HPCA boys primed for big season
The High Point Christian Academy boys have all the makings to be one of those very special teams.
Returning seven of their top eight scorers from last year, the Cougars, who went 30-2 last year, are poised to make another run – one that they hope nets an NCISAA 3A state championship.
“I don’t hide from the fact that we want to win a state championship,” coach Brandon Clifford said. “Everything we do – how we schedule, how we prepare – everything’s to prepare us for, hopefully, playing for a state championship.”
Leading the way are four NCAA Division I recruits – Jackson Kent (James Madison), Chuck Ogbodo (UNC Wilmington), Diante Baldwin (UNC Greensboro) and transfer Michael Kobani (Appalachian State). Add in newcomers Malik Wright (transfer from Southeast Guilford), Alvah Phillip (transfer from Dudley), in addition to Kobani (transfer from Caldwell), and the lineup is pretty stacked.
But the state fourth-ranked Cougars, who also prominently feature talented senior guard Isiah Gill, won’t take the easy road. Instead, they are determined to prepare themselves, having to face the likes of current No. 1 Wesleyan Christian and 2012 state finalist Greensboro Day – just in their conference, the PACIS 3A. So, while they might have the talent and experience, they still have to put all the pieces together.
“Last year, we had some ill-timed injuries, played a bad game at a bad time and Greensboro Day beat us,” Clifford said. “They deserved to beat us and they beat us. So, whatever we did last year wasn’t good enough. We decided to up the ante, toughen our schedule and go on the road (including at national powerhouse Oak Hill to open the year). We’re going to be tested. Our goal is at the end February to be the best team in the state.”
Last year showed the Cougars that an excellent year is certainly an attainable goal. But, after spending most of year as the state’s top-ranked team only to suffer key injuries late and lose in the third round to GDS, it also showed how fickle the one-and-done state playoffs can be. So, to put it all together into a state championship, takes a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication and a lot of luck through the course of a season.
“I’m fortunate to have kids who want to play because they love it,” Clifford said of using last year as motivation. “We were disappointed in the outcome, but we weren’t disappointed in our season. We knew what we accomplished, and we got beat by a good team – Greensboro Day’s a good team. We’re motivated by that. But we look at it as: it’s just the next game.
“Last year, we were 23-0 before we lost. And we never felt like we were 23-0 – whatever that feels like. For us, we try to make it about the next game. We want to win every one, but it’s win the next one. We’re going take the same approach, and I think we’ll be in more similar situations as the state tournament (three games back-to-back), and hopefully those things will prepare us for it.”