Working in the food industry, Kevin Dukes was OK with his future, but he wasn’t completely satisfied.
Every time he played hoops at The Family Y, people peppered him with the same question: Why aren’t you playing college basketball?
After a five-year hiatus from competition, Dukes finally fulfilled a dream, enrolling last year at Southern University at New Orleans. The 2006 Richmond Academy alum posted a breakout season, earning Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year honors. He also was named to the league’s all-tournament team after helping lead the Knights to an unexpected GCAC championship.
“It’s been exciting,” Dukes said. “I never thought I’d get these accomplishments.”
In high school, Dukes was primarily a defensive player. A shooting guard, he never averaged in double digits scoring.
Upon graduation, he attended Aiken Tech to improve his grades enough to transfer to a four-year college. He said he tried out for the basketball team, but he doesn’t remember any details. Dukes does remember one thing: he didn’t get a spot on the team.
While attending Aiken Tech, he also worked as a saute cook at Macaroni Grill. He left school to try his hand in management, but it didn’t work out. George Dukes wanted his youngest son to return to school and a get a degree, following in the path of his older brothers.
George Dukes Jr. got a doctorate degree in information technology. Kenneth Dukes followed suit, entering the Air Force to obtain an IT degree. Now, it was time for Kevin to figure out his future.
“You want your children to get the best out of life,” the elder Dukes said. “He had to find out for himself what he wanted to do.”
Kevin Dukes, 23, continued to shoot hoops at The Family Y. There, he became friends with trainer Chris Deville, a Louisiana native who helped set him up a workout with the Southern coaching staff. It went so well that Dukes found him a new home three states away.
He began the fall as the Knights’ starting shooting guard. Dukes switched to point guard midway through the schedule, a move he didn’t mind.
“I think I like playing point guard better,” he said. “At the end of the game, it’s my call.”
Southern finished the regular season with a 14-13 record. In the conference tournament semifinals, Dukes scored a career-high 27 points as the Knights’ shocked rival Xavier (La.), 66-65. Southern then knocked off No. 1 seed Tougaloo by 21 in the championship game.
With the league’s automatic bid, the Knights kept their momentum going in the 32-team NAIA Tournament.
Dukes drilled a 14-foot jumper in the lane in the final seconds to deliver a 94-92 overtime win over Robert Morris (Ill.).
While Southern’s season came to an end last week in the Sweet 16 in a 78-52 loss to Georgetown (Ky.), Dukes knows he has to continue focusing on and off the court. He owns a 2.7 grade-point average, with IT his major – he plans to graduate in 2014. And he still has plenty left to do on the hardwood as well, as improbable as it might have once seemed.
“It’s never too late to shoot for your dreams,” Dukes said. “My future is here.”