Kennedy Rebuild Making Strides

Mustangs Nearly Double Last Year’s Win Total After Friday Victory over Bayonne


J.F. Kennedy’s Vishal Patel, shown here battling for an offensive rebound versus Bayonne in non-conference action on Friday, January 31st, is averaging 13.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game so far this season for a Mustangs team that has almost doubled its win total from a year ago.

ISELIN, NJ—Three season’s ago, the John F. Kennedy Mustangs defied the odds by reaching the 2017 GMCT Quarterfinals despite moving up to the GMC White Division after being in the GMC Blue since the 2004-05 season, a 1-7 start, and knocking off 7th seeded St. Thomas Aquinas in the 2017 GMCT Round of 16.

The run by the 2016-17 JFK Mustangs gave first year head coach, Sebastiaan de Voogd, 2017 GMC Hoops Coach of the Year honors. After defeating Aquinas in the opening round that season, the Mustangs would lose 29 straight games stretching into December 2018. The 2016-17 squad was hit hard by graduation including the departure of Pete Obertan, who is now playing at Montclair State. In addition, promising sophomore, Bendji Pierre, transferred, and is now playing post-graduate ball for Patrick School National.

A year ago, Kennedy showed signs of improvement with a 4-15 overall record, and a quality win over New Brunswick on January 17th in Iselin. The last second win, which came on a buzzer beater by Nadir Cassiem, vaulted JFK into the 16th seed. Unfortunately, the Mustangs lost to 17th seeded North Brunswick in the preliminary round of the 2019 GMCT. The Raiders then lost to top seeded Old Bridge in the 2019 GMCT Round of 16.

This season started tough again for Coach de Voogd and the Mustangs. Kennedy began the season with three straight losses, and have endured some ups and downs, but have remained quite competitive. Of its 9 losses on the year, JFK has lost five of them by 5 points or less, and lost two other games by 10 and 12 points. The Mustangs are only two games under .500 at 7-9, which is just a win shy of doubling last season’s win total.

Kennedy has also garnered several non-conference wins including a recent come from behind, 56-49 victory over Bayonne of Hudson County. This has all happened despite losing four seniors from last year’s team: Jonathan Bragg, Dennis Howard, David Silva, and Abhishek Dave to graduation. Key players returning this year include: Cassiem, Papa Asmah, Vishal Patel, Luis De Los Santos, and Joe Kopchik.

A key addition to this year’s team is junior Ayman Pitts, who has provided a nice scoring punch from both the outside and inside. Vishal Patel has improved much over last season including a 20 point performance in a 63-52 win over West Windsor-Plainsboro North in a consolation game of the 2019 Hillsborough Holiday Hoops tourney over the holidays. Pitts also added 16 points in the win. Both were bright spots in a losing cause to North Brunswick on January 28th with Patel scoring 10 and Pitts registering a game high 26.

Through 16 games, Pitts is averaging 18.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. Patel is averaging 13.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per contest. Cassiem has chipped in by averaging 9.9 points and 4.0 assists per game. Asmah has been a force inside with an average of 5.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.0 assists, and 1.0 blocks per game so far this season according to nj.com. De Los Santos has contributed off the bench with 3.1 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game.

Kopchik has also helped out off the bench with an average of 1.1 points and 1.2 rebounds per contest. Stephen Yu and Andrew Morillo are also reserves on the squad that have each contributed with an average of 2.0 points per game. Connor Heaney, the younger brother of Kyle Heaney, who played on the 2016-17 team has averaged 1.7 points per game. Heaney, like his older brother, plays quarterback during football season.

J.F. Kennedy, which is 2-7 in the GMC White this season, still has opportunities to improve upon that mark prior to the 2020 GMCT Seeding meeting on February 14th. The Mustangs travel to play Edison on the road on Tuesday, February 4th, then host Colonia on Thursday, February 6th, and then head out to the Bomb Shelter in Sayreville next Tuesday, February 11th. All three of the previous match-ups with these schools were decided by single digits including a buzzer beating, 45-43 win at home over the Bombers on January 21st.