When North Carolina cut down the nets after beating Kentucky 75-73 in the South Regional Final, head coach Roy Williams put the first net on the head of senior Charlottean Kennedy Meeks.
“His rebounds were great, his blocks were crucial and overall he had a solid game,” said Joel Berry II about Meeks’ seven-point, 17-rebound game against Kentucky.
“Of course, last year was big for us, but this is a special,” said Meeks. “For us to come together as a team and play well together and do a tremendous job of working hard in practice and simulate it in practice is all you can ask for.”
Last year’s run to the title game is remembered for 4.7 seconds; that’s how long it took for Kris Jenkins of Villanova to sink a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to grab the 2016 national championship from the fingertips of the Tar Heels.
After the loss, Meeks sat in the entrance of the Carolina locker room, sobbing loudly – uncontrollably – with a towel draped over his head and assistant coach Sean May leaning over him.
Meeks choked out words to reporters, speaking about how hard it was to see the seniors, especially Joel (James) return home without a title. He, like the rest of the Tar Heels, felt in many ways the loss was his fault – willing to bear the weight of responsibility and the heartache of his teammates.
Kennedy Meeks, like the rest of the Tar Heels, felt in many ways the loss to Villanova was his fault – willing to bear the weight of responsibility and the heartache of his teammates.
UNC’s basketball dominance over the past two years seems to be the byproduct of players such as Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, Justin Jackson and Berry. In many ways that is true. But behind those stars is Meeks, the big guy down low, who – for four years now – has been a silent force of dominance for the Heels.
Meeks’ dominance is nothing new. It’s old – in fact it’s normal. In his four years at Carolina, the Tar Heels went 24-10, 26-12, 33-7, 31-7 – with back-to-back ACC regular season championships. Meeks reached the 1,000-point club at the start of this season. Over his career he pulled down 1,000 rebounds – making him ninth all-time leading rebounder in Tar Heel history.
He’s averaged 10.3 ppg shooting 55.1 percent from the field and 7.1 rpg in just 21.1 minutes throughout his career in argyle.
That efficiency dates back to his days as a West Charlotte Lion just off of Beaties Ford Road.
“It was amazing,” said Meeks’ former high school coach Baronton Terry. “You always want a kid like him.”
West Charlotte has always been a powerhouse for Queen City basketball. The Lions have won five state championships and are known for producing some popular recruits.
When Meeks wore the garnet and gold, he led the Lions their fifth state championship in 2011. He almost led them to a another title in 2012, but the Lions fell to New Hanover of Wilmington. When he was at West Charlotte, the Lions went 23-10, 26-2, 29-6 and 25-4. He dominated every aspect of West Charlotte basketball.
“He’s an excellent teammate,” said Terry. “From the best player to the worst player he cheered them on. He would always help with younger players who came up behind him.”
I heard that I’m the most hated Carolina player of the year. But I don’t really focus on that.
It’s simple, Meeks is a winner – on and off the court. He hates losing.
So why is it that Meeks’ dominance is so often pushed aside?
“I heard that I’m the most hated Carolina player of the year,” said Meeks. “But I don’t really focus on that.”
In the fall of 2013, Meeks entered Chapel Hill weighing in at close to 340 pounds – his weight became a focal point for his weakness. He’s now a solid 265 pounds of muscle.
Then came the knee injury at the end of his sophomore season in the NCAA Tournament win against Arkansas in 2015. Meeks’ knee injury reappeared early into his junior season, kept him out 12 games and stole what could have been a breakout season in the post for the Charlottean.
“Some of the experiences that he’s went through – he’s learned from it. Just the struggle with his weight – conquering that and getting a great deal of confidence on the floor. Getting to a national championship game last year and losing, everything that it took to get there and reflecting on that,” said May, who has really mentored Meeks over his years as a Tar Heel. “Being bigger and stronger and having the experience of a senior is something you can’t define. There’s been nights he hasn’t played well but still made key plays to help us win.”
And this season, the story on the low post featured freshman forward Tony Bradley.
Kennedy Meeks’ fraternity membership bridges a gap between his status as star student-athlete on campus and regular joe
But just because he’s not in the spotlight doesn’t mean he’s not hard at work in the shadows.
Off the court, Meeks is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi – a historically black fraternity. His membership in KAP bridges a gap between his status as star student-athlete on campus and regular joe. His frat, like all, promotes community service, which for Kappa ususally means mentoring children.
“To socialize with other people and connect with other people is definitely something I wanted to get out of college,” said Meeks. “Achievement is our motto. When you have the concepts that they instill in us in our fraternity, I think that you have no choice but to come out on top.”
His social involvement on campus took what already is a national reach as an athlete and created a special niche for local involvement.
It’s not necessarily a challenge to bridge the divide between frat brother and basketball player – David Noel from the 2005 Heels also was a Kappa brother.
“It (Kappa) challenges you as a man – it makes you think more. In times of adversity you understand what pressure is like and for a Kappa our logo is kind of like a diamond. A diamond is built from pressure and that’s what we consider to be the molding of a man. When you’re in pressure situations, like Kennedy may be, in all of those moments you learn to say I’ve been through pressure situations before and you allow yourself to think through those instead of (relying) solely on athletic skill.”
As a senior, it seems that his struggles with injury and weight are behind him. He’s quietly taken on the role as a leader both as a producer on the court and a mentor in the locker room.
“He’s taught me a lot,” said Bradley about Meeks, who took on the role of mentoring the freshman at the start of the season. “There’s always something I don’t know that he tells me. He’s very helpful. His experience is invaluable.
The spotlight isn’t a concern. Meeks is content succeeding in silence, because for him the journey is the reward.