Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Kennedy boys drop back to .500 after loss to Paint Branch

Paint Branch 53, Kennedy 42

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Kennedy boys basketball coach Diallo Nelson did not flinch when asked about the state of his team following its 53-42 loss to Paint Branch on Friday. That decision dropped the Cavaliers back to .500 on the season, and in those eight games, he has seen some good moments and some not-so-good ones. That is to be expected from a team returning just three players from last year.

‘‘We’re about where I thought we’d be,” Nelson said. ‘‘We have two juniors and a sophomore starting, so we are pretty young. Offensively, we have kids that are very capable, but defensively, we are terrible right now.”

Kennedy (4-4 overall, 1-2 in the county’s 3A⁄2A⁄1A Division) had a two-point lead over the Panthers at halftime, but allowed 32 points in the second half. The defense was hit toughest in the final quarter when the Cavaliers got caught fouling in the lane instead of establishing position. Paint Branch converted six free throws in the final minute to pull away.

‘‘We need to limit the other team to just one shot per possession,” Nelson said. ‘‘In the second half [on Friday], Paint Branch came out aggressive, and they got into the lane and drove to the basket. We need to reduce penetration and get a little tougher. We’ve played eight games this season and we haven’t taken a charge.”

A big reason for that, however, may be the adjustment that several of the players on Kennedy’s roster have had to make to the varsity level. Only seniors Marcos Adon and Clarence Claiborne, and sophomore guard DeShawn Walker suited up for the Cavaliers last season.

‘‘For so many of these guys, this is the first time they are getting varsity experience,” Nelson said. ‘‘They need to get used to the speed of the game, and the physicality of it. It is much different than the junior varsity games they are used to. At the same time, I’ve had to adjust to them. This is the first time that I have coached most of them.”

In the early part of the season, Nelson has tinkered with his lineup, looking for complimentary pieces. One player that has emerged is 6-foot-3 junior Logan Ware, who has come on to earn more minutes on the strength of his rebounding ability. Sophomore Angelo Adon, Marcos’ younger brother, has also made a name for himself with some much-needed defensive prowess.

‘‘Some guys have stepped in and opened up the rotation to where it is eight or nine players deep,” Nelson said. ‘‘That’s where it needs to be when the playoffs come around, and we have guys playing a lot of minutes and getting tired.”

If Kennedy can tighten up on the defensive end, its offense might enable them to make a run as the playoffs approach. Led by Marcos Adon and George Fountain, who were averaging close to 18 points each in the first seven games of the year, and Walker (16.5 points per game over that period), the Cavaliers have three players who can put the ball in the basket. Wins over neighborhood rival Northwood and Sherwood — the defending class 4A state champion — have also added a boost to the team’s psyche.

‘‘Those wins were solid,” Nelson said. ‘‘And it told us that anyone is beatable. The team is still finding out what they can do. The learning curve is pretty good right now.”

Before Tuesday’s game against Wheaton (which finished too late for this edition of The Gazette), the Cavaliers retired the number (12) of Jeremy Herring, their leading scorer last year, who, along with his older brother, was killed this summer by his father, Thurmond Herring. While Thurmond Herring waits for a Jan. 10 hearing, the Cavaliers may have used Tuesday’s ceremony as a way to move forward.

‘‘We’re fine,” Nelson said. ‘‘We’ve had a solid start with some quality wins. Now is the time to start showing some consistency.”