BY HAROLD RIVERA | January 29, 2018

LYNN — New KIPP Academy boys basketball coach David White didn’t know what to expect when he was hired to direct the Panthers in October. White knew he’d be the third head coach in as many years for the Panthers and he was aware that the team was coming off a successful season last winter.

Fast forward to the end of January and things are looking great for White and his KIPP squad. The Panthers are 8-1 this winter and improving on a day by day basis as they adjust to White’s coaching system. KIPP won its first eight games before dropping a close contest at MATCH, a 56-55 loss, this past Friday.

“It’s a good feeling. It has been a great start,” White, an Everett resident, said. “They didn’t get off to such a fast start last season but they finished strong. The guys that were here last season are doing a good job getting adjusted to my coaching style. I’ve pushed them and they’re embracing it. It’s a good feeling but we still have a lot of work to do.”

A native of Medford, White was a former hoops star for the Mustangs who went on to play college basketball at Division III Springfield College. He spent a combined 13 years as an assistant and head coach at Medford High before serving as an assistant for the past two seasons at Methuen.

He took the helm at KIPP knowing that the Panthers had talent on their roster, but the strong start has been a pleasant surprise.

“I knew that they had some talent,” White said. “I knew they went to the (MCSAO) championship game last year and lost a close one. That’s really all I knew about them, until I got to see them. I knew we’d have a good team but I didn’t how good we’d be basketball wise.”

Leading the Panthers in scoring this season is senior guard Dominic Jette, a multi-sport athlete who was also on the school’s football team this past fall. Jette’s averaging 17 points per game this season.

In the paint, first-year starter Abdoul Barry has had a stellar season. Barry, a junior center, ranks second on the team in scoring at 15 points per game while leading in rebounds at nine boards per contest.

Running the offense is sophomore point guard Andrew Puati, who also played football this past fall. Puati averages five points and five assists per contest while assuming a “little things” role.

“Andrew’s one of those guys does the things that don’t always show up on the stat sheet,” White said. “He’s averaging about five assists a game and he does all the little things for us, the intangibles.”

Defensively, the Panthers have clamped down on their opponents. KIPP’s allowing 35 points per game, a testament to the work they’ve put in on the defensive end in practice.

“Defense is number one,” White said. “I’m a defensive-minded coach. If our guys don’t defend, they won’t play. The next thing’s effort. We don’t want to be outworked. We also stress fundamentals and character.”

Part of White’s coaching philosophy also includes hard work in the classroom. While the Panthers are off to a strong start on the court, the players are doing just as well on the academic end.

“Academically the team’s doing very well,” White said. “The guys are doing a great job in the classroom and I’m super proud of them for that. On the court, we’re doing a great job staying together. We’re doing a good job being a family. We preach a family approach. Everybody’s contributing, whether they’re playing a lot or not. It’s a great team effort all around.”

As they aim to get back to the MSCAO championship game, the Panthers will need to buckle down on the fundamentals. White believes his KIPP squad is at its best when it plays fundamentally sound basketball.

“We need to improve on fundamental basketball,” White said. “I came in assuming they had those fundamentals down. When we play fundamentally sound, we’re really hard to beat. When we don’t, we let other teams hang around with us. It’s a constant thing for us, playing fundamentally sound basketball.

“Our main goal is to win a championship,” White added. “I think the mix between my coaching style and their hard work will help us bring it home. We’re expecting to compete and have a good chance to win every game. We believe our preparation will help us get over the top.”

KIPP hosts Phoenix Chelsea tonight (6:30).