SMU player surprises mother before her military deployment
FEB 04, 2014 7:17p ET
Not because he had a bad game. The 6-9 sophomore set career highs with 21 points and 15 rebounds. It was because he had a plane to catch.
Kennedy was informed after the game that the NCAA had approved his waiver for SMU to fly him home to Philadelphia for the weekend. It meant he would get to see his mother, Barbara, before she left on an eight-month military deployment.
"I was surprised and happy," Kennedy said of being told. "I kind of ran right to the showers."
SMU coach Larry Brown consulted point guard Nic Moore as to whether to tell Kennedy before or after playing Memphis.
"I wanted to tell him, but Nic didn't think it was a good idea because he said he was focusing. I didn't think Markus focused on anything," Brown joked. "But then we told him after the game and he was thrilled."
Kennedy left Saturday night was supposed to return late Sunday, but his return was delayed by a snowstorm. He finally arrived back in Dallas at 4 a.m. Tuesday, causing him to miss Monday's practice.
"I wouldn't have cared if he had said he couldn't get back until Thursday," Brown said. "Don't tell him I said that."
Barbara Kennedy is a sergeant in the Air Force. She left Monday for a tour in Kuwait.
Kennedy said his mother had also served tours in Germany and Korea, but this was the first time she was deployed since he had grown up and left for college.
"I had no clue I was coming home," Kennedy said. "We hadn't expected to see each other before she left, and that was kind of rough on me. Now that I got to see her, it's definitely a great feeling."
Kennedy's mother was also kept in the dark. At a going-away party, the family played a game where a blindfolded Barbara attempted to identify family members by feeling their faces.
Markus sneaked into the room and got on his knees to appear shorter. When the blindfold came off, Barbara fell backward in shock, then hugged her son tightly.
Kennedy said seeing his mother off was difficult, especially since he can't be home to take care of his younger brother and sister. However, he said his mother loves serving her country.
"I'm nothing but proud of my mom for doing what she does," Kennedy said. "I didn't want her to leave, but I'm definitely behind her."
Getting Kennedy back to Philadelphia started with a request from his aunt. Brown, knowing that Kennedy didn't have the means to pay for a plane ticket, made a call to Kyle Conder, SMU's Sr. Associate A.D. for Compliance. Conder got the process started by applying for a legislative relief waiver.
Normally, such waivers are granted to provide transportation for student athletes in the case of a family member's death or illness. Conder said this was the first time he's handled a request concerning a military deployment.
Included in the application were statements from Kennedy and his aunt, as well as a copy of Barbara's orders from the Air Force.
"It's a nice thing that the school was able to do," Conder said. "If there are ways to make the rules, the legislation, work for you, and that includes writing a waiver to the NCAA, then that's a good thing."
Brown said it's an instance where the NCAA shows compassion for student-athletes facing a hardship.
"They always write bad stuff about the NCAA, but this is amazing," Brown said. "They didn't have to do it. This really meant a lot to him, so it worked out great."
Kennedy said he probably did play better not knowing the waiver was granted, but now he's grateful to all involved.
"I really want to thank them from the bottom of my heart," Kennedy said. "It really means a lot to me that here at SMU they care so much about us. It's a great feeling."
Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire