Elite basketball team brings international flair to Henry County

By Doug Gorman

When high school basketball coach Linzy Davis puts his starting lineup out on the floor, he doesn't have to worry about a lack of talent.

Davis, the coach of the Community Christian School's elite high school team, has a roster loaded with future Division I and quiet possibly NBA potential.

The Elite Knights are a ministry of the Community Bible Church in Stockbridge and are a mix of some of the top international players and a handful of home-grown Georgians.

In addition to building a top-flight, nationally recognized team, the school's plan is to bring talented athletes into a Christian environment where they can receive a quality education and hone their basketball skills while maturing in their spiritual development.

For many of the foreign-born players, coming to the United States is a path to a better way of life. Helping out the players fits into the church's plan it calls "GOAL" (Giving Others a Lift).

The elite basketball team is just one of the church's many mission programs designed to improve the live's of others.

"Through this basketball team, we are able to change the lives of these young men," Davis said. "In their own countries, they would have a chance to play pro basketball, but college would be out of the question. Once the ball stops bouncing, many would have to settle for jobs like washing dishes. We give them a chance to come here for high school and then move on to college. After basketball, they will have something to fall back on."

Although the Elite Knights might still be developing their fan base, they are getting plenty of recognition on the national level. With it's 12-1 record, CCS is ranked No. 6 in the most recent National Elite Christian High School rankings.

The squad proved worthy of its lofty ranking by recently capturing the Panama City Christian Invitational Tournament. In the championship game, the Elite Knights beat N o.-7 ranked Birmingham Central Park. It was a rematch from earlier in the tournament and helped Community Christian avenge its only loss of the year.

"We want to be Henry County and the surrounding area's team." said Davis. "The entire church community has taken us in and embraced us. We would love to see the rest of the area do the same thing. I can guarantee you, once fans see us play they will want to keep coming back."

Success has come quickly for the locally based basketball team. Started two years ago, bringing an elite program to the school in Stockbridge was the idea of Davis, who has been involved in basketball at the international level for several years while taking several AAU teams overseas.

In addition to the basketball, players are expected to put academics first. Although some come to the United States with limited English skills, intense training brings them up to speed. All players are mainstreamed into regular classes at Community Christian School.

"We want to build the Duke of the South, where academics are put first over athletics," said Joe Sheffield, the school's communication director.

Sandi Hutcheson heads the international committee and oversees travel, recruiting, and housing of the players. The committee is also made up of volunteers, members of the administration and coaches.

The entire church community has embraced the two-year-old elite basketball team.

International players are housed with four families and are quickly made to feel part of their new home despite some of the cultural differences which often require a period of adjustment.

To easy the burden of being away from their own families during the holidays, the international players were adopted by different CCS classrooms. The players in turn made Christmas ornaments for their fellow classmates representing their homeland.

"It's been a great way for us to blend the different cultures," said Sheffield.

According to Davis, watching the out pouring of support for these players has been special.

"There is a whole lot of love for these young men by the families and church community that have taken them in," Davis said. "These players serve as great role models for our students. Sometime American students don't realize how great they have things, and how lucky they are to have all the opportunities by living in this country."

Only three players return to the CCS Elite team from last year. Solomon Tate, is a 6-5, point guard from Nigeria, Olu Ashaolu, is a 6-7, guard and forward from Canada, and Paulius Cibulkis, is a 6-8 forward from Lithuania.

The rest of the team is built around newcomers, including local standouts Chris and Terrell Barnes.

Chris began his prep career at North Clayton and Terrell is getting just getting his career started as a freshman.

"We don't want to give the impression that we are recruiting at the local high schools," Davis said. "We didn't seek out the Barnes brothers. Their parents wanted them in a Christian School environment, so it was a prefect fit."

Other Georgians are Derek Duvall, Cortez Johnson and Eric Miller.

Joining the team from overseas this year are forward Petras Balocka (Lithuania), Aleksander Mrozik (Poland), Kristofer Janiszewski (Poland), Jacob Gadomski (Poland), Ousman Cisse (Ivory Coast) and Carlos Marios (Angola).

Curious basketball fans still have plenty of opportunities to jump on the CCS bandwagon

The Elite Knights have at least 14 more games remaining, several of those against nationally ranked elite programs. The team's first home game is Jan. 8 is against North Atlanta Christian.

The team no doubt has circled Feb. 26 on its calendar. That's when the Elite Knights travel to Appalachian State University for a game with Mt. Zion Christian from Durham, N.C.

Mt. Zion, has been one of the nation's top-ranked teams for nearly a decade. Tracy McGrady, who is now with the Houston Rockets, jumped straight to the NBA after honing his skills at Mt. Zion.

Starting March 8, the team will play in the NACA Nationals in Dayton, Tenn. Things are only going to get better for the Elite Knights as they get more comfortable with each other.

The Elite Knights won't field their first group of seniors until next season.

By then, school administrators expect the top college coaches in the country to come to town to recruit their players.

Despite the success of the elite team, Community Christian hasn't forgotten about the rest of its students who also wish to play basketball. The school also has a more traditional basketball programs, which includes a varsity, junior varsity and middle school team.

Those teams are coached by Lloyd Parham, who also serves as the assistant head coach of the Elite Knights.