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Jon McKowen Wins Debut As Kennedy Basketball Coach

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CEDAR RAPIDS He's got more than 400 to go, but Jon McKowen is getting there. Maybe someday he'll catch his dad when it comes to coaching victories in the state of Iowa.

"As long as people keep hiring me, I'll keep coaching," he laughed, after Cedar Rapids Kennedy opened its season with a 54-46 win Friday night over Burlington. "When it's your passion, it's not really staying in it. It keeps you ticking, makes it easy."

Marty McKowen won his 500th career game last season at Wapsie Valley, a small-school coaching legend in this state. His boy won 91 times at Cedar Falls NU High before moving about five years ago to Ottawa, Kan., where he won a state title last season.

Jon McKowen came back home to accept the Kennedy job last spring, replacing Bob Fontana, who moved home himself to coach at Ankeny Centennial. Considering all the games, all the big games he has coached in his career, he admitted this one really didn't feel much different.

"Because I got to spend the whole summer with these guys," he said. "The summer is great because you get to know each other more personally, it's more laid back. We had 17 practices, I've been in the building (as a teacher). The community has been so great to my family and myself, really embraced us and involved us, that it really does feel like I've been here three or four years and not three or four months."

McKowen is similar to his predecessor in that he wants his guys to really get after the opponent on defense. But where Fontana was a half-court guy offensively, the new coach likes it up tempo.

"Defensively, they both wanted you to pressure, get up into the guy," said senior guard A.J. Carter, who tied with John Bardsley for team scoring honors with 13. "Offensively, Fontana was more of a slow-down type, run the offense. Coach McKowen just wants us to push and try to get easy buckets in transition when we can."

Do they have similar personalities?

"Coach McKowen is a little more settled down," Carter said. "Fontana was more rah, rah, rah."

It took awhile for Kennedy to shake an undersized Burlington team that lost its opener earlier in the week to Class 3A Keokuk. The Grayhounds led after a quarter, but Kennedy's defense helped it surge ahead by halftime, 26-18.

The spread stayed between three and eight the rest of the night.

"I'm happy, obviously, it started this way," said McKowen. "But at this point in the year, you're just looking for a little bit of organization. Hopefully we'll start knocking down a few more shots than we did tonight, but we got great shots."

McKowen said he didn't mind that Kennedy took 21 3-pointers, making just three. The two-headed inside monster known as either Heitzer or Holzland (Trevor Heitland and Austin Holzer) combined for 17 points, 11 from Heitland.

Three other key stats were rebounding (a 38-30 Kennedy advantage), made free throws (a 17-2 Kennedy edge) and turnovers (17 of them for Burlington). Brice Plein led Burlington, which employs a four-guard lineup, with 11 points.

"I thought overall we played pretty well," said Burlington Coach Jeff Bloomer. "We turned the ball over a little too much probably at times. I thought we executed pretty well most of the game, and I thought defensively our zone was good. The biggest issue we're going to have all year is rebounding because we're just not very big. We're just going to have to do a lot of little things, be as scrappy as we can, to try and get every 50-50 ball we can.

"Rebounding in an issue, and it really killed us tonight."

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