I had the opportunity to sit down with Kenny Gaines, Jr. whose title last year at this time was “promising rookie”. Now, he is a sophomore and living up to every bit to his former title. Kenny is from Riverdale, Georgia majoring in Finance at The University of Georgia, a school that believe it or not, wasn’t his first choice. With offers ranging from Marquette to Iowa to South Carolina, Kenny had some big decisions to make. So how’d he end up at UGA? “Well, it was a tough decision. My top schools were Clemson, Tennessee, and then Wichita State to play with my former teammate and dear friend, Tekele Cotton. I was torn between some cities and my mother and I just sat down one night and prayed. Five minutes later, Coach Fox called my house and we just viewed that as a sign from God.” He says that after weighing the pros and cons, it was Georgia who won Mr. Kenneth James Gaines, Jr. and boy are we glad it was!
Kenny got a basketball for Christmas at age two, and the rest is history. He began to play organized basketball at age 5 and was able to play Varsity basketball in the 8th grade at the World Changer’s Christian Academy. He ended up finishing and graduating from Whitfield Academy, a Christ centered prep school, where he won the State Championship his senior year. He also played AAU ball with the Georgia Stars, which at the time was noted as the number one team in the nation. Now he is with us here at UGA, making some big plays and more importantly making a name for himself. He has started every game (except for two due to an injury). He is a leading scorer on the team. When asked what he believes his role on the team to be, he says, “To score and defend the perimeter player.”
He also believes that his role is more than just scoring and defending. “I know it’s lame, but I’m a good friend. I’m a good-hearted person, I don’t like to let people down and my team knows I will always have their backs.” I had to ask him the million dollar question, is your ultimate goal to end up in the NBA? “Yes,” he responds with a smile. “I want to leave. I want the “m’s”. There is gonna be a point where I can’t physically play anymore, but I love this game.” For those of you who were like me and had no idea what an “m” is: “Millions”, Kenny says in a smooth voice. “I want the millions”. He has a goal in mind, and is doing everything in his power to achieve it.
However, despite what many people think about student athletes, his days are far from easy. A typical day for Kenny is waking up at 7:00am for tutoring from 8-10am and then class from 10-12:30. He tries to fit some lunch in there and perhaps just a moment to sit down, and then its straight to practice from 3-6:30. “I usually finish my days around 10pm.” Kenny says that is what he dislikes most about being a student athlete: not being able to have time for anything outside of ball and school. “I feel like I’m in a bubble socially. I can’t engage in regular student activities.” But Kenny is optimistic and is appreciative of his opportunity to be a basketball player here at UGA. He understands that he gets to play the sport he loves and obtain a free education. One interesting perk is that he gets to do some major traveling. “Our team went to Italy in 2012. Every four years a team can go overseas and play games. It was different, the food was different. I was expecting some really good Papa Johns or Pizza Hut,” he laughs.
There is more to Kenny than just his talent on the court. What many of you might not know about him is that he has a love for music. He started playing the drums at age 8. He attempted piano lessons but due to a short attention span, that didn’t work out. So what did he do? “I learned to play by ear,” he says. “I can play the drums, trumpet, and piano.” He played in his jazz marching band and was the drummer at his mother’s church, Lifeline Family Worship Center in Fayetteville, GA until he graduated. His mother wanted to raise her children to do it all. I think she’s done a terrific job. It is without a doubt that Kenny strives to be great in all things he does and is not limited to one talent. He’s a jack of all trades.
Kenny is an individual that is grateful for the talents that God has blessed him with. He is very disciplined in his faith and determination is what seems to drive him. So I asked him, what motivates you to be the best you can be? He gets very serious as he says, “What really drives me is I want to help my mom build her church. I want a good life for my family.” I am confident that in the next two years we will see even bigger and better things from Kenny Gaines, due to his determination that is unwavering and his solid goals. His advice to those who want to play basketball in college and one day fill his shoes is to just play and never take basketball too serious. “If it’s meant to be, it’s gonna happen,” he says.
Unfortunately the Bulldogs ended their season on Saturday, March 22 to Louisiana Tech, with a close score of 79-71. Kenny had some amazing numbers and achievements this season. During regular season he led the SEC in 3-point shooting accuracy and averaged 19.3 points a game. He also was extraordinary on the road this season, scoring 27 points against USC and 25 against Arkansas. But don’t fret Bulldog fans, for we’ll be seeing much more of Kenny in the months and years to come.