The fluid form of Riverbank High speedster Kenny Veliz will now be recognizable as a royal blue and gold blur.
On Thursday, Aug. 8, Veliz signed an agreement to play basketball at UC Merced under the assistance of financial aid. He did this during freshman orientation for the university.
“I’m so happy for him and so proud of him,” Riverbank varsity basketball coach Jeff Jennings said. “He has worked exceptionally hard, not just athletically, but academically as well.”
Veliz, known best for his sharpshooting technique beyond the arc and a tenacious defensive press, made a name for himself beyond the court during his sophomore season at RHS.
With the routine of prep education proving a steady but unquenched challenge, Veliz made the commitment to enter into Riverbank’s tougher advanced courses. He excelled in those classes, ultimately snaring high academic honors en route to a stellar prep career in both athletics and academics.
It’s the same drive that carried him to UC Merced.
“I really chose UC Merced because of their academics,” Veliz said. “It’s an incredible feeling to know I will continue my education there, and also play basketball.”
And there’s something special about the way Veliz plays basketball.
The two-time Sac-Joaquin Section semifinalist and NorCal State Championship Tournament participant converted 50 three-pointers in under 28 games to start the year and was named Riverbank’s defensive MVP. He was selected to play in the Madness in the Mother Lode All Star Extravaganza at Columbia College and was a runner-up for the 2012-13 Riverbank News Athlete of the Year.
“I think he’s a rare athlete that can change a game,” Jennings said. “He’s so quick and so fearless and he will go down as one of the all-time great defenders at Riverbank.
“Offensively, he can shoot, but his ability to attack you defensively is what separates him from everyone else.”
Veliz said coach Jennings and his StanCo Stampede Competitive Travel Basketball coach Undrae Walker played big roles in his recruitment by UC Merced. Both sought to match his talents on and off the court with a program close to home that would provide the right opportunities.
Veliz will also give the Bobcats an opportunity for success.
The program was 10-21 a season ago, but advanced to the California Pacific Conference Tournament’s second round after an inspiring 8-3 close to the season. Veliz could translate into an immediate contributor, considering standouts Aki Chambers (All American guard), Javon Barrino (forward), Martin Harris (guard) and Michael Yonemoto (guard) all completed their final year of eligibility on Feb. 22. Chambers was also the Cal Pac Player of the Year, and will leave some big shoes to fill.
Veliz said UC Merced coaches plan to utilize him at point guard, an interesting transition considering Veliz spent the past two years with a vital starting role as a Bruin shooting guard.
“It will be a challenge to play point guard, and I am excited about that,” Veliz said. “I feel like I will need to be prepared to play every position on the floor.”
Preparation has never been a problem for Veliz. Coach Jennings said the senior never missed a day of summer practice or weightlifting and played a significant leadership role on the team.
“I have so much respect and admiration for that kid,” Jennings said. “His life wasn’t easy and he struggled, but he always wanted more and worked to get himself in a better situation.
“He plays the game the same way.”