February 5, 1999
BERKELEY - When Kobie Kennon's parents took her to basketball games as a little girl, her first heroes weren't on the court in shorts and tank tops, but lining the sidelines, wearing skirts and waving pom-poms.
"At first, I wanted to be a cheerleader," said Kennon, a senior on the California basketball team. "I would always watch the cheerleaders, but then I started to pay more and more attention to the game, just being around it a lot."
It's no wonder Kobie soon found that her real desire was to play on the court -- her name means "warrior" in a West African dialect. Once she started playing basketball, nothing could take her away from the sport she grew up watching.
Kennon, a 6-0 forward, soaked in as many basketball games as possible growing up. She was a fixture at area high schools and at the Oakland Coliseum, where she met her idol Cheryl Miller.
"Basketball has had a huge impact on my life," Kennon said. "I grew up around it. I would go to games and not even know who any players were or have any connection with the schools."
Growing up in East Palo Alto, Calif., there were not a lot of options besides basketball. Fortunately for Kennon, there was one place where she could go to work on her game, a community gym called Kelly Park.
"That was the only gym," Kennon said. "They had lots of AAU teams, so I would just go to the gym and practice with the different guys on the AAU teams. I got a lot of basketball experience over there playing with guys most of my high school career.
"The gym would stay open all night; we would just stay there and whoever wanted to would work on shooting. I'd go to school, come home, do homework, go to practice and then go over to Kelly Park and shoot till about midnight, or just play one-on-one with whoever's in there. I think playing against guys and also having that gym available really helped my skills."
Kennon parlayed the skills she developed in the gym into a standout high school career that included three-straight state championships and a 114-1 record at Sacred Heart Prep before earning a scholarship to Cal.
Now, four years later, Kennon is on track to earn a degree in ethnic studies with a minor in education. She wants to go to graduate school and put the life lessons she's learned through basketball into effect in the real world by working with young people.
"I've always tutored and mentored kids," said Kennon, who is currently tutoring a third-grader through the "I Have a Dream" mentor program. In high school, she set up an arts-and-crafts after-school program for elementary school children. Her ultimate goal is to become an elementary school principal.
"I've always worked with children and love to be around them," she said, noting that basketball has always served as an inspiration and a teaching tool.
"Basketball has had a huge impact on my life," she said. "It's taught me a lot -- how you have to conduct yourself and keep your composure. It's the same thing in life. You have to follow directions, and that's what I try to get through to kids."
Kennon has seen her playing time steadily increase this season and recently got her first start of the year, helping the Golden Bears beat USC 61-51 on Jan. 16.
"It doesn't really matter to me about starting or not starting. I have a role on the team, and that's what I try to do, whatever I can to help the team, whether I start or come off the bench," Kennon said. "(My role) isn't really offensive -- it's to go in and put pressure on the ball on defense and get rebounds."
Kennon is one of four seniors for Cal this season. Head coach Marianne Stanley believes Kennon provides valuable leadership to the Bears.
"She's one of our better defenders," Stanley said. "She plays with a lot of enthusiasm. No matter what the score or circumstance is, she's always mentally in the game. She always competes hard and believes in her own ability to contribute to our team's success."
Stanley also thinks Kennon has the perfect temperament and positive attitude that it takes to work with young people.
"Kobi has a warm personality and is very outgoing," Stanley said. "She relates well with all kinds of people. Any chance she has to work with kids would be great because I can't think of a better role model."
By NATE SAGAN