The Charlotte Christian boys' basketball team made it to the final of the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A tournament last year. They had won 20 straight games up until the loss in the final to Christ School.
Getting there was nice, but this year the Knights want to win it.
"Our ultimate goal again is to be competing on that Saturday evening (of the state title)," said coach Shonn Green, who has been head coach at Christian for 10 years.
This could be the year that the Knights take home the championship as the team that went 29-5 last year returns seven players, including Anthony Gill, one of the best power forwards in the country.
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Gill will be the main element of an experienced Knights team that has seven seniors and four juniors. The 6-foot-8 senior has signed to play at South Carolina next year and ranked 17th in the country at his position.
"He's one of the best finishers I've seen," said Brown. "He has a major role in helping us to be successful."
Gill averaged 18 points, seven rebounds and 1.1 blocks a game and shot a school record 68 percent from the floor last year. On a team that's lacking in size (Gill is the tallest by two inches), he will be an integral part of the Knights inside game.
Gill won't be the only threat on the court, though. Senior point guard Trent Walker (6-foot-2) is expected to be the leader on the court, said Brown. He scored 7.2 points per game last year and averaged 4.1 assists and two steals.
"We will look to him to really lead our charge," said Brown. "He really helps us set the tone in practice and games."
Senior Worth Smith, a 6-foot-6 forward, was injured for part of the season last year but is back at full strength this year. He is committed to play at the United States Naval Academy. Junior Ryan Potocnik (6-foot-6) will be a key post player who Brown says has a knack for blocking shots.
Uyi U-edosomwan, a 6-foot-3 senior forward whose "hustle is incredible," according to Brown, and sophomore shooting guard Patrick Rooks (6-foot-1), a quick left-handed scorer, round out the core of the Knights roster.
The Knights will continue to focus on fundamentals, said Brown, who has a 244-71 record over his 11 years at Christian (one year as an assistant). Their practices are full of drills, from catching the ball to communicating on the court. He also wants the team to play strong defense.
But on offense, he wants the team to run up and down the court and play high energy. Basketball is entertainment, he said, and he wants to make sure the crowd gets a good show at each game.
Christian should have plenty of big game experience when they enter the state tournament this year because of a tough regular season schedule, including a trip to Washington D.C. in December for the Gonzaga DC Classic, featuring schools from New York, Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia.
They will also take trips to Columbia, S.C., in December for the Chick-fil-A Classic, to Erie, Pa., for the Burger King Classic in January and to Florida in January for the Montverde Academy Tournament.
Brown emphasizes team above self at Christian and the pride in the program can be seen in the people involved with it. Both assistant coaches, Luke Boythe and Kevin Williams, played at Christian under coach Bobby Jones. Alumni Stephen Curry, now with the Golden State Warriors, and Seth Curry, now playing at Duke, come back to campus during the offseason to work out and talk with the current players. Brown said that seeing what other Christian players have done inspires pride in the program for the current Knights.
The former players "would have nothing but high, high regards for Charlotte Christian School," said Brown. "These guys take that seriously."
Gill said Charlotte Bobcat Tyrus Thomas also stops by the school sometimes.
"Just to see all the stuff he's done...it really pushes me because I want to be there some day," he said.
For now, Gill is focused on his final year of high school basketball and taking his team to the state title. He said last year's loss in the final hurt, but the team is talented and learned from the experience.
"This season we know what we have to do to get back (to the state final) and this time win it," he said.