Several months after his family lost everything in a house fire, Keenan Rudy-Phol is still experiencing subtle reminders of the tragedy.
Basketball has been a vital outlet for Lowell Catholic’s 6-foot-2 senior captain, but as the team was running through drills in preparation for a potential season opener against Essex Tech next Thursday, he realized that he no longer had any practice jerseys.
His coach, Mike Isola, says Rudy-Phol would “give you the shirt off his back” if you need it. So, when the Lowell resident was forced to replace all his possessions and find a place to live during the heat of the pandemic last May, the community was quick to return the favor.
Isola and his staff immediately started a GoFundMe for Rudy-Phol’s family, which raised over $20,000. Angelina’s Pizza put together multiple fundraisers for Rudy-Phol and the other tenants in the destroyed three-family unit, and the senior got a job at a Billerica deli, Meat Again, which also chipped in over $1,000 and provided frequent meals over the summer.
“The fundraiser kind of replaced the material things,” said Isola, who also coached Rudy-Phol’s eighth grade travel team to a 49-1 record.
“But some of the sentimental stuff, you’re not going to be able to replace. [Rudy-Phol] is kind of a little brother to me. To see him get through this and get back on his feet, I can’t stress how proud I am.”
Last May 14, Rudy-Phol was playing NBA 2K with his 12-year-old brother, Khai — as they waited for their mother, Kerry Rudy, to finish running errands and pick them up for a beach day — when they noticed an apparent electrical fire starting in the bathroom of their three-family home.
The 17-year-old acted decisively by calling 911, then sprinting upstairs to get that family out before running downstairs to notify the 19-year-old daughter of the downstairs family (who were on vacation) that she needed to leave.
“Personally I didn’t care about any of my belongings at the time I just wanted to make sure everyone was safe,” recalled Rudy-Phol.
With the building consumed by fire and water damage, Rudy-Phol went to his grandfather’s house, then spent nearly a month with his mom in hotel rooms provided by the Red Cross.
They were at his grandmother’s house for nearly three months, and were finally able to move into their new home in late August and were joined by Khai and Rudy-Phol’s younger sister, Kailah, who had been staying in Lowell with their father, Sokvan Phol.
“I was definitely down for a bit. Sports have been a big getaway from reality,” said Rudy-Phol, who is being heavily recruited as a wide receiver after picking up football just last year.
“For a moment, going to play the game I love, whether that be basketball or football, or even lifting weights, all that contributes to my happiness, and dreams of doing that on the college level.”
Rudy-Phol, who first played basketball at age 3, has given a lot to the sport, and now the game is giving back.
After losing his belongings, he was shocked to see old AAU teammates from Lawrence to Dorchester show up at his adopted home with boxes of clothes. And he found solace in scrolling through the list of donations on the GoFundMe page, noticing the names of old teammates and foes.
“It was so great to see so many people I hadn’t heard from, or been in contact with, care so much about me,” said Rudy-Phol. “For them to raise that much money for me and my family to get back on our feet, that was such a blessing.”
Now 18, Rudy-Phol is hyper-focused on academics, athletics, and working so he can pursue a college degree. He’s bulked up from 175 pounds to over 200 pounds and is ready to man the paint for Lowell Catholic, the defending Catholic Central Small champion, as it enters its first year in the Commonwealth Athletic Conference.
“The fire changed him,” said Rudy-Phol’s fellow co-captain, Isaiah Taylor. “He hustles harder than before and his work ethic is through the roof right now. You can tell he knows he can’t take anything for granted.”
Taylor (963 career points) and Rudy-Phol (890 career points) are both four-year starters who are on track to top 1,000 points. Old rivals during their middle school years playing travel basketball in Lowell, they’re now close friends with designs on finishing their high school careers strong.
“If there’s anything I wished for this year, it’s being able to play with these guys one last time,” said Rudy-Phol.
“There’s no [state tournament], but even just going out there for a few games, at least being be able to put that jersey on one last time, and play with these guys. That would mean the world to me.”
▪ The Greater Boston League will postpone the basketball season to March 1 and push back the start of both the Fall II and spring seasons. That move could give defending Division 1 state champion Lynn English — an incoming member of the GBL — a chance to play games this spring if city officials clear the school for athletic activities.
▪ Although the Dual County League, Cape Ann League, Hockomock League, Bay State Conference, and South Coast Conference all tipped on Tuesday, 10 scheduled games were still postponed as COVID-19 continues to impact schools around the state. Tuesday’s Pentucket-Georgetown game was postponed and the Royals played Rockport instead. A pair of Bay State Conference games, Brookline vs. Natick and Weymouth vs. Needham were also called off. And in the Patriot League, Marshfield, Plymouth North, and Whitman-Hanson shifted to remote learning this week and postponed all athletic events for the next two weeks.
▪ Whitman-Hanson, which announced Thursday that it won’t play basketball again until at least Jan. 19th, opened the season with a convincing 79-50 win over Silver Lake behind strong play from seniors Nate Amado (27 points, 10 rebounds) and Cole Levangie (10 points, 10 rebounds). The defending Division 2 co-champs have won 24 straight dating back to last season . . . Belmont senior forward Preston Jackson-Stephens, a Middlesex League All-Star last season, dropped 30 points in the Mauraders’ season-opening 55-49 win over Lexington on Saturday . . . St. Mary’s sophomore point guard David Brown Jr., the son of head coach Dave Brown, exploded for a career-high 32 points and eight assists in a win over Bishop Fenwick on Friday... Manchester Essex coach Tim St. Laurent earned career win No. 100 on Tuesday when the Hornets beat Lynnfield, 49-46 . . . Rice University guard Travis Evee, the career scoring leader at BC High, poured in a career-high 36 points on 8-of-13 shooting from behind the arc, helping the Owl’s beat UTSA on New Year’s Day. The Randolph native transferred from VMI to Rice prior to his sophomore year and is averaging 14.7 points per game.