Nov. 21 – RJ Kennah
RJ Kennah, a freshman walk-on guard on the men’s basketball team, sat down with Jack McKenney and former high school classmate Jake Stuart. Kennah averaged a double-double his senior year of high school. Three weeks after this interview, Kennah scored his first collegiate points against USC.
This Nov. 21, 2021 interview has been transcribed and edited for clarity and AP style. Listen to the full episode here and don’t forget to subscribe to the Old Gold & In Your Ears channel found on all podcasting platforms.
Jake Stuart: Why don’t you start off by just giving us, I guess your backstory. How did you get to Wake Forest? What made you choose Wake? Tell us everything.
RJ Kennah: For sure. So I played my senior season and I was kind of waiting for all of the options to come along. Then my club coach and I started talking to the Wake coaches here, and one thing led to another. It was such a great school academically, and it fit basketball-wise too because you can’t beat the ACC. So I kind of just went with it. I had never visited campus or anything, so the first time on campus was my first time here. It was pretty fun and exciting, but overall I couldn’t be anywhere better then this outcome. In high school I went to Regis, that’s how I know Mr. Jake Stuart right here. Then after my sophomore season, I transferred over to Kent Denver and finished the rest of my high school there. That’s pretty much my story.
Jack McKenney: Going back to your club days, talk a little bit about your teammates, some of your boys. Where they’re playing now because I know that’s a really special thing to reflect on.
RK: Well, one of my boys that I’ve played with in club, he’s coming here next year. Zach Keller four-star recruit coming to Wake. He was a big one, a big name. I got a lot of boys in D-II, like Nebraska-Kearney, Pacific, stuff like that. Carthage College is another big one. And then some of the other kids on my club team went to Eastern Washington and Nevada. Then one kid was playing football over at Iowa, or Iowa State maybe. But yeah, we’re kind of an athletic group of kids, which is kind of fun to see how it pans out.
JM: Eastern Washington was awesome last year in the tournament. They had a great run and almost beat Kansas. That was a fun game to watch.
JS: How about the walk-on process? What’s that like? Obviously a quick turnaround from just being on campus and everything. What was that like?
RK: So basically right when I got on campus, I pretty much had a week to myself. And the walk-on process, it’s not considered a walk-on. For me, it was a preferred walk-on, so I still got recruited, and then I came. So pretty much it’s all the same besides the scholarship part. That’s the biggest difference. But in practice, I do all the same stuff, show up on time, grind it out, and you know, just hoop. That’s kind of the process. Right when I got on campus, we started with our fall workouts and got right to it right away. So from the start, it was pretty sweet.
JS: Would you say the guys gel pretty well overall this year?
RK: Oh yeah. We got a great group of guys. I think it’s a lot of new faces compared to last year for sure. I mean, new coach, second year here. I think we’re going to do something special because I think we all kind of connect. We like to joke a lot and give each other a hard time but we’re family for sure at the end of the day.
JM: One of my good friends, Essex Thayer, was a manager for a bit, and he was saying we’ve got a squad this year. Steve Forbes said we actually have an ACC team this year. Last year was kind of rough. Me and Jake endured that. I think we only won six games, but honestly man, I’m looking forward to the season. I think we got a legit team. What do you guys need to do to potentially make a run in the ACC tournament and maybe make the NCAA tournament?
RK: I think we just have to stick to our identity, because we got a lot of pieces. We got Jake [LaRavia], Man-Man Alondes Williams. We got Dallas [Walton] from CU. We got all the pieces we need.
JS: Dallas is a beast.
RK: Oh, yeah. Huge. And then we got Matthew Marsh, 7’1 also. We just got all these little pieces, and we know our identity. Each guy has to play to their identity and fulfill and succeed within their role. As long as we do that, we’re going to be successful. We just got to stick to what Coach Forbes has been talking to us about. Doing the little things like boxing out, not turning the ball over, no offensive rebounds to the other team and being that gritty, grimy, tough team. He likes to say that a lot. So I think as long as we stick to our identity and play our game of basketball, we’re going to be very successful this year.
JS: With the ACC competition level, where are you most excited to play? You got Duke, UNC, Miami, all over. Where’s the number one spot for you?
RK: Number one spot definitely has to be at Duke, at Cameron. You always hear about it as a kid. You always see in the ESPN magazines how playing at Cameron is this great thing. So I think it’ll be a lot of fun. Also got Coach K’s farewell tour, so there’ll be a build-up. It’ll be pretty sweet playing there.
JS: Talk a little bit — I don’t know how much you can tell us — but talk about the scrimmage y’all had a few weeks ago against South Carolina? How did that go?
RK: It was good. It was good. We were all pleased with how we played. We were able to beat up them a little bit, but we also showed some of our flaws too. We were able to get inside and work the ball around. We were hitting shots, which was good. It was nice to see early in the season, but then also gave us a chance to kind of look back at ourselves and our identity and figure out what we need to tune up. Some areas in here, tune up some areas out there. But overall, I think it was a very successful trip. It was good to see where we stand and we were very pleased with it.
JS: Probably good to get out there.
RK: Oh, yeah. Getting to play someone besides your teammates is always nice. Yeah.
JM: You talked a lot about new pieces, which is certainly an accurate statement. I mean, we’ve got so many new faces. We had some guys leave through the transfer portal. We got some guys from the transfer portal. Obviously, we’ve got some new recruits. Who were some guys who have kind of taken ownership, taken leadership and are going to help us make that run this season?
RK: You probably already know the captains this year, Dallas, Isaiah [Mucius] and [Daivien Williamson]l. Yeah, so I think those three guys are definitely going to take the charge and take the lead on things. They’re going to steer the ship when we start to veer off, they’re going to get us back on track. But you also have to include Jake. Jake will be on there too. He’s going to be leading us. They’ll be guiding us the right way. But I think that group of guys right there, you can’t ask for anything better. I think they’re definitely going to help us get there, get to where we want to be and play our game of basketball.
JS: How do you take advantage of playing, I don’t want to say easier, but easing your way into those tough ACC games. How do you take advantage of that to start the season?
RK: Well, every game matters for us, conference or non-conference. It just matters one game at a time. The most important game right now is the Winston-Salem State game, despite that its an exhibition. Every game matters to us, because you slip up one time, it’s D-I. All these guys can hoop. You don’t come out to play one game, you’re going to get your butt handed to you for sure. Every game is important, but I think definitely the ACC is a different breed. If you don’t come out and compete, you’re going to get shown up. But I think we’re going to figure out who exactly we are going up. Like that scrimmage, it helped us tremendously, probably going into this next game. I think all these other games building up to the ACC will just help us like solidify each and every role and help us truly identify our identity.
JM: I totally agree with that. I mean, you guys have some cupcakes before the ACC play starts. It’s kind of similar to football where we played Old Dominion and Norfolk State, and the team found their confidence rolling into ACC play. I really liked that. I hope you guys can go undefeated. Because, in past years — I don’t know if you remember with Danny Manning — but there were some years where we lost to Drake or some random teams at the beginning of the season. And it was frustrating.
JS: Keep in mind too, Jack. This is a totally new team from last year. Forbes built this team. Last year wasn’t really his team.
JM: Last year was such a weird season too.
JS: He stepped on stage, and I mean, it wasn’t a squad. So it’s a group of guys and we’ll have to see how they perform. It should be fun
JM: Exactly. I love Coach Forbes. Do you want to talk a little bit more about how he’s just so personable, such a nice guy. He’s just doing a great job.
RK: Sure. Coach Forbes is definitely a family man. In practice, he’ll be tough on you, which is always nice. You want that, you don’t want the coach who is just going to baby you. You want the coach who is going to get you better. Tell you the truth. And the truth is what gets you better essentially. Inside practice, he’s still going to be that guy that’s going to push you, but he’s also going to love on you. And outside of practice, he’s truly always there for us. Always able to talk to us, which is super nice, and makes it his mission to see us succeed and get to where we want to be. Because at the end of the day, he always says, “don’t let basketball play you, you play it. Use it to the best of your abilities. Just make connections, use it to get to where you want to be.” We’ll go over to his house and watch movies or games. And it truly just feels like he makes it feel like a family and makes it all come together
JS: You can tell he knows the team and he loves the school. I remember the first football game, he led the freshmen out onto the field. I was there for that and that was pretty exciting. And just a real family guy. He loves it out here. I’m sure that’s pretty cool. How about that Deacon Jam last week? Tell us a little bit about that as it was your first time displaying that off to the school. I bet that was pretty cool.
RK: Oh, yeah, that was cool. I definitely didn’t know what to expect going in and kind of my first time around. I know back in the old days of Danny Manning, they didn’t do this too often. So it was kind of a cool experience to walk out with the smoke cans. Kind of couldn’t see anything, really had to maneuver your way around. But it was fun and it was a good environment. The three-point contest was fun. Carter [Whitt] made it a little nerve-racking against the girls’ team, but ended up pulling it out. And then the Rob [McCray] and Man-Man, they put on a show. Two guys that can jump out of the gym and do crazy things. It was sweet. Then you got the whole band there and the cheerleaders, this is a good environment. Gave me a little taste of what the season is going to be like and the hype going and what the energy is going to be like, so it was good. I liked it a lot.
JS: That’s awesome, man. You got anything else, Jack?
JM: I do have one last question. I know we haven’t done this yet, but I just want to ask athletes more about what they do on campus. Where’s your favorite place to eat on campus? Where are you going for your best meal?
RK: Alright, so I was talking to my boy Matthew Marsh about this yesterday. Usually, when we get out of practice, it’s pretty late. Then we do our homework. We get meals with the team but by that time, we always go to Subway because that’s the only thing open. So I have to go with my good old Subway.