Saturday had already been a great day for Markus Kennedy.
The 6-foot-9 center had scored 21 points and grabbed 15 boards, both career-highs, while hitting all 10 of his field goals in an 87-72 rout of then-No. 22 Memphis as the Mustangs notched another resume-building win, one that will help people forget about a loss to lowly South Florida earlier in the week and inched them just that much closer to the right side of the bubble.
It was the best performance of his career, and it just so happened to come in what was SMU’s biggest game of the season.
For most student-athletes, it doesn’t get much better than that.
You see, Kennedy’s mother, Barbara, is a sergeant in the Air Force and, on Monday morning, she was heading off to Kuwait for an eight-month deployment. According to Kennedy, this is his mother’s third tour of duty. She spent time in Germany and in Korea, but that all came when Kennedy was younger.
“We weren’t expecting to see each other before she left,” Kennedy told NBCSports.com. “That was kind of rough on me,” but what Kennedy didn’t know is that SMU had filed a waiver with the NCAA asking permission to pay for a plane ticket to fly him home to see his mother before she left.
“They surprised me after the game,” he said. “They told me I had a ticket to go home. That’s all I needed to know. Rushed in the shower, got my clothes, and I was on the way to the airport. I didn’t ask any questions, I just said thank you to who I had to say thank you to.”
There was a benefit to being unaware of the plane ticket that awaited him after the game: it meant that Barbara was also unaware of Kennedy’s impending arrival. So he enlisted the help of an aunt, who helped to set his mom up.
“My aunt, she organized this game where my mom was blindfolded and she had to feel the family member’s face to guess who they were,” Kennedy said. “When I came in, she was blindfolded. I just walked in and kneeled down, like it was just a part of the game. When she took them off, she was real surprised. She had no clue.”
Having a loved one in the military head overseas is not an easy thing to handle for anyone, let alone a 21-year old college student halfway across the country from his family.
Good on SMU for making sure that this got done.
I think we all can tell just how appreciative the Kennedys are.
“I really want to thank the NCAA and the whole SMU family for allowing me to see my mom before she leaves on Monday,” Markus wrote on Instagram. “I can’t express this feeling, thank you.”