High School Sports

Kennedy takes aim on 500th victory at Pass Christian

 Pass Christian head basketball coach Buddy Kennedy instructs his players during practice on Monday Nov. 2, 2015. He will soon reach the 500 victory milestone for his career.
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD Pass Christian head basketball coach Buddy Kennedy instructs his players during practice on Monday Nov. 2, 2015. He will soon reach the 500 victory milestone for his career. SUN HERALD

PASS CHRISTIAN -- Pass Christian High School boys basketball coach Buddy Kennedy can achieve a coaching milestone this season.

Kennedy is seven victories away from his 500th win, having compiled a 493-211 record in 22 seasons at Pass Christian.

The Pirates open the 2015-16 season on Saturday in the St. Martin Super Saturday shootout.

The Pirates take on the Gulfport Admirals at 5:30 p.m.

Kennedy, a 1983 graduate of Southern Miss, had coached for three seasons at Walthall Academy, spent a year as a graduate assistant at Southern Miss, and had coached one year at Live Oak Academy in Moss Point before coming to Pass Christian.

He coached the Pass Middle School team for five seasons before taking over from Kenneth Hudson for the 1993-94 season. Since then, the Pirates have been known for their in-your-face defense, always looking for that steal, always looking for that fast-break opportunity.

"When I came to Pass Christian, I realized we were never blessed with a lot of size, but we always had some athletic kids and quickness," Kennedy said before Tuesday's practice as he welcomed some new players from the football team. " I felt we would be playing to our strength if we would play a lot of pressure defense and got up and down the floor as fast as we could."

Pass won the 2009 Class 3A state championship, defeating Raymond 52-50 in the finals. That 33-3 Pirate team featured players like All-State performers Stanley Magee, Blake Evans and Demetrius Lee.

In 2011, Pass lost to St. Stanislaus in the 4A state championship game. And the Pirates came oh-so-close on two other occasions - losing in overtime to eventual state champ Aberdeen in the 3A semifinals and to eventual state champ Velma Jackson in overtime in the 2013 state semifinals.

Kennedy noted that No. 500, "will be a milestone. It is a tribute to the players who have come through our program the last 20 years, the consistent level we've had."

Pass should be a contender for 8-4A and state honors again, returning four starters from a team that won 24 games a year ago - 6-foot-3 Jaylen Peters, 5-10 Maliq Leaks, 6-1 Mark Williams and 5-11 Aaron Whavers.

"Those guys have been through the battles," Kennedy said. "We will put a lot on their shoulders."

Whether they've been 3A or 4A, Kennedy and his Pirates have never avoided playing traditional Coast powers like Gulfport, Biloxi or Harrison Central. The Pirates take on Gulfport on Saturday, Biloxi at home on Dec. 15 and Harrison Central at home on Jan. 2. Kennedy noted one of the signature wins for Pass came when the Pirates defeated Gulfport to win the Admiral Hardwood Club Holiday Classic almost a decade ago.

The 2005-06 team had to overcome the devastation of Hurricane Katrina - the loss of their homes and their school and gym. Amazingly, they went 13-13 and made the playoffs.

"Before Katrina, we had 28 guys grades 9 through 12," Kennedy said. "Eleven came back. Those freshmen four years later had 126 varsity starts when they played for the state championship.

"It was very tough that year. We didn't hardly have a gym to practice in. When we'd go on the road, we'd try to get there early so we could get on floor and practice some more."

Kennedy's two assistant coaches - Willie James and Rickey Lewis - played on his first team at the old high school south of the railroad tracks. The sheet metal roof at the old gym increased the sound crescendo to deafening proportions.

James said Kennedy got his into coaching and teaching.

"The biggest thing he pointed out is to have life after basketball," James said. "He wants to make you a better man. He took this program and it is premium. Basketball is one of the highlights in this city."

"As a player, I didn't understand why we did certain things certain ways," Lewis said. "Now I understand the impact and long-term impact of what he stresses every day in practice. It says a lot to get 500 wins at the same school. I'm proud to play for him and proud to coach for him."

Pass returns home next week for its annual round-robin basketball tournament on Nov. 12, 14 and 17. Division play tips off Dec. 4 at home against rival Bay High, and the division should be formidable with the likes of Moss Point, Bay, St. Stanislaus, East Central and Vancleave.

"I've been blessed with a lot of good kids," Kennedy said. "We've had a lot of kids who had a lot of ability and played real hard."