, and, of course, I wanted to help him with his dreams.”
Since arriving in the United States in late November, Kennedy has visited relatives around the state of Minnesota, and has gone to a Timberwolves game. Last weekend, Gubbins was going to officially welcome his nephew to Minnesota with a few of the state’s favorite outdoor activities snowmobiling and ice fishing.
“He has no idea what he is getting into,” Gubbins said last week of his naive nephew. “The first time he saw snow was around Christmas. He walked out on the ice on the lake and was jumping around.”
Kennedy knew a little about what to expect in America, but found himself mistakenly acting Australian at times after he arrived.
“When my uncle picked me up at the airport and we were getting into his car, I accidentally walked around to the wrong side of the car and tried to get into the driver’s side. The roads and the driving is switched,” he explained. “It’s a different experience having all of these kids my age driving around.”
The driving age in Australia is 18.
Gubbins has had to remind Kennedy of what country he is now in on several occasions.
“I had to remind him about crossing the street. You have to be careful crossing the street because you are used to looking the other way for traffic,” Gubbins said.
One big difference between Australia and America is the degree of gluttony in the United States. That, said Gubbins, has been shocking to his nephew.
“One of the things he’s marveled at here is that there are so many options. I took him to the grocery store, down the cereal aisle, and he was overwhelmed by the choices. He’s also amazed at the portions they serve at restaurants here.”
As for the people in both countries, there is little difference, according to both Gubbins and Kennedy.
“The only difference is that they are a little more innocent over there, than here in America,” said Gubbins, who has made several trips to visit the Kennedys in Australia.
“I think Americans are very friendly,” said Kennedy. “They can be kind of loud sometimes.”
American sports teams can be loud, of course, and Kennedy’s Delano teammates tend to grill him with questions.
“There are definitely a lot of questions asked about Australia,” Kennedy said. “A lot about wildlife: ‘Do kangaroos actually wear boxing gloves?’”
“I think the team treats him as just one of the guys,” said Techam of Kennedy being a Tiger.
And, of course, there are questions about the Australian girls.
“Yeah, they ask about them, too,” Kennedy admitted.
As for American girls, Kennedy hadn’t found one at the time of this interview, but was quick to comment.
“The girls are really nice,” he said. “I might look around. I have only been around here for a couple weeks.”
When asked whether his accent will help him attract a girl, he responded: “I hope.”
While he could have chosen a number of high schools to attend, Delano was the right fit.
“There was a great opportunity to come over and play basketball at a great school like Delano,” he said. “There are some friendly people around here, and I’ve always loved basketball, so this seemed like the best choice for me.”
So far, so good, in his decision to attend Delano.
“The team chemistry has been there from the get-go. Everybody has made me feel welcome, from the players to the coaches,” Kennedy said. “It’s a great environment every day to come to the school and have everybody around you. They’ve got my back and I’ve got their back.”
Minnesota State High School League rules prohibit Kennedy from playing with the varsity team because he is a transfer student.
“I wasn’t too disappointed,” he said of being relegated to the junior varsity team. “Mainly, I came over for the experience and to come over and improve as a basketball player and as a person. It would be great to play with the varsity, but I am privileged to be training with them every day.”
His ability would at least earn Kennedy a spot on the Delano bench, if he were eligible.
“I think he would get a little playing time with the varsity if he was eligible because he can handle the ball so well,” said Delano varsity coach Terry Techam.
Techam likes Kennedy enough to have him practice with the varsity team, even though he cannot suit up on game days.
“As a basketball player, he is a very good ball-handler and passer,” said Techam. “He told me that when he was younger, he was trained to be a point guard. “You can see that in his play because he really sees the court.”
Kennedy said passing the ball to set up teammates is the best part of his game.
“I am a pass-first point guard,” he said. “I will take the open shot when it’s there. I like doing what it takes to help the team win.”
“He moves the ball quickly, and he get the ball to everyone at least once,” said Ditty. “He gets everybody involved.”
Kennedy was introduced to the sport of basketball by his mother, who simply gave him a basketball when he was young. His love for the game sprouted from there. He is now a quality player, and appreciates the history of the game, in both Australia and the United States.
Ten Australians have played in the NBA, and Kennedy has no problem listing a handful of them off the top of his head. He notes Andrew Bogut as probably the best to come out of Australia, and reminded this sports writer that Shane Heal suited up for the Timberwolves for 43 games during the 1996-97 season. Timberwolves fans will also remember Luc Longley.
Ironically, Kennedy said Steve Nash, a Canadian, was one of his favorite NBA players.
In Australia, Kennedy played high school basketball, which is much less serious than it is in America; and also “squad” ball, which is similar to America’s club basketball.
The approaches to the game are vastly different in the two countries, Kennedy said.
“Over in Australia, it is more individual. Over here, you practice every day at school,” he explained. “Over there, you do it on your own. Mentally, you have to put everything into it by yourself. Most of the training I do by myself.”
Kennedy’s work ethic is impressive. After practicing with the varsity in the morning before school, Kennedy practices after school with the junior varsity team.
The Delano basketball family is benefitting from Kennedy’s self-training and dedication to the sport.
“He has really been a boost to our team,” said Ditty.
Kennedy could be a boost to the varsity team next year if he decides to return to Delano for his senior season. Kennedy’s future at Delano, however, has not yet been decided.
“It would be great to return. Everybody is really nice here,” said Kennedy, who already finished his 11th year of school in Australia. “I will just have to sit down and see where I am at.”
If Kennedy decides he wants to attend Delano for his senior year of American high school, the door to his uncle’s home is open.
“I will be here if he wants to (come back),” said Gubbins. “I’m not going anywhere.”
With two starting guards graduating this spring, Techam would gladly welcome Kennedy back.
“He would be a nice addition to the team next year. You can always find a place for someone who plays hard and is willing to share the basketball. Also, it is nice to have good, quality kids on your team, which Aidan is,” said Techam. “And he has a cool accent.”