For Franck Kepnang, it has been a winding journey toward becoming one of the nation’s top-ranked centers. It started in Cameroon, where he actually started off playing competitive tennis, dabbling in karate and strength trained for two years before he really played a competitive basketball game. He came over to play basketball at MacDuffie (MA), before transferring to Westtown (PA), which has produced prospects such as Mohamed Bamba and Cameron Reddish in recent years. He also played in the EYBL for the PSA Cardinals, proving to be one of the top rim protection specialists during the 2019 season.
With a mind towards his future coupled with his intense inherent academic curiosity, Kepnang has decided to reclassify to immediately join the college of his choice. The plan is to study computer science and play basketball at the University of Oregon. In Franck Kepnang, the Ducks get someone with true center size, who can add quite a bit of strength and alter a large quantity of shots. In recent years under coach Dana Altman, Oregon has had a number of their top shot blockers in program history come through the program, such as Jordan Bell, Chris Boucher, Kenny Wooten, and Bol Bol.
N’Faly Dante from Mali is currently on the roster, and Kepnang will redshirt and give him a tremendous scout team opponent in practice during the 2020-21 season. Energy is the name of the game for Kepnang, as he also has the ability to finish above the rim and be a factor on the glass. He has a mind for technology, with an ability to fix computers and an interest in working with drones. In what was definitely a unique recruiting process, Oregon will be getting a prospect with a college-ready body and mind, who should hit the ground running as soon as he gets to campus.
For the next installment of the Pro Insight Q&A series, we present Oregon-bound big man Franck Kepnang, originally from Yaounde, Cameroon:
Pro Insight: What were the most important factors in your college decision?
Franck Kepnang: School was very important to me. I know that one day the ball will stop bouncing. I needed to go to a school that would really support me. I was looking for school that would really help me strive in the classroom.
PI: Was it challenging to build relationships with programs via Zoom meetings during this ongoing Coronavirus pandemic? Did you get used to it?
FK: Definitely, during this period of time, I had a lot of Zoom meetings with different coaches and coaching staffs. For me, it was very important that I try my best to connect with each staff and feel like I get to know them. My concern had been that I would go to a place, where I really didn’t get to know the staff and the coaches individually before I arrived. I wanted to go to a place where I know the coaches and have that relationship because I have talked with them many times. I really think that those relationships are important when trying to win a National Championship. We have to go in with the same mentality and goals in mind. To be able to communicate smoothly will help us move quickly.
PI: Was that with the staffs in general or the head coaches?
FK: I wanted it with the staff, but having a relationship with the head coach in particular because, ultimately, they’re the ones making the decisions on the court. I was really looking for a relationship with the head coach more.
PI: Who did you turn to for guidance during the process? What advice did they recommend to you?
FK: During the whole process, Mark Carter was really the one by my side. He was just consistently helpful in providing me with information and making sure that I had communication with staffs. He tried to make sure that I would be supported by the colleges, both on and off the court. We were looking for a place that I would strive on and off the court. We wanted to find a place that we could develop, win and learn at.
PI: Without further adieu, where will you be attending college?
FK: I have decided to commit to the University of Oregon.
FK: Thank you! Thank you.
PI: What set Oregon apart? What made them different than the rest of your options?
FK: With Oregon, they play my style of basketball. They play an NBA style, with spreading the floor and allowing you to be versatile. Also, in terms of the facilities, I know that I won’t ever have to worry about getting injured or recovering. For anyone that plays basketball, that’s always been the biggest concern. I know that if anything happens, I’ll be taken care of because they have world-class facilities. In terms of the education component, I would like to study computer science. In particular, I would like to study robotic engineering. They’ve recently improved that facility towards that major. For me, with computers, I’m like a little kid in a candy store. I love all of the technology that they have.
PI: What was their most consistent message to you throughout the recruiting process? What did they try to convey?
FK: They kept saying that they like my energy as a big. They loved the energy that I try to bring to the court every time I step onto it. They felt that I’m unique. That I’m special and that’s what they’re looking for. They like that I bring energy on both ends of the court. Sometimes, guys will only bring it on the part of the court that they’re strong at. They liked my versatility and that I could play on different areas of the court. They liked that I’ve adapted, but also that they would like to expand my game. They also made it clear that it would depend on my work ethic and how hard I wanted to push myself to progress and develop. They emphasized that they’ll be there by my side to strive to get better.
PI: Was their track record of development one of the major factors in why you chose them?
FK: Yes, definitely, in terms of players with my size and my body structure, a lot of them they’ve had have made it to the NBA. My goal is to become the best player that I can be and then to hopefully make it to the NBA. If I am fortunate enough to make the NBA, my goal is not just to make it there, but to stay and ultimately thrive in the NBA. At Oregon, I know they play a lot of NBA style basketball. With the terminology that they use, I know that I will be prepared, if I am fortunate enough to make the NBA.
PI: What was Coach Altman’s reaction when you told him?
FK: Oh, he was beyond happy. He kept using the phrase that I made him the happiest man in America. The coaching staff, particularly Coach Mike (Mennenga) was jumping around. He just kept bouncing up and down. It showed me that they genuinely were excited to have me join the Ducks program.
PI: You’ll be flying out tomorrow and redshirting. What has Coach Altman recommended that you work on this year in preparation for next season?
FK: He’s spoken to me about expanding my game and my range. They want to keep working with me on my shot. He’s really just told me to focus on the work in general over the next year.
PI: What was the thought process behind redshirting this year at Oregon versus staying at the Westtown School?
FK: I thought it would help in a few ways: a) it would help me get closer to completing my degree and b) to learn from the coaches there and (N’Faly) Dante. He plays my position and I plan on learning from how he operates and asking him questions. I want to find out what it takes to become a pro. I also want to get my body right and get stronger, if I can. I plan on learning, getting better and just being ready to step in as a freshman. I want to learn the plays and learn what it takes to succeed. Then, when I get on the court, I already know the plays and can be a leader.
PI: It’ll help you fast forward the development process, one would think.
FK: Yes, definitely.
PI: Did you get to know any of the current players during the recruiting process?
FK: The coaches there, over the last couple of months, connected me with Dante. I’ve talked with him a lot. It’s nice to have that kind of connection with a fellow big man.
PI: Can you tell fans a little bit about your background? How you arrived in New York from Cameroon and then ultimately at the Westtown School?
FK: My background is actually kind of a unique one. I was originally a pretty good tennis player. That’s all I did. I played for two years and then I was randomly at a grocery store and my eventual Cameroon junior team coach spotted me there. He was the one who discovered me. He took me to a camp and he was like, “Hey, you need to start learning how to play basketball!” I spent the next two years just doing strength training. I never played in any games. Then, he helped to find me a school in the U.S. That’s how I came to America. I literally went from school in Cameroon to fly to the U.S. and started working right away. I immediately got a workout and school in. I wanted to show my work ethic right from the start.
PI: Did you stop playing tennis completely?
FK: Not completely, but definitely much less than before. If someone wants to play, I’ll always hit with them. I can still hold my serve with them. It helped with footwork.
PI: Growing up in Cameroon, did you look up to Joel Embiid or Pascal Siakam?
FK: No, not really. I wasn’t into the game of basketball. It took awhile for me to come around, but my idol wound up being Hakeem Olajuwon. I used to love watching his moves and I still do. He had so many beautiful moves.
PI: The “Dream Shake!”
FK: Yes, sir! I can’t even tell you how many times I have watched videos of his. He’s become one of my absolute idols. His patience on the block is something that I’ve been working on. I need to work on that.
PI: Have you ever met him?
FK: No, never.
PI: Hopefully, you will soon enough. Do you come from a big family in Cameroon?
FK: No, just me and my mom.
PI: Did she play at all?
FK: No, I’m actually the first to play basketball, but she was a black belt in Karate. She actually did tournaments throughout the whole African continent. She was actually very good.
PI: Did you ever do karate?
FK: A little when I was younger.
PI: It’s a good thing you stopped. You might’ve killed someone. Was it a big adjustment coming to America and to Westtown?
FK: No, not really. I went to MacDuffie first. I had to accommodate or change to the way people speak. I was used to British English. There are just terms that people use in America that were different than I was used to. That was really like my learning curve and then it was smooth when I got to Westtown.
PI: Last season, you practiced against Noah Collier (Pitt freshman) and Dereck Lively (consensus 4-star junior). This year, you’ll be practicing against one of the best college bigs in the country in N’Faly Dante. How did you improve from competing against them in practice? What do you hope to learn from Dante?
FK: Noah was a very explosive player. Last year, me and him were very, very competitive. He would tell you too. You can ask him, We would compete. Even in practice, we would try to dunk on each other. And with Dereck, I would try to take him under my wing. I would just try to back him down and use my tricks. He made me better and I made him better. With Dante, I want to learn to play a college style, with its speed and power. Guys are bigger and make faster decisions. I want to learn what I need to improve on by battling against him.
PI: You’ve built a reputation as a rim protector. What do you think are the most important aspects of being a quality defender? Also, what types of players are the most challenging for you to defend?
FK: I think to be a good defender you have to communicate. You have to constantly talk. You have to make your teammates aware of where the ball is. I try to be loud and tell my teammates where they should be best positioned. You've got to keep your hands up. You also want to be lower than the man you're guarding. The low man always wins. That can make you into an elite defender. In terms of the other part, I haven't met anyone in high school who was a major challenge for me. I would say because I’m pretty tall that it’s usually the really quick, but small guys that give me trouble. That combination is challenging. You have to be more cautious. They can sneak in there and also get you in foul trouble. You can’t let them get too close and have them draw fouls.
PI: What on the offensive side of the ball do you think is the next stage of your development?
FK: I think I need to keep finding my rhythm because that's very important. I feel like I have a lot of moves, but I feel like my biggest issue is just finding my rhythm. When I get into a rhythm, I find the game is just so much easier. I am able to see the court much easier where my teammates are. When I find my rhythm, things just seem to slow down. I feel like I'm in the zone.
PI: Do you have an area where you like to catch it? Is there a preferred area?
FK: No, not really. I think I can play in the top of the post and also down deep in the paint. I like to pick-and-pop from the top of the key or on the wing. I also really like to use counter moves too, when help comes.
PI: For fans that have never seen you play, outside of, perhaps, videos, how would you describe your overall game? What should they expect? What do you bring to the court?
FK: Oh, hard work and passion…I'm a very passionate person when I step on the court. Off the court, I'm a totally different type of person. I bring a lot of energy. I want to see my teammates succeed. I want to win. I want to win as much as possible. My goal is to win a National Championship. Individually, I take pride in trying to block a lot of shots and protect the rim. I like to just lock down the other player. I love the challenge of rebounding, too. Any ball that’s going up is mine.
PI: You plan on majoring in computer science?
FK: Yes, well, I mean I want to be a robotic engineer. I’m not sure if it’ll be under computer science or mechanical engineering.
PI: I know you’ve been fixing computers at Westtown. While that’s certainly unusual or unique, what other interests do you have?
FK: Outside of basketball, I enjoy drawing and just technology in general. I like to work with drones and what is called FPV drones. It’s first-person drones. I like to make the drones move and figure out how to make them as good as possible.
PI: Did you always have a fairly curious mind about how things were made or how they function?
FK: Yes, as a kid, my mother would buy me a remote control car and I would play with it for a few hours, but then take it apart. I would crack it open just to see what was inside. I would try to find the cables or wires that were in it and power them up.
PI: Sounds almost like what solving a puzzle would be to some kids. I meant to ask you, but was it a relief to get this decision over with? Did you find it stressful at times?
FK: I think a lot of players can relate to this, but there were times where I found it overwhelming. It was a relief to make that decision and know that it was one that I am comfortable with. My mother is very proud of it. So, that was a relief. I now know where I'm going. It is a relief.
PI: Lastly, do you have any message for Ducks fans who are thrilled about your commitment?
FK: I’m just so happy to be a Duck! I can’t wait to get out there. I can’t wait to bring energy and feel the energy from the fans. I want to have fun and win games. I’m just very, very happy and proud to be a Duck!