Wes Champion was a 1,000-point scorer at College of Charleston. The school's athletics website called him one of the team's "first legitimate three-point threats," as he knocked down more than 57 percent of his shots from behind the arc from 1985-88.
Growing up, Robert Champion focused on following in his father's footsteps.
"Right from an early age, I knew that I wanted to play basketball; I wanted to be like my dad," he said.
Now a senior at Charlotte Catholic, Champion, 17, plays like his dad. He makes 58 percent of his 3-point attempts and averages 21 points for a Cougars team (12-2, 5-0) that is tied with Sweet 16 No. 1 Olympic (16-0, 5-0) for first place in the ME-GA 7 conference. Olympic brings a 44-game conference win streak to Catholic tonight for an important 7:30 p.m. game.
This season, Champion and Catholic have lost to No. 9 South Mecklenburg and Archbishop Carroll from the Washington, D.C., area. But the Cougars, unbeaten at home, have won four straight.
From the time Champion came to Catholic as a 5-foot-9 freshman on the junior varsity team, Catholic coach Mike King knew he could shoot. Then as a sophomore, he had height, growing six inches to 6-foot-3 over the summer before his first year as a varsity player.
The height added another element to Champion's game, but it wasn't an easy transition. He had back problems coming into his sophomore year and missed several practices and games. He also had to adjust to his new body type.
"It was just an adjustment. Everything changed. My shot changed," said Champion, now 6-foot-5.
Eyes on the prize
His shot is something he has worked on for years, spending hours in the gym, putting up 200-300 shots in a normal workout and getting tips from his dad.
"He was a great shooter for College of Charleston and he helped me out a lot, developing my shot at a young age," Champion said.
King said it was clear when he came to the high school level that Champion had worked at his game for many years.
"He's a guy who set his mind on being a good basketball player at an early age and he hasn't taken his eyes off that prize," King said. "He's truly put in a lot of time and a lot of effort not only here on the court but also in the weight room and being a leader."
As a junior, his first year as a regular starter, Champion averaged 15 points per game, hitting 41 percent of his 3-point shots. Last year Champion was mostly just a shooter, but this year he's worked on driving with the ball and beating defenders inside.
Part of that transition has been adding bulk to his tall frame. He still only weighs about 180 pounds.
King said Champion's ability to take defenders off the dribble has made him a better scorer and increased his 3-point percentage.
"The defense can't extend themselves so much on the 3-point shot because he's now good enough to beat those guys off the dribble," King said.
Champion scored 27 points in the win over Harding and 39 over Brother Martin (La.) in a holiday tournament in Atlanta. In a 92-28 win over Gaston Day, he made five of six 3-pointers and scored 23 points.
"Guys that are putting up the numbers he does don't do it with luck, they do it with hard work and some dedication," King said.
Champion has also improved on the defensive end because of his size, King said, though he's often not asked to guard the team's best player.
Champion said he's focused on getting stronger and making his shot even better with a quicker release.
He said he's gotten interest from Ivy League schools and from Presbyterian and Queens but will likely play a post-graduate year somewhere to improve his skills and increase his exposure.
This season, Catholic added Davidson Day transfer David Belfield, brother of former All-Observer star Keith Belfield, as well as 6-foot-6 Virginia transfer Jack Wohlfert and 5-foot-11 guard Tafon Mainsah.
With a solid start to the season, Champion has a chance to win the ME-GA 7 3A/4A conference in his final year at Catholic, something he's wanted to do since he started there.
The Harding and Berry wins were crucial for the Cougars because only two of three 3A teams in the conference will make the conference.
Catholic has to contend with Berry and Harding for one of the spots.
Catholic's success will rely heavily on continued strong play from Champion.
His grandmother had tapes of Wes Champion playing in college. He used to watch them growing up. It's what Champion modeled his game after.
"He played a lot like me," Champion said. "He played really hard, he was a really good offensive player and he worked hard on the defensive end. He wasn't the quickest or fastest or strongest but he was one of the toughest players on the court, and I really learned a lot from him."
This story originally appeared in the South Charlotte News, www.newsofsouthcharlotte.com.