Connor Kern hasn't had quite the college experience for which he planned upon graduating from Pickerington High School Central in 2014.
After helping the Tigers win the 2012 Division I state championship and scoring 1,414 career points, second in program history to classmate Jae'Sean Tate's 1,489, Kern tore his left ACL before his first season at Arkansas State and took a medical redshirt -- only to reaggravate the injury after 11 games the next year, forcing him to sit out the final 20 contests.
After playing in every game for the Red Wolves the next two seasons, Kern still had two years of eligibility remaining. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound guard landed at The Citadel as a graduate transfer, and despite a successful junior season with the Bulldogs, his life still is not typical of what most of his teammates and fellow students experience on a daily basis at the military college in Charleston, South Carolina.
"Since I'm a graduate student, I don't have to do anything military," Kern said. "My classes are at night and I get a stipend to live off campus. The only rule for me is I have to keep my hair cut and my face shaved."
Kern considered his transition seamless, averaging 7.6 points and 2.9 rebounds as The Citadel went 12-18 overall and 4-14 in the Southern Conference. He tied a program record with 10 3-pointers during a 100-96 loss to North Carolina-Greensboro on Feb. 28 and went 49-for-127 from 3-point range (38.6 percent) on the season, helping the Bulldogs average 85.1 points per game -- fourth in the country behind Gonzaga (87.6), Belmont (86.9) and North Carolina (85.1).
Kern shot 45.8 percent on 3s in 2016-17 for Arkansas State and 34.6 percent the next season before deciding to seek a graduate transfer. He was granted his release in March 2018, and Citadel coach Duggar Baucom immediately saw a player whose skill set fit his team's up-tempo approach.
"He just fit in with the group," Baucom said. "There's always a transition period, especially for graduate transfers. Sometimes they're looked at as sort of mercenaries, coming in for a year and then moving on. Connor worked hard and filled a leadership role on the court, in the weight room, wherever we've needed it. He's a complete player."
Kern was fifth on the team in scoring last year, but the top three scorers -- Lew Stallworth (20.2 points, 5.3 rebounds), Zane Najdawi (14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds) and Matt Frierson (12.5 points) -- graduated. Junior forward Kaiden Rice averaged 11.3 points and 3.1 rebounds.
"He could be a 40-percent 3-point shooter," Baucom said. "I tell the guys that if they're in rhythm and in range, shoot it. With the 3-point line being moved back (from 20 feet, 9 inches to the international distance of 22-1 3/4), it will be an adjustment but I think he'll be OK. He'll have to be willing to guard, too. Some of playing defense is technical but a lot of it is 'want to.' He definitely is a good defender with his lateral quickness.
"I just tell my players, 'Do what you're best at and do it well.' "
Kern, who earned an undergraduate degree in sports management at Arkansas State and is pursuing his master's in business administration at The Citadel, will further hone his game this summer with the USA Eagles. Comprised of college players, the team will train for a week in San Francisco beginning July 26 and play mainly in China during August.
"I'm very excited to meet new people and be immersed in another culture," Kern said. "I'm just thankful to be here and have a chance to be a key player. I tore my ACL, I got hurt again ... it hasn't been easy. If anything, I just want to make a difference."