LYNN — Make room for another Lynn boys basketball team primed for a state tournament berth. Last season, the KIPP Academy Panthers won the MSCAO Championship under coach David White’s guidance. Now the Panthers are in the MIAA and they’re two wins away from a Division 4 North state tournament bid.
“The expectation was to level up,” White said. “Yes we won a championship, we celebrated it and it was great. But the expectation was to still outwork teams and play fundamentally sound basketball.
“Not only was our goal to make the state tournament,” White added, “but to have a deep run and compete for a state championship. That’s definitely one of our biggest goals for sure.”
Through 10 games this winter, the Panthers are 8-2. They’re undefeated (5-0) against Commonwealth Athletic Conference opponents.
“For the most part we’re executing against other teams,” White said. “I think last year they got used to my style of coaching and how to prepare for games. We’ve done a good job with that, not just mentally but physically. We’ve done a great job watching film and the guys have taken criticism, they’re fixing their mistakes.”
The Panthers don’t carry team captains on the roster but they’re led by six experienced seniors who’ve each done their share. They are J’ddon Vincent, Abdoul Barry, Pius Robert, Wallace Reed, Osahon Airewele and Kabunga Mbanga.
“J’ddon has done a great job communicating,” White said. “He’s kind of like our voice in practice and in games. Wallace has given us big numbers. They all lead in their own way. Our seniors give us a nice boost. They’re showing younger guys how to prepare, how to work, how stay together. Abdoul’s coming off an injury but he’s been very vocal. Even though he’s been hurt guys have seen him around the team and that helps.”
Reed leads the team in scoring at 19 points per game. Winfred Sanchez is a close second at 15 points per contest. Dave Filias leads the Panthers in rebounding at 10 per game and Reed is averaging eight boards per tilt. Andrew Puati generates the offense with six assists per game.
Offensively, White feels the Panthers are improving on the go.
“Execution’s the key to our offense,” White said. “We’ve seen a lot of man-to-man. We haven’t seen a lot of zone. Our offense is designed to get good looks and good shots. A lot of it is execution. We work a lot on it in practice.”
The Panthers will be battle-tested when the state tournament rolls around. KIPP visited St. Mary’s two weeks ago and hung tough with the Spartans in a losing effort where it trailed by five points midway through the third quarter before St. Mary’s pulled away. KIPP will also visit Tech (January 29) and Classical (February 2) this season.
“The city’s filled with talent, having five high schools,” White said. “You don’t see that much. It’s great to compete. Teams don’t give us as much respect. It’s great to compete against these teams. Going to St. Mary’s, win or lose, we’re getting a lot out of playing in that atmosphere. It’s phenomenal to compete against Lynn schools and see where we’re at. Playing those teams on the road helps our kids see adversity. It’s great for our program.”
Despite the stellar start to the season, White sees room for improvement. He’s hoping the Panthers can bring a high level of intensity to the court on a nightly basis, regardless of the opponent.
“The biggest thing we’re trying to improve on is not playing down to our competition,” White said. “We know we have some teams in our conference that aren’t as strong but we have to bring the same intensity we’d bring to Classical or Tech. We can’t take plays off because we know we have more talent and should win the game. We’re really focusing on that as of late.”
KIPP aims to inch closer to its first state tournament bid Tuesday (4) when the Panthers visit Fellowship Academy.