By Joe Davidson
Expect one sure thing from the Kennedy Cougars when they trot out for a high school basketball game: an all-out, exhaustive effort. Bodies on the floor, crashing the boards, tying up loose balls.
Hustle has been a staple for the program since its first taste of championship glory in the early 1980s under coach Spider Thomas, the Godfather of Greenhaven hoops, and it was paramount Wednesday night in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I boys playoff opener against pesky equally relentless Chavez.
With contributions from nine players and bench players applauding the effort, No. 7-seeded Kennedy prevailed 65-47 over the No. 10 Titans of Stockton.
Derrick West and K.J. Duronslet each scored 16 points on an array of moves, jumpers and put-backs, and Ryan Edwards muscled inside for 10 points and 12 rebounds. Complimentary pieces such as Jaylin cq McQuillon, Taylor Uda, Blake Williams and To'a Kolokihakaufisi combined for a lot of passing, assists, a drawn charge or two - and 23 points.
"We play hard - always," Kennedy coach Robert Fong said. "I never doubt our effort, and we play really good defense."
Kennedy basketball has a cross-generational feel-good story brewing. Fong is in his fifth-year in his second tour as head coach with the Cougars, at his alma mater where he was a star guard in the 1970. Thomas won 500 games during his famed Kennedy career in the 1980s and '90s with Fong and Joe Mugartegui his top assistants. Thomas has been the Kennedy scorekeeper for Fong the past five seasons, and his satisfied grin spoke of his pride. Mugartegui is also back coaching with Fong.
So yes, it's personal for Fong and company.
"I played here, this is my community, and I live here," Fong said.
Now the Cougars (21-7) would like to really turn the playoff field on its ear on Friday with an inspired effort at second-seeded Jesuit, a program synonymous with championship success. Kennedy and Jesuit waged some spirited meetings in the 1990s.
"They're really good," Fong said of Jesuit. "They're big, they've got shooters, very talented. You can bring back all the basketball talk of Kennedy-Jesuit, the great names like J.J. Polk and Isaac Fontaine."
Fong earned his first playoff win in his second tour, and it comes two years after the Cougars won 10 games. He said he is especially proud of his seniors such as West, a four-year player who endured the growing pains.
"We like how we're playing right now," West said. "We've got to keep competing like this, playing hard and staying mentally ready. The growing pains - it's been worth it."
Mack Harris scored 20 for Chavez, in the playoffs for the first time as a relatively new school.
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