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Sunday, May 07, 2006

All West Tennessee Player of the Year: Willie Kemp

AWT Player of the Year: Willie Kemp era was a golden age in Bolivar

Jackson (Tenn) Sun

Go ahead, take all the time you want. Try to find a reason not to love Willie Kemp the basketball player.

The Bolivar senior hits game-winning shots. He finds the open man.

But most importantly, he wants to win. That's a fact Kemp made obvious to University of Memphis coach John Calipari when he committed to the Tigers last fall.

"When Willie called to tell me he picked us, he said he wants to come and help me win a national title," Calipari said. "Think about that. That's unusual. He's talking about coming in and doing something for me, not for himself.

"He sets himself apart with that."

Obviously, other coaches have taken notice. After finding a way to top off an already stellar career, Kemp is the unanimous choice as The Jackson Sun's Player of the Year in balloting from West Tennessee coaches.

"That means a lot to me because there were a lot of great players in West Tennessee this year," Kemp said of being named Player of the Year. "It's a great honor for me."

But in a way, it's just another accolade on an already lengthy list of accomplishments for Kemp. Consider the following:

A 6-foot-2, 170-pound point guard, Kemp took his game to another level as a senior, averaging 18 points, five rebounds and seven assists per game and hitting game-winning shots against Liberty and Tennessee High.

Kemp led Bolivar to a third consecutive Class AA state tournament and was also named the 2006 Class AA Mr. Basketball over Memphis Mitchell's Thaddeus Young, a McDonald's All-American who won the award last season.

For his career, Kemp finished with a 117-25 record and scored more than 1,900 points and had more than 800 assists. That's after leading Bolivar to back-to-back Class AA state titles in 2004 and '05 and being named the Class AA state tournament Most Valuable Player and a Class AA Mr. Basketball finalist as a junior.

Kemp is a veteran of the All-West Tennessee team. He was a first-team selection as a sophomore and junior, was named Newcomer of the Year as a freshman, and is the first Bolivar product to be named Player of the Year since Brian Lake in 2004.

The nation's No. 46-ranked senior prospect by, Kemp ultimately picked Memphis over Tennessee and a host of major NCAA Division I programs. Just a few of the programs he turned down were Kentucky, Arkansas and Illinois. One of the main reasons Kemp picked Memphis was so he could be closer to his mother, Maxine Kemp, who is battling polycystic kidney disease.

"I want for her to be able to see me play," Kemp said.

Kemp's caring nature even carries over onto the basketball court, said Bolivar senior Wayne Chism. Unlike some superstars - whose ball-hogging ways can disrupt team chemistry and sidetrack team success - Kemp looks to get his teammates involved, which in turn makes the team better.

"Playing was much easier being out there with a point guard who can score, shoot, pass, rebound and defend," said Chism, who played for two years at South Side before transferring to Bolivar. "Willie is a great player and makes everyone around him better."

According to Lexington coach Tim Gardner, Kemp is a rare talent.

"He's awfully special," said Gardner, who has known Kemp for nearly 10 years. "I think he is going to continue to get better, and I think he has a chance, going to Memphis, to maybe play at the next level."

A coach with a track record of starting freshmen, Calipari said Kemp could "possibly" start at Memphis next season. With last year's starting point guard, Darius Washington Jr., having recently applied for the upcoming NBA draft, Kemp could be on his way to becoming the 18th freshman to start for Calipari in his 14 seasons as a college head coach.

But this wouldn't be any old team. Memphis posted a school-record 33-4 record last season and advanced to the Elite Eight.

"What he does, we needed last season," Calipari said of Kemp. "He's going to have to earn his way, but I'm going to play guys if they're ready to play.

"Willie wants to win, knows how to win, makes game-winning shots and shoots well enough that you can have him on the court with another point guard."

Plus, Kemp's ability to handle defensive pressure comes as easily as his ability to keep everything in perspective. He speaks the same way after a win or a loss and shows respect for his opponents regardless of the outcome.

Kemp also takes care of business in front of the cameras and microphones whenever asked without any hesitation.

That composure, Kemp said, he learned from watching his role model.

No, not Michael Jordan. Not Kobe Bryant. Kemp's most influential role model is his mother.
"My mom's an inspiration to me just for the way she keeps on going on living her life," Kemp said. "That's why I look up to her so much."

So go ahead, take all the time you want trying to find a reason not to love Willie Kemp the basketball player. But here's a word of advice: Don't waste your time.

"He's a terrific kid," Calipari said.

A terrific kid leaving behind a tremendous legacy.

-Joshua Parrott, 425-9634


A quick look at the career of Bolivar's Willie Kemp:

STATE TITLES: Led Bolivar to the 2004 and '05 Class AA state titles.

MR. BASKETBALL: The 2006 winner of the Class AA award.

CAREER POINTS: Finished with more than 1,900 points.

COLLEGE: Signed with Memphis after being recruited by every major NCAA Division I program in the country.

The Willie Kemp file
School: Bolivar

Grade: Senior

Position: Point guard

Height: 6-foot-2

Season stats: 18 ppg., 5 rpg., 7 apg.

College: Signed with Memphis

Favorite player to watch: Wayne Chism (Bolivar), Rodney Carney (Memphis)

Favorite play this season: Hitting the game-winning shot in the Bahamas.

My pick for Player of the Year: Wayne Chism (Bolivar)

What you don't know about me: I wear the same socks every game.

My dream car: A blue and green bus on 32s with tinted windows.

Why he's here: One of the nation's most recruited seniors, Kemp capped his high school career by being named the Class AA Mr. Basketball this season. Led Bolivar to two consecutive Class AA state titles and three consecutive state tournament appearances. Had more than 1,900 career points and 800 career assists.

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