Growing up the only child of a single mother in Hartford, Conn., Kahlil Dukes, ’17, dedicated much of his time to basketball, when he wasn’t attending services at the church where his grandmother served as pastor. When it came time to go to college, he initially attended the University of Southern California before he realized that Niagara would give him a better opportunity to showcase his talent. He immediately felt at home on the NU campus and with the basketball coaching staff, he said.
“They made me feel like family and supported my dreams and visions as an individual college student-athlete,” he said. “It was the best decision I ever made.”
Dukes focused on basketball during his three years on Monteagle Ridge. He enjoyed the camaraderie of the team, which he credits with their collective success in his senior year, when they won 19 games, including a post-season matchup. Personally, he accomplished much his senior year, as well, being named MAAC Player of the Year, becoming only the fourth Purple Eagle in program history to earn that honor. He also broke the program’s record for consecutively made free throws set by Calvin Murphy during the 1969-70 season, was the only unanimous selection to the 2017-18 All MAAC First Team, and was an Associate Press All-America Honorable Mention, the second in program history.
After graduation, Dukes played professional basketball in Russia, then went on to play for teams in Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, and Turkey, where he is finishing the regular season.
“It’s been a crazy experience, but I am doing what I love and traveling the world, so I am extremely blessed,” he said.
Last year, in the off season, Dukes launched a basketball camp for children ages 10-16.
“I always felt like basketball kids in my hometown community are limited in their access of what it takes to get to the collegiate level,” he said. “This inspired me to start my own camp.”
During the one-week camp, participants hone their basketball skills, complete strength and conditioning exercises, and attend academic meetings and lectures designed to help them deal with performance anxiety and their mental health, manage their finances, and learn about media training and branding.
“I designed the camp to mimic what it’s like as a collegiate basketball student-athlete,” Dukes said. “I feel the camp gives them a taste of what it will be like at the next level and also teaches them the knowledge and tools necessary to be recruited and get to the collegiate level.”
Dukes also emphasizes that hard work, a good support system, discipline, and a desire to learn are critical in achieving their goals, and hopes his message is inspirational to the campers.
Based on the success of the first year, it appears it is.
“All of the kids and families from the first annual wanted another week of camp when it finished,” he said. “The kids all believed they were getting better, not only as basketball players, but as young people.”
Dukes, himself, was inspired by a friend he met while at USC. “Johnny Stephene taught me to always work hard no matter how things are going, to keep God first, and to always be able to adapt and reinvent yourself,” he said.
He also found inspiration in Niagara’s Vincentian tradition, which reinforced the values of selflessness and service to others that he was taught as a child. He noted that, although he was not impacted directly by the recent earthquake in Turkey, he was moved to help those who were.
In addition to his camp, Dukes recently launched a clothing brand called “LoveKd” and is an aspiring songwriter. While he is hoping to continue his professional basketball career, he is also planning to grow his camp and “LoveKd,” as well as pursue opportunities to write songs and film scripts.
“These are things I’m investing in now,” he said, “so that’s why I see myself reaping the benefits of them in the next five to 10 years.”