CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Bare-footed, standing on a cold slab of metal, 18-year-old Kennedy Meeks gazed down upon the number “317” glowing beneath him.
A number that defined him.
The All-American high school basketball player set off for Chapel Hill in the summer of 2013, unaware of the struggles ahead.
“I knew in high school that I was definitely going to have to drop pounds to improve my game even more to move on to the next level,” Meeks said. “The main thing was coming here with the right mindset and knowing that it was something I needed to do to be in a certain position.”
Dropping weight became the dominant theme of Meeks’s career at North Carolina, as he pushed to transform his body to become a better athlete. The process was not easy.
As Meeks watched his teammates dedicate time and effort to improving details of their game, the distraction of his weight held him back.
“He tried to be something that he wasn’t,” former head manager Forrest Reynolds said. “He tried to prove to everybody that he wasn’t big. He was trying to do things that were outside of what Coach was asking him to do.”
Slowly his self-discipline and determination began to change him, visible on the scale and in his more explosive, aggressive play on the court.
Weighing in at 260 pounds, he had reached and exceeded his physical goals, but Meeks still had to overcome mental hurdles.
“My first couple of years I wasn’t good at accepting criticism, I was always getting down on myself,” Meeks reflected. “I was moody in practice and games.”
He found his attitude pulling down his ability to improve on the court. His improvement in that area culminated into a senior season in which Meeks has become a more coachable, reliable teammate.
“I think he’s more receptive to coaching now than he was when he first got here, he knows now why Coach was so hard on him,” Reynolds said. “His mindset used to be ‘why is he yelling at me and not Marcus?’ and now he knows he was hard on him because he wanted to see him succeed.”
His maturity growth, Meeks says, is all thanks to his North Carolina basketball family.
“I’ve done a tremendous job with my ability to listen, my ability to be big in certain situations for our team,” Meeks said. “That’s a part of me growing up and I couldn’t have done it without any of these guys right here.”
Enduring the struggles and challenges, head coach Roy Williams said, can be rewarding. And it's certainly been for Meeks.
“I push guys harder than most have them ever been comfortable,” Williams said. “When a guy hangs in there with me for four years, it’s a pretty special place.”
Meeks will step onto Smith Center court for the final time of his career, looking to showcase his four years of hard work.
“I never thought I’d be in the position I am here, playing for my senior night in front of 21,000 people,” Meeks said. “There’s no better time to close it out the right way and give the fans a great game. I know the hard work I put in here and it’s finally paying off.”
Meeks still holds a tight grip on the focus of keeping his body healthy and in the best shape it can be, but now his vision is much different.
As he gazes down upon the scale he doesn’t see a number that defines or limits his capabilities. He sees a number that shows his power, maturity and ability.
“I really wanted to prove to everybody that I’m capable of doing that,” Meeks smiled. “It’s all about being resilient in these situations and I feel like I’ve done a great job of pushing myself, working hard and bouncing back.”