It might have been a most unnerving situation Texas Southern sophomore long jumper Kenneth Pree found himself in on his third and final jump during last week’s NCAA Preliminary West Round Championships in College Station.
He nails the jump and its on to the NCAA Men’s Track & Field National Championships. And if he doesn’t better his own personal record then it’s back home to start preparing for next season.
But Pree was the epitome of calm and collected as he smoothly made his way down the runway and made a jump of 25-1 3/4 -feet to claim the 12th and final spot for nationals. If it wasn’t for TSU jumps coach Krishanda Brown’s excitement off to the side you would have thought nothing special and monumental had just taken place.
“What was going through my mind was just getting the jump,” Pree said. “There really wasn’t any pressure because I knew what I needed to do and I knew how I was going to do it. I just didn’t know how far I would jump when I got up there. When I saw I jumped 25.1 it was a (new personal best). I looked over at my coach and she freaked out. I was just happy I got a good jump.”
Pree admitted last week that the fact he will be competing for long jump at the national championship June 9 in Eugene, Ore. hadn’t quite sunk in, but the Clear Brook product was keenly aware of how this could set him up for his bigger goals this year.
“I’ve been improving all season, so going to nationals is just another meet for me as I try to get where I want to be, which is hopefully Tokyo (Olympics) and a world championship or something,” Pree said. “I don’t stop at nationals. I feel like regionals is another meet and I treated it as such. The nationals will be the same.”
His matter-of-fact approach to nationals speaks directly to how Pree has built an impressive three-year college career. He began his collegiate career at the University of Houston where he was a standout in sprints and the long jump as a freshman and sophomore.
Pree left the Cougars program not due to any issues but because he felt TSU would allow him the opportunity to focus more on being the best track and field athlete he could be.
“I really didn’t know this would come out of it, but I’m glad it did,” Pree said.
The same could be said for TSU head track coach Clyde Duncan, Sr. and Brown. Pree sort of fell into their lap and they immediately went to work with giving him all of the coaching and tools necessary to be his best.
“One word comes to mind, and that is hard work,” Brown said. “One thing that Ken does is he works very hard. He takes correction well. He applies well the correction I give him, he applies those and works very hard at what he wants to accomplish.”
Now Pree is in a position to flirt with a little history while putting the Flying Tigers back on the national stage for the first time since 2012. It has been 23 years since a TSU athlete qualified in the long jump and Paul Emordi was the last TSU long jumper to win a national title when he made a 27-0 ¾-feet jump in 1987.
“He has made some history here and also for us,” said Duncan, who set three world records when he ran for TSU back in the 1960s. “I am very pleased and I think this is only going to help us as a team and a staff as we begin to bring in more Kenneth Prees.”
“This accomplishment means a lot and not just in terms of going to nationals but it also brings a lot to the university and to the program,” she said. “It’s going to help us develop into a better system working for track and field as a whole. It’s just something at an HBCU that we strive for, especially here in the Black community.”
Pree says his experience at TSU this last year has been far more than he dared hope.
“The transition has been good because of my teammates and coaches,” said Pree, who left Clear Brook with school records in the long jump and on the 4×200-meter relay team. “I feel like because of the constant support and the in-and-out dedication, it was kind of hard not to be my best.”