Redemption wasn’t just the name of the 2018 championship team. It was their goal, their entire reason for being. Now that “redemption” has been achieved, where do they go from here? That’s the question facing coach Keion Kindred as Redemption sets out on their repeat campaign.
Kindred isn’t sweating any potential pressure, though.
“I’m comfortable,” he says. “I’m not pressed to win again … My biggest thing was always losing my players every year. If everyone’s here then we can make another push for it, but the pressure’s off.”
It’s an unusual stance to take when many teams in previous years have expressed their hunger for repeat championships and only a handful have achieved that goal.
“I’m in a unique situation,” Kindred admits. “For years I was supposed to. We were always one of those teams that were in the conversation of, ‘They’re one of the teams that should finish. They should be in the finals.’ So for me, it feels like it was long overdue, but the timing worked out. I don’t have any pressure because I’ve always had the pressure.”
That pressure haunted the veteran coach for seven summers, including last year’s victorious season. Keion grew up at the Drew, playing at Drew Middle School throughout his high school years, and started coaching Nationwide All-Stars alongside Roland Jones, before splitting off Redemption after a falling out between the two that came to a head in last year’s championship game, when Redemption defeated the renamed Nationwide Souljas, 99-92 in a come-from-behind win that solidified Kindred as one of the select few coaches to win a season at every major Los Angeles Pro-Am league.
And while he may feel free of the pressure to perform, his players, led by star point guard Jonathan Gibson, don’t exactly share his sanguine attitude. Gibson pointed out how the perception of a good team changes after a championship.
“Every time you win, you’re supposed to win,” he says. “Every time you lose, it’s a big loss.”
However, he has faith in his coach’s ability to lead the team through its post-championship season, saying, “He knows what he’s doing.”
It’s exactly that knowledge and confidence that has propelled Keion to success at the Drew, while his success at the Drew has similarly propelled his prosperity outside of it. He trains many of the Drew’s marquee players, including Gibson, three-time MVP Franklin Session, and 2017 scoring champion Patrick Rembert.
“The Drew League gave me the platform to showcase my ability as a coach,” Kindred says. “That was my endgame once I got done playing professionally, and this was the only place I could work on schemes and see if I could manage talent.”
And although he says he feels relief from the pressure that previously hounded his earliest seasons as a coach, he isn’t taking this next season lightly.
“The Drew is very difficult to play in if you’re cool,” he warns. “You’re too casual, you’re cadillackin’… you’ll get embarrassed. If you play hard and airball, they won’t yell at you. But if you come out here too cool, like it doesn’t matter to you, you might get exposed because it matters to everyone around you.”