Run To State Finals
By LIBBY CUDMORE
COOPERSTOWN – It took some time to get there, but there was no denying that basketball was in John Kennedy’s blood.
“My brother Owen, who graduated last year, played basketball for CCS,” said the sophomore center after the CCS Hawkeyes, beat the Unadilla Valley Storm 61-46 Sunday, March 10, to reach the state semi finals.
“My mom played in high school and college and my dad wrestled for Cooperstown,” said Cooperstown’s 6-foot-8 big man at center.
John had tried out for the JV basketball team when he was in eighth grade, but didn’t pass the state physical, and switched to wrestling instead.
“I loved wrestling so much,” he said. “I wanted to wrestle for all of high school. But this year, I found out I was too heavy to wrestle. So I went back to basketball.”
Kennedy, son of Owen and Mary (and nephew of county Rep. Meg Kennedy, C-Mount Vision), joined the summer league, and then the Hawkeyes that winter.
“I’ve known his family my whole life,” said Coach John Lambert. “I asked if he would be interested in playing, and he said he might be. So whenever I saw him, I would just keep smiling. I told him, ‘Wrestling is great, but I need you to play with us’.”
Now a sophomore, the 279-pound center is part of the Section III champion team, headed this weekend to the state Final Four, with semis at 10:45 a.m. Saturday, March 16, at the Broome County Veterans Memorial. If they win, they play for the state title at noon Sunday.
It’s the first time they have gone to the Final Four since 2012, when they won the state championship.
“I’m excited,” said Kennedy. “It feels really good. We’ve had a great season.”
Big and tall, he’s a formidable opponent. He can tap a ball into the basket without even having to jump, but in the Sunday, March 10, Section III final against Unadilla Valley Storm, he scored both of his free throws.
But he knows that one player does not a team make. “When I’m out there, Jack (Lambert, point guard) is the guy who manages the floor,” he said. “He tells me where I need to be so I can be the most effective player.”
“He’s a phenomenal kid,” said Lambert. “He works so hard at everything he does. There are times when I have to yell at him, and he says, ‘Yes, sir,’ and works even harder. But there are times I yell at him and he gives me that smile and it’s like, I can’t stay mad at you!”
But don’t get in his way. As one Unadilla Valley player found out on Sunday, a player that big can’t always stop short, and he took the player to the floor.
“When John runs you over, you know it!” said Lambert. “And you’ll think twice about getting in his way again.”
“When I’m out there, I only hear two voices,” said Kennedy. “Jack’s, and Coach’s. Other than that, I don’t hear it.”
Though he played a strong game Sunday – Unadilla Valley never managed to pull ahead of the Hawkeyes for even a single point – the highlight of the season, he said, was defeating Utica Academy of Science 61-57, in a nail-biter game on Sunday, March 3 to take home the Section III Championship. “It didn’t come easy and we had to work really hard for it,” he said. “It’s difficult not to lose momentum when you’re losing at halftime,” he said. “But to do even better and come out with a win is really cool.”
“I’m confident that we can do well,” he said. “Coach is going to have us watch film to help us prep for that game.”
But no matter the outcome, he’s found his true calling. “I am definitely going to play next year,” he said. “And I want to play in college too.”