South Charlotte

Athlete of the week: Champion wants 'to be like my dad'

Wes Champion was a 1,000-point scorer at College of Charleston. The school's athletic 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 was 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, is playing like his dad, averaging more than 20 points a game for a Cougar team that has started 10-2 and 3-0 in the ME-GA 7 conference, including a win over Sweet 16 No. 5 Harding last week.

From the time he came to Catholic as a 5-foot-9 freshman on the junior varsity team, Catholic coach Mike King knew Champion 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 because of it. He also had to adjust to his new body type.

"It was just an adjustment. Everything changed. My shot changed," said Champion, who is now 6-foot-5.

His shot is something he has been working 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," said Champion.

Champion said he played football and baseball for a short time when he was younger, but basketball has always been his main focus. He started playing on an AAU team after sixth grade. King said it was clear when he came to the high school level that Champion had been working 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," said King. "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 three-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 three-point percentage. Through 12 games, Champion is shooting 58 percent from behind the arc.

"The defense can't extend themselves so much on the three-point shot because he's now good enough to beat those guys off the dribble," said King.

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 his six three 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," said King.

Champion has also improved on the defensive end because of his size, said King, 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 and Southern Conference basketball colleges but will likely play a post-graduate year somewhere to improve his skills and increase his exposure.

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 win was 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," said Champion. "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."