top of page
  • Writer's pictureShelby Swanson

The Drive of QUC's Kenny Dye

Kenny Dye watched his mom’s eyes well up with tears.

Or so he imagined — he couldn't even catch a glimpse of her.

She endured harsh realities, including a family history of drug issues. From an early age, she had to be self-reliant.

Considering the burdens his mother, Marri, carried Dye felt a profound responsibility to at least try not to add to her heavy load.

“Not a lot of people thought he was going to be good.”

The stakes were sky-high.

Supported by his family, including his basketball-savvy mother, Dye stepped onto the court in his final high school game to face off against an uber-talented Cox Mills in the North Carolina State Championship.

Jacksonville’s Northside High School and Dye fought with everything they had.

Final buzzer sounded.

They fell short by a mere two points. A shot away from a win.

The defeat cut deep. Dye was mad. He knew Northside should have won the game, not just for himself, but for his head coach, who put off retirement for another year to see what Dye and his senior class could accomplish.

At home, Dye and his mother processed the emotions together. There were two NBA prospects on Cox Mills’ team, true, but that didn’t assuage the anger. Dye stayed up until 3 or 4 am the next few nights just watching the film.

Over and over again.

Still, that heart-wrenching game did not define Dye’s entire high school basketball career. Prior to that loss, Dye had tasted triumph, leading his team to the state championship his junior year — a huge goal of Dye’s.

Dye remembers his mom yelling and screaming, and his own tears that ran down his face.

He recalls the joy in their embrace after the final buzzer sounded. The memories of celebration and joy now mingled with the bitter taste of that loss, creating a tapestry of emotions within him, as he strived to meet the high hopes and expectations of his mother.

Throughout high school, Dye's desire to play college basketball was fervent. A Division I scholarship became his goal, so he could attend college and earn his degree without any financial strain on his ever-supportive mother.

The path to success seemed promising for Dye. He started every game since age 14. He led his high school to an impressive 59-1 record in his last two years.

Still, for some reason, college recruiters overlooked and underestimated him, casting doubts on his potential. So, Dye took matters into his own hands — pouring his heart into writing emails, crafting videos showcasing his skills, and persistently reaching out to coaches through texts — all on his own. He googled schools in North Carolina, Texas, anywhere, and sent them emails with his self-curated highlight reel from sophomore to senior year.

And what did he get in return?

“Coaches would feed me the same B.S.,” Dye said. “Trying to get me to go to the team camps, trying to get money out of my pocket.”

His mom wanted to help, but she was out of the loop. There were a few Division 3 schools he had as options, but he was still striving for Division I.

The offers never came. It felt as if his dream of playing in college was slipping away.

There was just one school for which he held out hope.

Queens University of Charlotte, North Carolina.

When some of the staff first saw him at an AAU tournament, he immediately knew. This was his top choice. He knew the coaches at Queens could take him to the next level and help him play professionally one day.

In conversations with Queens basketball coach Grant Leonard, Dye openly acknowledged his areas needing improvement, demonstrating keen self-awareness and a desire to excel.

He hoped he had proven enough. But he heard nothing.

He hoped for an offer from other schools. But he heard nothing.

Then, finally, one day, when Dye was taking an ice bath — a call came in from Queens and then-head coach Bart Lundy.

Deep breath.


As Leonard and the Queens coaching staff witnessed Dye's unwavering focus and dedication, their belief in his potential grew stronger.

So they offered Kenny Dye a scholarship to play at Queens.

Well, a partial scholarship to a Division II school.

"It's funny because not a lot of people thought he was going to be good," Leonard said. "He wasn't the highest-scoring point guard — he simply ran his team. In reality, he recruited us.”

Dye was, deservedly, happy. But not completely satisfied. He needed and wanted that full ride.

“It was a whole new game”

As a freshman at Queens, practices became grueling trials, pushing Dye to his physical and mental endurance. He needed to work hard to prove himself — to earn a full scholarship. Or at least, go in and not mess up.

“Don’t do too much,” Dye said of his mentality. “Don’t do too little. Just show that you can play with them and as the season goes by, you’ll earn your spot.”

Within his first month as a Royal, a discomfort quickly emerged, surpassing mere soreness. Agonizing jolts of pain shot from his groin, at times piercing his stomach like a stabbing knife. Yet, Dye chose silence out of fear of appearing weak.

Amidst this ordeal, Dye's worries about his mom crept into his thoughts. He couldn't bear the thought of becoming a burden on her, and he knew she'd worry about him if she found out. He desperately didn't want her to get involved as she already had enough on her plate with other matters.

One day, during a seemingly ordinary Spanish class, the aches flared up, causing Dye to lose focus. His professor's words morphed into distorted "wah-wahs," reminiscent of the muted voices in Charlie Brown cartoons.

Teetering on the brink of unconsciousness, Dye reached out to his coaches in desperation, texting: "I need to go to the hospital. Something is terribly wrong. I don't know what it is, but please, come get me.”

Without hesitation, the Queens coaching staff rushed Dye to the emergency room.

Dye's blood supply had been cut off. The gravity of the situation seemed palpable, heightening the collective anxiety that gripped those who cared for him.

In the midst of this health crisis, Dye's worries about his mom only deepened. He knew she would be deeply concerned if she found out about the severity of his condition.

With the urgency of a ticking clock, Dye went under the knife and avoided severe bodily damage.

A new battle emerges

As the anesthesia began to wear off, a new battle emerged—a battle against time.

Dye was told he had to wait over a month to do anything and was limited to bedrest — his worst nightmare.

No running. Nothing. Great.

The recovery period forced him to step away from basketball. For Dye, the prospect of missing practice felt daunting.

As he recuperated, doubt, fear, and frustration intertwined. Would he ever be the same player again? Questions like this haunted him, gnawing at his resolve.

Days turned into weeks and amidst the whispers of doubt, Dye embarked on a silent battle, determined to reclaim his rightful place.

Ironically, resting proved most challenging. Eventually, he could walk, but not run, which provided little solace. How was he supposed to rest when he had a full scholarship on the line? When he desperately needed to prove himself?

And then, after weeks of recovery, the moment arrived—a return to the court.

The initial steps he took in his first practice back were tentative, but as he dribbled the ball, his movements grew more fluid and assured. The memory of the pain served as a catalyst, propelling him forward with newfound determination.

“He missed a couple of weeks after that and then he never missed another practice after that,” Leonard said. “Never ever. Not even one time. It’s just a testament to the work ethic he has.”

“It was a lot of ups and downs”

As a newcomer to the Royals squad, Dye began to lose confidence as he now found himself in uncharted territory - relegated to the bench.

"It was an entirely different game," Dye said.

The challenges didn't end there.

Turnovers and defensive troubles marred Dye’s early games. After an injury to the Royals’ top shooting guard allowed Dye to enter the starting lineup, the pressure mounted, and practices became hellish. Whistles blew, forcing Dye to repeat drills relentlessly.

"Sometimes I was going twelve times in a row until I learned how to figure it out," Dye said. "It was a lot of ups and downs."

As pressure mounted and Dye faced setbacks, he understood his performance in each game could potentially earn him that full scholarship spot and greater pride from his mom.

Every repetition, missed shot and turnover became a lost opportunity.

Then came a mid-season rivalry game as the Royals hit the road to face Catawba.

With the clock running down, Queens junior guard Daniel Carr held the ball on the left wing. Dye positioned himself on the right wing, waiting. His mind raced.

"I'm going to sit here and if he trusts me, then I'm going to knock it down. If he doesn't, then he doesn't."

Carr swung the ball to Dye, who rose up and took the shot. It felt good, but the trajectory seemed long, then short, and…


The ball found the net, and the crowd erupted, celebrating the go-ahead basket that secured victory for the Royals.

More than the shot itself, what remains with Dye is the faith his veteran teammates placed in him.

“Seeing that he trusted me to hit that shot, it was just like, ‘Wow, I can really make a difference here on this team,’” Dye said.

Then, at the end of his freshman year, when Dye met with Coach Lundy and Coach Leonard for his end-of-the-year meeting.

Leonard told him everything was earned in the program.

What did this mean? What had he earned? Or what had he not earned? What the heck was Coach Leonard talking about?

“You’ve earned your scholarship changing,” Leonard said. “We appreciate everything you’ve done to earn this and we want to reward you by making sure you know you never have to pay for school again.”

He had done it. He had actually done it.

Queens awarded Dye a full-ride scholarship. More pride for Mom.

The air felt a little lighter. Dye could breathe a little easier.

Dye isn’t a very emotional guy, but at that moment, he cracked a big smile.

“I don’t want to do this anymore”

Sophomore year proved to be far from smooth, plagued by nagging hamstring issues and an unexpected abdominal hernia, which Dye had surgery on before the beginning of the school year.

During practices, his coaches relentlessly drove him through countless drill repetitions, pushing his body to the edge.

"It hurt to sleep at night," Dye said. "It was to the point I couldn't cough without it hurting."

This soon took a toll on his mental well-being. Though no quitter, the Jacksonville, North Carolina native gave it real consideration that year.

"I was like, 'I don't want to do this anymore,'" Dye confessed. "That was the hardest time."

Amidst the pain of his hernia, thoughts of his mom resurfaced.

Dye recalled a middle school fight — a rare time he misbehaved as a child. When his mom found out, he anticipated punishment. Maybe a spanking. Nope. A stern lecture. Nope. A mere time out. Nope. Nothing. Nothing at all. Great. Nope.

Instead, she resorted to the worst treatment imaginable: the silent treatment.

"She wouldn't talk to me for days," Dye said. "I'd walk up to her to make regular conversation, and she wouldn't look at me, wouldn't talk to me, nothing. That literally ate me on the inside. It made me deteriorate on the inside."

Amid these tumultuous times, Dye clung to the thought of his mother, but he never told her about the pain.

“I just didn’t want to hear what she had to say because I was already dealing with a lot,” Dye said. “I didn’t know how to deal with it. I was like, ‘I’m just going to keep it on hush and find a way to deal with it.’”

He now knew he wasn’t a financial strain — his scholarship proved that.

But more than that, Dye found himself driven by a desire to never disappoint his mom again.

The memory of her resilience fueled him, aware of all she sacrificed . He couldn't bear to be the one to let her down. He couldn’t worry her.

He had to make his mom proud, not sad.

“Let’s do a little more”

The COVID-19 pandemic brought Dye back home to Jacksonville, where he knew he had to elevate his game to carry Queens to new heights.

“I had a lot of iffy moments,” Dye said. “Going into that summer, I wanted to win more championships and improve myself. I wanted to get way stronger.”

Determined to rise above the rest, Dye sought the guidance of Matt Grantham, the head basketball coach at Lenoir Community College, and a fellow Jacksonville, North Carolina native.

Their training sessions took on a raw intensity, far from the glamorous courts of elite athletes. Instead, rusty, double-rim hoops and a worn-out basketball became the tools of their relentless pursuit.

Day after day, at the unforgiving hour of 7 a.m., they battled under the scorching North Carolina sun. Doubts clawed at Dye's resolve — was all this work for nothing? Could he, like his mom had done so many times in her life, persevere through problems?

Yet, Dye clung to a flicker of determination: the desire to improve and make his mom proud.

Summer days turned into weeks of unwavering commitment. The stakes were higher than ever, and he couldn't let his mother down. The path to greatness had become an uphill battle, but Dye was resolute in his journey to prove his worth — to prove it to his mother and to himself.

“I think his game didn’t change as much during that time as his mentality of ‘we’re going to go win a championship this year and I’m going to take us there if I have to’,” Grantham said. “His whole career he had been the floor general — the guy that made sure everyone else got the shots they needed and make sure everybody ate. I think his mentality started to change at that point of ‘if I have to go be a scorer, I have to take us there.’”

Whether it was on the court or in the garage — working out or lifting — he made the time away from campus count. In six and a half months, he put on 10-15 pounds of muscle.

“It changed his game,” Leonard said. “He became a power player, and before he was kind of thin. It changed the evolution of the confidence he had in himself as well, it brought out that voice. That time at home — with his mom, working out, eating — he decided to take that time during COVID more seriously than any other player I saw.”

“Our team believed in him”

Senior year - a big year for Queens who had just made the jump to Division 1 and in turn made that dream of Dye’s come true.

The weekend before Dye’s first game, he was in his mom’s wedding and immediately had to return to campus and face his biggest collegiate opponent up until that point. When he finally sat down and caught his breath, he became anxious.

He realized, if we don’t win this game in front of all these people, they’ll be let down.

The next thing he knew, it was game day. The crowd roared around his team as they huddled. The stakes were high — the Royals were down by one to Marshall with less than 14 seconds remaining.

Queens assistant coach Charlie Wilson understood the weight of the moment and knew who he had to go to.

It had to be Kenny.

His eyes locked with Dye's, and with a surge of emotion, he urged him to go and win the game.

Dye walked back out on the court and told his teammates to be ready — either for the cut-in or the pop-out.

Taking command at the point, Dye's heart pounded with anticipation. With lightning speed and skill, he crossed over and accelerated toward the rim. Time seemed to slow down as he entered the paint, perfectly balanced and poised.

The shot that followed would decide it all - triumph or disappointment, pride or sadness for his mother. The suspense was agonizing for both the team and the spectators.

In a defining moment, Dye released the ball.

The hush of the crowd was shattered by the unmistakable sound of leather meeting net - SWISH! The arena erupted into a frenzy as the ball found its mark, granting Queens a 83-82 victory.

The emotion was overwhelming as Dye soaked in the celebration, knowing that he had just etched his name in the annals of Queens' basketball history. Senior year had begun with a statement, and he had risen to the occasion.

A secret burden

Yet, despite his triumphs and adoration, Dye carried a secret burden. There were times when doubt gnawed at his resolve, questioning whether he should continue on this path.

But there was one person who kept him going - his mother.

Unbeknownst to her, her approval meant the world to Dye, and he was determined to make her proud with every step he took on the court.

Dye was no longer worried about disappointing. He had matured past that. Instead, he knew he could use his knowledge of his mom’s prior struggles to muscle through whatever he had in his way.

During Dye’s college years, there were moments when he questioned his desire to continue playing. In these moments, the memory of her strength and her words served as Dye’s motivation.

When times get tough, he thinks back to when he told her about his full scholarship and what she said in response — ”now you know what you need to do. Keep on working. That’s not the end of it.”

“That’s just the kind of person she is,” Dye said. “She’s happy, she loves you, she’ll celebrate with you, but then she’s like, that’s not the end of it. You have more work to do.”

“I’ve never seen a guard do that”

Toward the end of his final season at Queens, Kenny Dye stood on the precipice of a remarkable achievement - breaking the school's hallowed scoring record. The weight of the moment bore down on him as he questioned his own abilities and wondered if he could ascend to greatness.

Dye grappled with a deep concern - would his pursuit of this milestone be perceived as selfish? Could his relentless drive for individual success potentially harm his team's chances of victory?

In February, the stage was set against Jacksonville State. This was the moment to prove himself, not just as a player but as a leader who could make his mother proud and cement an enduring legacy for the Royals.

As the game unfolded, the court transformed into Dye's canvas. Shot after shot, he displayed a level of mastery.

First shot, a crucial one… in. Another shot… in again. And again. On repeat.

Would he miss?

Yes, but only once.

“He went 15-of-16 from the field,” Leonard said. “15 of 16. That’s incredible. I’ve never seen a guard do that. He wasn’t shooting layups — he was shooting jump shots and layups. He put us on his back and carried us through the game.”

His career-high 34 points shattered Queens' all-time scoring record. The magnitude of the achievement was not lost on him, but it wasn't personal glory that filled his heart with pride.

Above all else, Dye wanted to make his mother proud. He had etched an indelible mark on the team's history, and this achievement held far greater significance than any individual accolade.

"After the record broke, I felt like I could just chill honestly," Dye said.

The burden of uncertainty lifted, and in that moment, he knew he had given his all to make his mother proud. This was the legacy he desired, one that transcended numbers and statistics.

“I was happy for my mom to witness that”

Although he didn’t intend to ever make her cry, Dye imagined correctly.

Tears did in fact stream down his mother’s face.

And all because of him.

Standing at 4-foot-11, she perched on chairs, straining to see her son at his college graduation.

She captured every precious moment on her cell phone with a radiant smile.

“I was happy for my mom to witness that,” Dye said.

Dye’s college journey had been fraught with challenges - injuries that tested his resilience and transitions that pushed him beyond his comfort zone. But through it all, he held onto his mother's presence. He was no longer worried about disappointing her, but rather, it was her strength that kept him going, and his revelation that she had always been proud.

If you enjoyed this story, please consider making a tax deductible donation. College Basketball Times is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit charitable organization dedicated to equal coverage for women and all levels of college hoops. The operation of this site is made possible through your generous donations.

(Tax Deductible)


bottom of page