"That's the one person that's helped me out a lot," the 6-foot-9 freshman who grew up outside of Atlanta said with pride last week.
Kemp was talking about Harold Doyal, his mother's brother and a former Western Washington University player who spent 13 years playing overseas. Whenever the subject turns to Kemp's biological father, namesake and Seattle sports legend, he doesn't have a whole lot to say.
All Kemp Jr. knows for certain is that he prefers not to be in The Reign Man's shadow.
"Something like that," he said. "I don't want to get too caught up in his things. I'm trying to do my own thing."
After spending part of his life wishing he had another first name -- any other name, really -- Shawn Kemp Jr. decided to go to the one place where his father's legend won't soon be forgotten. In a way, Kemp Jr. stepped right back into the shadow.
"When I was younger, it used to be hard," he said of carrying the name of his father, a six-time NBA All-Star who played his first nine seasons with the Seattle Sonics. "I thought about it when I came here: a lot of people would try to compare me to him, or him to me. ... I can deal with it. After awhile, it's the same stuff."
In a sense, Kemp Jr. has been in a dim spotlight for his entire life. As one of nine children fathered by Shawn Kemp Sr., through numerous mothers, the kid with the famous name was technically a part of sports culture even before he started playing athletics.
Though born in Seattle during his father's second season with the Sonics, Kemp Jr. moved across the country when he was 5 years old, along with his mother, Genay Doyal. He spent most of his life in the Atlanta area, several states away from his biological father. When asked to describe his relationship with Shawn Sr. during those years, the UW freshman will only shrug and say that there wasn't much more than an occasional telephone conversation.
Depending just as much on his Uncle Harold's tutelage as he did his biological father's genes, Kemp Jr. became a star on the hardwood -- which only added to the questions about his name.
"There are a lot of people that are like: 'What? What's his name?'" Kemp Jr. said last week from the UW campus. "Everybody believes me here, though. There were a few people in Georgia that didn't believe me. They were like, 'You're not Shawn Kemp.' I was like, 'Whatever, I don't have to prove anything to you.'"
Despite a markedly different game that relies more on mid-range jumpers than two-handed, rim-rattling dunks, Kemp Jr. did enough on the basketball court to be named an alternate on the 2009 McDonald's All-America team. He signed a letter-of-intent with the University of Alabama, citing a desire to stay close to home, but did not qualify academically because of a low SAT score. Kemp Jr. enrolled at Hargrove Military Academy in Virginia, signed with Auburn for the 2010-11 season, but again failed to qualify academically.
Having been recruited by UW and assistant coach Paul Fortier during both years, Kemp Jr. moved to Seattle and targeted the Huskies as his next destination. He moved in with his grandparents in Bellevue, had an uncle help him get a job as a merchandiser at Coca-Cola, and spent the year trying to become academically eligible. He took two online classes that proved so challenging that he had to quit his job just to keep up.
Kemp Jr. eventually qualified, signed a financial-aid agreement that wouldn't cost UW an athletic scholarship, and that's how he ended up with the Huskies.
"One of the big reasons I came was because of my family," said Kemp, whose mother now lives outside of Seattle. "All my family's here still."
And yet the most famous member of his biological family was not really a factor at all. Shawn Kemp Sr., who spent the first two years after his 2003 retirement in Houston, had moved back to Seattle in 2005 and had, by most accounts, matured in both his personal life and as a father. An Indiana native who will turn 42 next month, Kemp Sr. is remarried and does some media appearances in Seattle, but mostly stays out of the spotlight.
His son and namesake said their relationship has improved.
"Oh, yeah. I talk to him way more," said Kemp Jr., who has worn the No. 40 made famous by his father for most of his athletic career. "When I was living in Atlanta, we would talk, but it wasn't anything crazy. Now that I'm here, I see him every once in awhile."
As a player, Kemp Jr. could help bolster a UW frontline that has all kinds of question marks. He was admittedly out of shape when he started taking part in informal practices last spring but has since dropped 10 pounds, to 255.
Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said Kemp's conditioning might hold him back early in the 2011-12 season.
"You've got to understand where he came from: just completely out of shape," Romar said. "He is, right now, in basketball shape. But he's going to get into better shape. He's not in the shape he'll be in in January."
Romar recalls the original Shawn Kemp as an incredible basketball player, and it wouldn't be a stretch to call the UW coach a big fan. But he didn't really use the Reign Man during the Huskies' recruitment of his son.
"I know Shawn Sr., but we didn't have a lot of conversations," Romar said. "It was probably more with his mother, and with Shawn Jr."
So far, the return to the city where his father became a basketball legend seems to have worked out pretty well for Shawn Kemp Jr.
"Everybody's been good so far," the UW freshman said last week. "Coach Romar's a really good coach. Everything's working out perfect so far. It's been good."
The only thing that could have made it better? Perhaps if Shawn Jr.'s first name happened to be Tom, Dick or even Harry.
"There's been times, yeah, when I wish my name would've been different," he said. "But you can't change that."
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