RALEIGH — Last season Neuse Christian Academy won its third straight basketball state championship in the North Carolina Christian School Association. It was the Lions’ fourth title in five years. Six players off last year’s team are playing college ball this year, including Terry Henderson, who is starting as a freshman at West Virginia University.
With all that success, the Lions went hunting more challenges.
So this season, they are playing in the 1-A division of the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association, taking on well-known basketball names such as Mt. Zion and Word Of God.
Excited about the change, first-year coach Scottie Richardson and his young team have continued the winning ways. After Tuesday’s 73-61 win over Trinity Academy of Raleigh in the Carolina Christian Conference tournament quarterfinals, the Lions are 19-9 overall and are the top-scoring high school team in the state, averaging more than 83 points per game, which ranks fourth nationally.
“With the success the school has had, it was a good time to make the move,” said Richardson, who played at Neuse 25 years ago when his father coached the team.
“Now we’re playing more in the Raleigh area and against teams that have more emphasis on basketball,” Richardson said. “So, we had a turnover in coach and just two players who returned from last year’s team, the two seniors I have. We have one junior and six sophomores, so just about everybody is new.”
The two seniors are guards Tim Ocampo and Daron Gipson, a quick well-rounded player who leads the team with 20.9 point per game.
The lone junior is Fred Rambert, a point guard who leads the fast-paced offense.
“This is a fun style to play; I love it,” said Rambert, who averages seven assists per game.
Two sophomores in the lineup are 6-foot-4 Jalen Gaddy, who averages 19 points and 6-5 Justin Storey, who averages 16 points and nine rebounds.
Rambert scored 22 in the win Tuesday, followed by Gipson (21), Gaddy (17) and Storey (11).
All of the players talk about winning a championship. As a first-year member, the Lions are ineligible to win the NCISAA state championship, so the conference tournament title is their goal.
While the Lions are 12-1 in the league, that one loss was to a strong Northwood Temple team, Neuse’s biggest obstacle to the conference championship.
“The first reason I came to Neuse was to get my academics in order,” Storey said. “That has to come first. Then we want to win championships, the conference this year, and go for the state next year, be a dominant team.”
Richardson is also looking forward to continuing the success of the Lions program, which has six state championships, plus a national title in 2010.
“We lose two seniors but will have a pretty good nucleus coming back,” Richardson said. “Plus we’ve got a couple of sophomores coming off the bench who play well, including Luke Adams. And Mark Meinhart started tonight.”