Kennerson grabs national spotlight as D-I leading scorer
Courtesy: Jenny Dial Creech, Houston Chronicle
HOUSTON - In late August, Joyce Kennerson wasn't sure if she would be back at Texas Southern for her junior year.
She and her family had been through quite the ordeal - the same one thousands of others in the area dealt with, too.
As the rains from Hurricane Harvey poured down, Kennerson and her mother, father, younger sister and brother watched as water filled the downstairs of their Port Arthur home.
Everything was destroyed and Kennerson felt like her place was with her family and not at TSU. Her mother Demetria and father Anthony disagreed. Thank goodness they did.
Joyce returned to TSU in early September to continue working toward her health sciences degree. And while doing so, she also became the leading scorer in NCAA women's basketball.
The 5-4 junior guard is a averaging 25.6 points per game. Ohio State's Kelsey Mitchell is second at 25.3 points and Iowa's Megan Gustafson third at 23.6.
Kennerson's Tigers are 10-8 this season and stand in second place in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
For the most part, TSU flies under the radar on the national basketball scene. The Tigers aren't UConn, Baylor or Texas. They've had good teams, successful seasons and one major blemish when they were involved in a brawl on the court with Southern during the 2015 season.
The Tigers certainly have never been known for something like this - boasting the nation's leading scorer.
"It's not going to be easy," Kennerson said. "But yeah, I would like to finish the season being No. 1."
A traumatic time
The scoring title wasn't something she set out to do this season. She thought she would be taking a year off. So did her coaches and most of her team.
With her family's home ruined, they remain in an apartment while trying to finish repairs and move back in.
Harvey took a toll on Kennerson. She tries not to think about it, but the storm was traumatic.
"I remember walking downstairs because it was raining so much and it seemed like no water was coming in, but I stepped down and I could feel the carpet was wet and starting to move up," she said. "I went back upstairs for only a couple of minutes and by the time I came back down you could see the water rising.
"It was really scary."
Over the next few hours, the first floor of their home flooded. Jeeps patrolled the neighborhood and first responders started helping residents evacuate.
Kennerson witnessed the destruction while she and her family were taken to a shelter nearby in an empty school.
"That filled up pretty quickly," she said. "So we went to my older sister's house in Beaumont. She had some damage, too, and no electricity, but it was a lot better than our house."
At that point, school and basketball were the last things on her mind. Instead, she wanted to be home for her younger siblings - Asyiah, 18, and Jordan, 19. Kennerson thought helping them would help her parents.
"Family is more important than everything," she said. "I felt like I needed to be the big sister and stick around."
Her parents insisted they were fine and that she continue on with her education. So she headed back.
"I knew I would be fine with my basketball family here, but I worried about them at home," she said.
When basketball season rolled around, Kennerson started spending more time in the gym, working on her shot. She'd been known for her passing throughout high school at Port Arthur Memorial and in her first two years at TSU.
But she'd been given the green light to shoot.
"I took it," she said. "And I just worked on getting better."
It wasn't long before her name started showing up on national lists because of her scoring average.
Once she reached second behind Mitchell a few weeks ago, people started pointing it out to her. New spread on Twitter, around campus, among her friends and family.
Parents on a thrill ride
This week when she jumped to No. 1, it became the main topic of conversation.
"Everyone talks to me about it all the time now," Kennerson said. "It's been really cool. I hope I can keep it up. I'm glad it's making people so happy."
It's making a couple of people particularly happy.
"My parents are thrilled," she said.
The two still show up for every TSU home game while working full time and trying to put their house back together.
"My mom is always talking to her co-workers and my dad gets so excited," she said. "I guess it's been a good year to have this happen."
Kennerson's play has been the perfect distraction from the devastation her hometown faced after Harvey.
And if being the No. 1 scorer in the country can help lift her family's spirits, she will do everything she can to stay on top.