Life Christian Academy (Chester, VA)

Classification: Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association (VISAA) Division III

2018-19 overall record: 21-3

2018-19 notable accomplishments: VISAA Division III state champions

 

Months past their memorable winter season, I’ve actually had the chance to come across most of Life Christian’s players in frequent back-to-school showcases and other camps. As always, each member brings a lot of pride to the court and I knew I’d be in for a competitive day once I arrived to their small school grounds for a mid-week afternoon workout. The Eagles have a mix of familiar and new shaping up this year but the collective passion hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s a trait that made them one of the state’s best last year and they have high chances of sustaining that momentum as long as they make sure to pick each other up. Judging based off the ‘eye test,’ they still have the looks of an elite group within VISAA Division III.

 

What We Know

  • Three major standouts from 2018-19 will not re-appear this year for Life Christian: Antonio ‘Spider’ Bridy ’19, Dominique Finney ’20, and Marchelus ‘Chi Chi’ Avery ’20. Bridy decided to go the post-grad route and join New Mexico Junior College (Hobbs, NM). Finney and Avery, the 2019 VISAA Division III State Player of the Year, made transfer moves to Mt. Zion Christian Academy (Durham, NC) and Virginia Academy (Ashburn, VA), respectively, for their senior seasons. It’s undoubtedly a big chunk of scoring that the team will miss but they have several pieces of next-level prospects who can fill that void.
  • Tracing back to my article, ‘Mid-Season Thoughts (2018-19 HS Hoops)’ this past January, I remember my first statement focusing on how Life Christian’s lack of attention left me perplexed. I had a chance to see almost all of Richmond’s surrounding schools play and felt the Eagles proved they could hang with anybody. I mean, heck, they battled it out relatively close with national powerhouse SPIRE Institute (12/5) at Virginia State University (Chester, VA) in what was arguably the most anticipated local game featured during the entire season. Once the group secured that state championship over Eastern Mennonite School (Harrisonburg, VA) a few months later, it put the icing on the cake to a year that they entered as fairly underrated.
  • This 2019-20 varsity roster can play fast…like, really fast. Their guards get downhill effectively, while the wings run open lanes. In addition, they have two above-average athletes, Logan Washington ’20 and Will Henderson ’21, that can rebound, outlet, and sprint down the floor. Playing up-tempo and without hesitation was when Life Christian did their best at times last season. The main thing for them to realize pertains to the notion of how teams can’t solely rely on talent to win every game. The Eagles have talent in bunches but sometimes they tend to lose track of their game plan and think their gifted attributes will get them over the hump.
  • Big news happened for the team during mid-January when they officially became accepted into ‘The Grind Session,’ one of the nation’s top circuits of elite high school basketball events. This also made them the first program out of Virginia to ever receive the honor. Two days later, they made a trip to Benton, KY for the ‘Big Baller Beatdown’ showcase and performed solidly. This winter should give Life Christian even more opportunities to show what they’re capable of on the circuit, now as a known member.

 

Who to Watch Out For

Logan Washington ’20 – Returning as a first teamer on my personal ‘2019 804-All-Defense team,’ we can expect the 6’7” Washington to again protect the interior just as good as any other forward within the region. His shot-blocking prowess and tenacious rebounding makes him such a constant, valuable force for Life Christian. Offensively, he gets off of the floor quickly for dunks and other finishes, while also being able to step out a bit for jumpers. During the team’s time at the inaugural ‘Virginia Live Period Shootout’ (late-June 2019), Washington looked at some of his best on both ends. I feel that play didn’t go by unnoticed and helped him land a well-deserved offer to LIU-Brooklyn a few weeks later on July 11th.

 

Kenard Richardson ’21 – Hard work done on both his game and body led to a great summer by Richardson, as he put on strong performances each and every time I saw him play for Team Loaded DC 17u. At 6’4,” the wing slashes his way to the rim at an unstoppable rate…I’d easily classify him as one of Richmond’s best attackers, no question. However, an improved jumper over the last two months has expanded his game better in his shot-making. He handles it well enough to create space and made plenty of pull-up jumpers from range during full-court runs on Wednesday. In Richmond’s most recent back-to-back showcases, ‘ASSIST 804 Top 48’ and ‘ASSIST William L. Carter’s Back to School Classic,’ Richardson won MVP for both. He has an extremely competitive edge, thinks the game solidly, and won a Virginia High School League (VHSL) Class 5 state championship during the 2017-18 season at Varina High School (Henrico, VA). That winning mindset will fit right in.

                                                      

Will Henderson ’21 – A guy that the coaching staff and fans are really high on, it’s felt good to witness Henderson’s progress since February. He’s now pushing close to 6’9,” shoots it comfortably, and looks more fluid in his movements. I’m seeing much better skill out of him, after being a bit of a raw player last season. Now with two more years left in his high school career, he has the potential to become a contributor similar to Washington in one who can change the course of a game on both ends. With those two on the floor, it should become incredibly difficult for guards to finish in the lane. On the scoring end, they may work well in the high-low action; having Henderson around the free-throw line, where he can knock down shots from that area if given space.

 

Ikechi Chantilou ’21 – The smoothest player in the gym on Wednesday, it’s something I’ve become accustomed to seeing each time I come across Chantilou. His finesse in finishing around the rim works consistently and he should absolutely emerge as one of the team’s most lethal in transition. Proving himself as a knock-down shooter still has some touching up to do for the 6’4” wing but he’s still an above-average SCORER. I saw this in my first viewing of him last December when he played for George Wythe High School (Richmond, VA). Facing St. Christopher’s School (Richmond, VA) in the ‘Times-Dispatch Invitational’ tournament’s consolation round, Chantilou dropped a game-high 22 points (most of which came in the second half) to bring his team back to victory; one of the best second half performances I saw from a player last season. A 2019 second team Class 3 all-state selection in the VHSL, who has strong next-level promise.

 

Kenari Jones ’20 – Unable to attend Wednesday’s workout due to a dentist appointment, Jones still nonetheless newly arrives to Life Christian’s program as an important point guard piece. He’s a lightning-quick prospect with the ball in his hands and can fill up the stat sheet on points and dimes. Last season, I deemed Jones as more of a scoring floor general but he looked great in facilitating during the aforementioned ‘Live Period Shootout.’ The 5’8” guard’s body control and toughness make it hard to keep him from getting paint touches; he plays a lot bigger than his frame suggests. Defensively, he can set the tone greater than any other guard on the roster due to his reaction time. Other members of our Phenom Hoops team know all about his offensive weapons…he set a tournament record of 42 points at the ‘Phenom Palmento Winter Classic’ (December 20-22, 2018) last season with Great Bridge Christian Academy (Chesapeake, VA).

 

Anthony Greene, Jr. ’23 – I first saw the man-child Greene at that ‘ASSIST Top 48’ event a few weekends ago and felt my jaw drop after learning he’s only entering the ninth-grade. He has the frame of a college football linebacker already and uses it quite often to bully his way at the rim. As time goes on, however, he should learn that this style of play only works to a certain extent. Greene handles the ball solidly at 6’2” on the wing and can make shots but just needs to keep learning how to get open for looks around the perimeter. That way, he won’t have to worry about being banged up from trying to play too aggressively near the basket all of the time. There’s heavy potential in the young prospect’s game however, as he’s clearly one in the Richmond 2023 class that can rise to the top.

 

A Word from the Head Honcho

“Some of the guys have come a long way in the last few months; like Will Henderson, for example. It’s because they’re starting to settle down and grow in not only how they play but how they think the game too. We should be getting up and down the floor at all times with our speed. It’s important the ball doesn’t stick to one player long, which is why I’m constantly on the guys now about sharing and spacing. We need the ball moving and guys need to know how to think quickly on their decisions. Second-guessing yourself won’t work. There’s some new names too that folks around the country will soon know about.”

– Head coach Richard Mason (3rd year)

 

Outlook

Athleticism, size, speed, and depth all compose the makeup of the Life Christian bunch. Still, I feel their grit will set them apart more than anything else. I’ve always noticed this in Coach Mason’s teams, typically, as he pushes them to treat each opponent with the same fiery approach. That fire can spread a bit too much in some instances also, however, so it’ll be important for the Eagles to not let it get the best of them. Speaking on talent specifically, they’re on another level in VISAA Division III. 4-5 guys could end up as all-state players, if we’re being honest. ‘The Grind Session’ should give Life Christian some of its best challenges and I’m curious to see how things soon unfold for the reigning state champs.

 

 

 

Won’t be long before the Eagles get ready to soar off again.