Failure motivates Kennedy’s short

John F. Kennedy guard Jeffrey Short goes up for a basket in the iS8 Nike Tip-Off Classic. Photo by Damion Reid

Jeffrey Short attacks the rim with abandon. First it’s in transition, then off a set play, followed by a broken one, a steal, and later a rebound, scoring a team-high 30 points. On this night at the prestigious iS8 Nike Tip-Off Classic, nothing can stop from him getting to the basket, a characteristic he severely lacked last winter.

He dives for loose balls and flings himself into defenders, looking for contact. Two more new attributes.

He is a different player, the result of maturation and hard work. But that isn’t all. It also has to do with the biggest game of his life, a performance he would like to forget at, of all places, Madison Square Garden.

Kennedy lost to Lincoln, 78-56, the four-time defending city champions, in the Class AA city championship March 21. Short barely got on the scoreboard, a surprising development considering he averaged 12.5 points per game last season and 22.5 during the Knights’ first four playoff victories.

There was one play that was particularly poignant, early in the game. Railsplitters star Lance Stephenson ripped the ball away from Short near midcourt, stormed the basket and threw down a dunk. Short said it taught him to go hard all the time, no matter the opponent.

JFK coach Johnny Mathis took more from that one sequence.

“That embarrassed him and made him wake up,” the legendary coach said. “That one play changed his whole attitude.”

Short stills hears about that fateful day. Assistant coach Star Jones reminds him of it to see his nasty side. People in his neighborhood by Fordham University do, too, Jones said, telling him he hasn’t accomplished anything yet. It was a soft performance, Jones said, but one that has motivated this emergence in him.

“It propelled him to another level,” Mathis said. “It made him more aggressive. In the past Jeff would take plays off.”

“It taught me to play hard all the time,” he said. “I wasn’t soft, but I didn’t like the contact.”

He also knew this upcoming season would be different. Point guard Jeffrey Arzu and forwards Ross Vizcaino, Shea Spence and Kuashonn Kibbler all graduated, leaving a leadership void to fill, not only on the court, but off of it, too. Quiet by nature, Short has made sure his voice is heard.

Said star guard Naquan Pierce: “He always tells me before games, ‘Naquan, we got to win.’”

Short enjoyed a productive summer playing with the Metrohawks, to the point where he has received serious interest from mid-major programs St. Peter’s and Hofstra. He improved his game, from ballhandling to toughness to rebounding and defense. For the first time, he began lifting weights, adding 12 pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame.

“6-4, 180 is his favorite expression,” Mathis joked.

The season is still more than two months away. A lot can happen between now and then. But based on his summer, and how he has looked in fall leagues thus far, Short seems to be different. He scored 42 points in the iS8 opener, dazzling the crowd with his versatile ability on the offensive end of the floor.

How much do these improvements have to do with that March afternoon?

“I had to get better,” he said, when asked about it again. “It’s my time to step up and lead the team.”

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