Shadows have never haunted Tim Kempton Jr. Neither do his father’s framed NBA jerseys that line the walls of their Scottsdale, Arizona, home. For Lehigh’s All-American center, his namesake, Tim Kempton Sr., is his best friend – not a daunting legacy that lives down the hall.
The shadow, although never deliberately cast, has followed the younger Kempton throughout his time at Brophy Prep in Phoenix, over the course of his AAU tournaments and now has even extended to Bethlehem. His father played professional basketball for 14 years, eight of which were in the NBA. Now, Kempton Sr. serves as the color commentator for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns on Arizona’s 98.7-KTAR.
Yet, Kempton Jr. doesn’t lace up each winter to chase his father’s glory on the hardwood. He never has. When it comes to his father and basketball, he’s after one thing that has followed Kempton Sr. far after retirement.
“Having people ask me about him is just kind of a respect that’s awesome to see,” Kempton Jr. said. “It’s not something that bothers me. Its something that one day I hope to leave the same thing with my kid.”
Kempton Jr. refuses to isolate himself from the shadow that follows him, as he holds too much pride in being associated with it. Yet when it was time for him to write the next chapter of the Kempton family business of basketball, he decided to do it his own way. With his grandfather part of the 1961 St. Joseph’s University Final Four team, his dad a four-year Fightin’ Irishman at University of Notre Dame, Kempton Jr. looked to add to his family history by joining a new one in Bethlehem.
“I fell in love with the school, with Gabe (Knutson), with C.J. (McCollum) and with Holden (Greiner),” Kempton Jr. said recalling his official visit to Lehigh. “When I came here the family aspect was big about it, and that’s what they kind of explained to me. The coaches here aren’t afraid to play freshmen.”
It was Lehigh’s lead assistant coach, Antoni Wyche, who scouted the lanky center from Brophy Prep. Wyche knew there was something raw about Kempton Jr., something that could allow the relatively unknown prospect to be a force on South Mountain.
“Knowing that we were looking for a center to replace Gabe Knutson, we were looking for somebody to come in and be an anchor for us down low, score with his back to the basket,” Wyche said.
As for the schools that realized there was another Kempton dominating the blocks on the prep school scene, they were too late. Wyche was first in line to acquire the services for the 2013 state prep player of the year.
“I just tried to tell him that he had an opportunity to come here, play and make a difference,” Wyche said. “That stayed consistent with him throughout the summer and I think that’s what paid dividends for him getting able to secure a visit.”
As for the pressure Kempton Sr. put on his eldest child to follow him South Bend, Indiana, where he most likely could have joined the Fighting Irish as a walk-on – there wasn’t any.
“I said whatever choice you make, I’ll support you,” Kempton Sr. said. “It’s your decision. I’ve already done it – my basketball career is over. I just want to see you have fun and have success with basketball.”
With that, Kempton opted for a brown jersey with white trim. In his freshman season in 2013-14, the son of the former NBA journeyman started chipping away at his shadow with each game. Averaging 13 points and seven rebounds a game in his freshman campaign, Kempton Jr. earned Patriot League Rookie of the Year honors as well as being considered a finalist for the National Freshman of the Year.
Kempton Jr. was now on a shortlist associated with the legend’s of his class, Andrew Wiggins of University of Kansas and Jabari Parker of Duke University, who went No. 1 and No. 2 in the subsequent 2014 NBA Draft.
Rookie of the Year honors in 2014 were followed by Player of the Year honors in 2015, with honorable mention All-American status adding to the list of accolades collected by the now junior.
If scouts didn’t think Kempton Jr. could bang like his father could on the hardwood of ACC and Big 10 courts, they now thought differently. Transfer requests and inquiries flooded the center’s inbox, as they are a part of any mid-major talent’s rise to the national scene. For Kempton Jr., however, that’s all they were.
“If you’re willing to transfer that easily and you’re willing to just leave behind 12 players that you’ve had a connection with for now two years, it shows something not completely about your character, but about the person you are,” Kempton Jr. said, “It was something that was mentioned to me and something that people that obviously bring light to, but it wasn’t something that I considered.”
A matchup with the Arizona State University Sun Devils was promised to Kempton Jr. on his recruiting trip and at the beginning of his sophomore year, his homecoming parade was scheduled.
Kempton Jr. grew up in the Sun Devil’s backyard, just 15 miles from Tempe, Arizona. Despite their knowledge of the lanky center burying hook shots and drop steps at nearby Brophy Prep and for the state’s top AAU program, the Arizona Magic, minimal interest was shown by the Pac-12 member.
Just two years removed from an underwhelming recruiting process given the size of Kempton Jr.’s current trophy case, he hadn’t forgot about his hometown school that shut its doors on him.
“It was kind of chip on my shoulder game, just because I knew so many players on the team, and I was a local talent from that area,” Kempton Jr. said. “It was a game kind of a game where I said, “Hey let’s see what we can do with this. Let’s see if Arizona knows if they messed up on something.'”
With 30 family members and friends in the stands in Tempe, Kempton Jr. dropped 16 points and 11 rebounds on the way to the 84-81 triple overtime Hawks win. Sitting courtside was his dad, with a little piece of his inadvertent shadow whittled away that night – beaming of pride on national television.
Kempton Sr. is a full-time cheerleader for Kempton Jr. and his two brothers – Michael, who is a freshman guard at Division III Williams College and Matthew, a 6-foot-5 ball-handling wizard who will certainly take part in the Kempton family business of basketball one day. Father Kempton does double as a coach for his boys, but only when asked. He wouldn’t dream of imposing unwanted tutelage on his boys.
“If you have a desire and passion for it, it goes a lot longer,” Kempton Sr. said, recalling his approach to teaching his own kids about their dad’s life work. “If someone is telling you that you need to do this and you need to do that, it almost works in a negative way.”
When Kempton Jr. began to carve out his future being centered on the game, that’s when he called on the NBA veteran a few bedrooms down. From alone time in the gym, to famous two-on-two games featuring the four Kempton men, to conference player of the year honors – the game could just be beginning for No. 32.
NBA and FIBA certified scouts have reached out to the Kemptons, as the younger has landed on the radars of draft big boards despite hailing from a mid-major. The idea of playing professionally is on Kempton Jr.’s radar too, using every chance he gets to help turn those inquiries into a reality.
“NBA would be awesome and that’s what I’m shooing for right now,” Kempton Jr. said, although not ruling out international competition. “With European leagues and Euroball raising its level so much and the talent behind it, it’s almost a no-brainer if you get drafted in the lower rounds or if you don’t have a shot in the NBA.”
Kempton Sr. took his talents abroad during his playing days, in between stints with eight NBA teams 14 seasons. Playing professionally in Spain, Turkey, France and Italy highlighted Kempton’s career, but as for if he wishes the same path for his eldest son, he’ll stay out of it.
“It’s up to him. If he wants to go play in Europe, I think that will be great – the experience is phenomenal,” Kempton Sr. said. “Or if he gets to the NBA if that’s what he wants. My career is over and if it’s what he wants and if basketball is part of it, I hope all of his dreams and wishes come true.”
The shadow will follow Kempton Jr. through the rest of his college career, and perhaps to the NBA and overseas. That is a definite. For him, the “son of” prefix often precedes commentary regarding his monster stat line from the night before. He doesn’t mind it though. For Kempton Jr., it’s just a reminder that the respect of his family’s trade is growing stronger through him.