Coolidge senior center David Kadiri sat quietly on the bench with his teammates as the Colts waited to receive their championship trophy after last week’s District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association title game win over Theodore Roosevelt.
But before the ceremony was fully underway, a scuffle broke out between a couple of Roosevelt players and the Coolidge student section — and the gym was filled with pandemonium for all the wrong reasons. Security officials scrambled to break up the fight, which spilled into the upper deck of Coolidge’s gym, leading officials to cancel the trophy presentation and clear the gym.
Kadiri didn’t forget the moment. On Saturday, before Coolidge faced Roosevelt in the D.C. State Athletic Association DCSAA tournament semifinals, he reminded his teammates about what took place last Monday night against their rival.
“This is the team that wouldn’t let us celebrate our championship that night we won the championship back-to-back,” said Kadiri, who transferred from National Christian ahead of his senior year. “We weren’t allowed to celebrate and this is the team that did this. So basically, we owe them.”
With the help of Kadiri’s 15 points, the motivated Colts routed Roosevelt, 76-56, the third time Coolidge has beaten its rival this season. The win earned Coolidge a spot in Monday night’s inaugural DCSAA title game against Ballou at Verizon Center, and on Sunday, Kadiri was already searching for a trigger to get up for the last game of his high school career. The new DCSAA tournament replaced the Abe Pollin City Title Game and features public, private and charter schools from the District.
Finding motivational devices has been key for the 6-foot-8 center this winter. In DCIAA play he keyed in on players who have talked trash to him on the AAU circuit. At a tournament in Hawaii in December, after Coolidge met perennial powerhouse Findlay Prep, he reminded himself that he had just played against highly touted prospect Chris Wood, who is headed to UNLV next year. That was likely the toughest matchup of the year for Kadiri (he scored just six points in the game) and a litmus test for where he was with his game, and where he wanted to be by the postseason. “David, he’s always hyped for anybody,” Coolidge guard Trayvaughn Newell said. “He’s had a big impact. . . he’s brought intensity for us.”
The noticeable difference in Kadiri’s game is a new and polished cache of post moves, said Jerry McFarland, who coaches Kadiri’s Virginia Assault AAU team and also assists Coach Vaughn Jones at Coolidge. Before his senior season, Kadiri was prone to improvising on the block — maybe bull-rushing to the basket on one possession, or shooting an unpolished hook on another. Over the summer, Kadiri said, he was in the gym every day shooting hundreds of hook shots and up-and-under layups, and working to improve his footwork and pivots. His aim: to develop an identity on the offensive end.
“I think he’s always been a player that’s played with energy,” McFarland said. “He didn’t have a whole lot of confidence in his footwork. And he put a lot of time in the gym in terms of improving his footwork.”
Kadiri had an epiphany of sorts in a DCIAA semifinal matchup against Wilson center Wolde Jordon, one of the more talented and physical big men in the city. After receiving the ball in the post, Kadiri backed Jordan down and spun for a “Hakeem Olajuwon-type hook shot” that earned a whistle and resulted in a three-point play.
“I was like wow, that hook shot, put to perfection right there,” Kadiri said.
Duquesne and Florida Gulf Coast are among the schools to have expressed interest in Kadiri, but for now, the senior’s singular focus is on leading his team to a second championship in as many weeks. Kadiri’s search for motivation against Ballou on Monday night goes no further than the pride he has in being a part of the new state championship format — one that he hopes will present a proper trophy ceremony for him and his teammates.
“We could be the first team in the area to ever win state,” Kadiri said. “We know it’s a big thing for us, and it’s a first time thing, so we want to definitely take this win.”