Redshirt Illini hoopster suddenly becomes a team leader this season
One year ago, Bolingbrook native Kennedy Cattenhead was a redshirt sophomore guard for the University of Illinois women's basketball team, seventh in seniority behind several upperclassmen on the roster.
Today, she is playing the role of veteran leader.
Cattenhead started the 2016-17 season as a redshirt junior and second in seniority only to senior guard Ashley McConnell. The rest of the roster consists of freshmen and sophomores.
“I just want to see, you know, good things from our team,” Cattenhead told the Will County Gazette. “I just want to know that we're growing. We're really young.”
Last season, Cattenhead made a big jump in playing time – and her statistics jumped as well.
According to FightingIllini.com, Cattenhead went from averaging 5.9 minutes a game in the 2014-15 season to 26 minutes per contest last season. Her point and rebound averages went from 1.1 and 1.0, respectively, to 6.7 and 4.2. She played in 30 games and made 27 starts for the Illini
This season, through the first three games, Cattenhead averaged 6.7 points and three rebounds.
Cattenhead said she has improved a lot in her time in Champaign, mainly in the mental aspect. Given the speed of the game in the Big Ten Conference, Cattenhead said she had to become more of a thinking player.
“I think that over my four years here now, I've become more of a mental player and not always using my athleticism. I have to think more now as a player,” Cattenhead said.
Early on, before basketball came into her life, Cattenhead started out in gymnastics and figure skating. However, her parents pushed her into basketball, given how much taller she was than everyone else at that stage. She started playing basketball in sixth grade.
“I wasn't good at all when I first started,” she said. “Toward the end of my sixth-grade year, I started to get better.”
Once she got good at it, she wanted to stick with it. That led to a stellar career at Bolingbrook High School, with Illinois Basketball Coaches Association All-State First Team honors in 2013 and a prospect rating of three stars out of five by ESPN HoopGurlz, according to FightingIllini.com.
The competitive aspect of basketball is what Cattenhead said she likes the most.
“Everything with basketball is always competitive,” she said. “You'll never have a day off from having to compete, and I love to compete from practice to the weight room to on the court.”
Cattenhead chose Illinois for its academics, as well as the drive from the coaches and the family atmosphere.
“That really helped, knowing I came from like me being an only-child home, I wanted to know that I would get the same, like, feelings ... at school,” she said.
Upon arriving in Champaign, Cattenhead said it was a big jump, with the players being much stronger and faster. That is when her competitive nature came in handy.
“Coming from the program that I came from, it was always like being a competitor and being pushed, and it always drove me to always compete with the older girls ... here already,” she said.
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