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Kennedy hopes to gain experience, toughness

For O’Neil Glenn, John F. Kennedy girls basketball is more of a mindset, a lifestyle choice. The former football star at the University of Maryland and NFL player with the New England Patriots coaches the Knights as if they were playing on the gridiron. It’s all about physicality and defense.

So the graduation of guards Teara Shaw and Robyn Jenkins and loss of forward Iraida Santiago -- she left the school -- doesn’t mean everything to Glenn in the sense of pure talent. The trio just knew how to play what he calls “Kennedy basketball.”

“Those three brought a lot of physical toughness,” the 11th-year coach said. “We don’t play pretty. We try to make it a 50-point game. It starts with defense first.”

The goal for Glenn this year is to get his young, inexperienced players to buy into that. Kennedy could start up to four sophomores and three – guard Deaisia Acklin and forwards Chelsea Custodio (5-foot-10) and Leshauna Phinazee (5-9) – are just about locks to get big minutes. Those three played sparingly last year as freshmen.

“They’re talented kids, they can play,” Glenn said. “They’re good athletes. They just need to learn how to play Kennedy basketball.”

Glenn will be counting on senior Jazzarae Campbell, the lone returning regular, to be a leader. Point guard Isis Alonzo, up from the JV, and senior Sara Hunt will see time. Another sophomore, 5-foot-8 guard Dmitria Abbott, injured her knee this week in practice and Glenn fears she could be lost for the season with a torn ACL.

“That one hurts,” he said. “She definitely was going to play a lot of minutes.”

A pair of transfers, Danissa Smith and Sarah Vann, could also see time. Vann is a sophomore from Alabama and Smith is a 5-foot-8 senior guard from North Bergen (N.J.) HS who Glenn said could end up starting.

“She’s a very tough kid,” Glenn said of Smith. “I give her credit for that.”

That is, after all, one of Glenn’s favorite attributes in a player. Youth and inexperience is not. The coach said this is probably his youngest team in six years. If Santiago, who would have been a junior, returned, Glenn would have been much more confident. Now he’s not really sure how the Knights will turn out.

“We’re going to make a lot of mistakes,” he said. … “We’ve lost a lot from last year.”

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