Lenape's Keyes is shooting for a hoops title

Lenape’s Kendall Keyes looks to pass the ball during the 3rd quarter against Rancocas Valley. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff

Some words of wisdom on how to be a good shooter, according to one of the best shooters in South Jersey, is to just let it rip.

"You can't really think about it," Kendall Keyes said. "You just have to have confidence."

As a sophomore last season, Keyes hit 50 three-pointers for a Lenape team that advanced to the Tournament of Champions semifinals and won a South Jersey-record 31 games.

She was known for burying big shots in big moments, one of the most dependable underclassmen in the state.

On the court, the game flowed for Keyes. There was a rhythm to her game. She didn't have to think so much.

Off the court, though, Keyes studies basketball.

She works with personal trainers and shooting coaches on Sundays during the season. And, like many dedicated players in the area, she refines her game 12 months out of the year.

Keyes said there was a time when she was actually a better soccer player than basketball player. But she gave up soccer - almost heresy at Lenape, a school known for its girls' soccer dynasties - because she fell in love with basketball.

"Until about seventh grade I considered myself a soccer player," Keyes said. "But basketball became my biggest focus, and it was just because I loved the game so much."

The attitude is exactly what her team needs this season. After the graduation of one of the best front courts in New Jersey, Keyes is playing a pivotal role in Lenape's efforts to remain among the area's elite teams.

So she is no longer counted on just to drain three-pointers. And she came into this season ready for the expanded role.

Already, she looks faster. Her feet are quicker, and she looks more sure of herself.

At times, she runs the offense, and her ball-handling skills and ability to drive the lane have been on display as much as her ability to catch and shoot.

"Her world has changed a little bit this year," said Indians coach Rob Hummel. "But she's doing a great job with it, and it's because of how hard she worked in the offseason.

"She always comes back a little bit better, a little bit more prepared, which is especially nice to see because she is still just a junior."

Keyes is one of just two returning starters this season for the Indians. The other is senior guard Shane Holmes.

Both have stepped into bigger roles. Keyes is averaging a team-best 12.4 points per game, and Holmes is averaging 10.2. That's for a team that, to the surprise of some in the area, is off to a 4-1 start and already looking like a serious contender in South Jersey Group 4.

On Monday, Lenape nearly upset Rancocas Valley, falling 56-53 to a team that was, at the time, ranked No. 2 in the Inquirer's Top 10 rankings.

"We just need a little bit more time to find our rhythm," Keyes said. "There are a lot of new players, and a lot of us are playing new roles. Yes, we lost a lot of state championship players. But we're rebuilding, and, as you can see, we already look pretty good."

Winning a state title last season taught Keyes some valuable lessons. She knows what it takes to win, and she knows what a winner looks like.

There are higher expectations of her now, more responsibility on her shoulders. But when she is on the court, she doesn't pay them much attention.

She follows her own advice, and she just plays.

"At the end of the season last year, we just kept fighting," Keyes said. "We knew we were good enough to win a state championship. We believed in ourselves. And that's what it takes."

cmelchiorre@phillynews.com