Giving their hearts, bodies and souls

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By John Herndon

John Moore can only chuckle at a well-meaning suggestion concerning Christian school basketball. It seems that a good-hearted soul believed that all players, regardless of ability, should receive equal playing time.

"There is a misconception about what a Christian team should be," says Moore, the head coach of the powerhouse boys' team at Christian Academy of Lawrenceburg. "A lot of people just see the feminine side of Christianity. But Jesus was a man's man. He was a carpenter. He was strong."

Oddly enough, there is plenty of playing time to go around at Christian Academy, where the Rams have put together a 31-2 record after Friday's 66-44 thrashing of Frankfort Christian.

"These kids are competitors," smiles Moore. "I demand that they give their whole heart to the game while playing. Jesus said to love Him with your heart, body and soul. I have expected them to give 100 percent in practices and games. We want to use basketball as a tool to teach some life lessons."

The Rams' average margin of victory has been 25 points this year, making total concentration and effort difficult.

"Some games, I have instituted a zero-tolerance rule," says Moore, a star at Frankfort High School in the 1960's. "If you are not giving 100 percent, you will have a place on the bench. They have responded well."

How well they have responded will be measured Friday and Saturday at the Kentucky Christian School Athletic Association state tournament to be held at Hoops in Louisville. The Rams have earned the top-seed and a first round bye. They are also one of the favorites to take the national tournament, to be held at Dayton, Tenn. in mid-March.

The Rams believe they have unfinished business in both events.

"At the state last year, we lost by one point (to Heartland Christian of Elizabethtown) in the championship game," recalls guard Carlos Bowman. "We scored and went to our press but they threw over our press and scored with 3 seconds to go. We had beaten them twice in the regular season."

Adds Moore, "At the national tournament last year, we had a bad game and were beaten by the national champions (High Street Baptist from Columbus, Ohio.) We finished fifth."

"I will be disappointed if we do not win the state," says Christian Academy athletic director George Gilbert. "We are undefeated in the KCSAA, and Heartland, who is in the West with CAL, is number two since they have only lost to us twice. We have a good shot at winning the National Association of Christian Athletes tourney.

"What hurts us is that we can't play KHSAA schools."

Some other state associations similar to the Kentucky High School Athletic Association do allow their members to play the Christian schools. Moore says he tried to schedule a prominent public school in another county this year but the KHSAA restrictions nixed the idea.

Still, the Rams have been gunning for this moment since last March. "We know we are good enough," Bowman says. "We want to prove that CAL basketball is not a joke."

It is a perception that lingers, even though the Rams have proven otherwise. "That doesn't really bother me," says senior guard Ryan Andrade. "If I was on that side, I probably would think that too. I understand why people say that, but that does not necessarily mean it is true."

During the summer, the Rams played as an AAU team, going against public school powerhouses Pleasure Ridge Park and Fairdale at Hoops, a basketball facility in Louisville. "They both beat us about 30, but we learned," Bowman said.

The team also entered a team camp at Georgetown College, bringing home the championship after playing 16 games in 4 days. "We beat a lot of public schools," Moore said. "We beat Perry Central twice."

Steam-rolling opponents early in the year, the Rams seemed to be making their coronation as the best Christian school team in Kentucky a mere formality when the team was stung by real life.

Former coach Billy Waldridge, who had been at the helm for 6 seasons, resigned in mid-season, leaving the team to Moore, who had been assisting him.

"Coach Billy was really pushing us," Bowman said. "Then right before homecoming, he was gone. We had practice the day he quit. That was weird."

School principal Carla Andrade says it was difficult for the team. "These boys are really close and some of them were really close to Billy. I have nothing but respect for Billy and he is a friend to (her husband) Tony and me. But the boys rallied together and decided they were going to go on with trying to achieve what they set out to do."

Adds Bowman, "I have called coach Billy once since he left. He said to finish out the goals we had set for ourselves and he said, 'I love you all.'

"Not long after that, before one of the games, we had a meeting. Coach John wanted Jordan (Hall, a senior like Bowman) to talk to the team. We made vows to each other and vows to God."

And they have made a commitment to Moore, considered one of Kentucky's best high school players in 1964, his senior year. Moore was recruited by Adolph Rupp before an injury left him temporarily paralyzed. Well-known around Frankfort-area AAU basketball, Moore migrated to Lawrenceburg when his grandsons, 6-foot-7 center Josiah Karsner and guard Josh Karsner started playing for the Rams.

If anything, he might be even more demanding than what the Rams were used to.

"My philosophy on offense is to push the ball down the floor before the defense gets set," says Moore, a huge fan of Duke's Mike Krzyzewski. "On defense, we like to go man-to-man and sometimes we do something a little unique."

Against Frankfort Christian the Rams shifted from their man defense to a triangle-and-two, a scheme that Moore says, "has been good to us." They also ran something that resembled the "Freak" that Dale Brown utilized at LSU in the 1980's and 90's. It sometimes looked like a match-up zone and at others, a box-and-one. "Actually it was the reverse," Moore smiled. "We had four men in man-to-man and Jordan Hall in a one-man zone."

Friday, it made little difference. Even with Josiah Karsner on the bench in street clothes due to an illness, the Rams routed Frankfort. The lead ballooned to 30 even without the big guy, who is getting some attention from colleges, not playing.

"Sometimes, it is a problem getting them motivated," Moore says of the one-sided scores.

"We can get into some bad habits," allows Bowman, a 5-10 point guard who hopes to be playing college basketball at Asbury next year.

Bowman's maturation has been a key factor for the Rams. As a youth league player, he was a member of some Anderson County all-star teams. At Christian Academy, Bowman had primarily been a scorer his first three years but has accepted his role as one to distribute and score when needed. "I had told Carlos that he would have to learn to play that role if he wants to play at the next level," Moore said. "I believe we have four players that can play at the next level."

But at Christian Academy of Lawrenceburg, much of their improvement will have to be self-guided. Not only are there strict academic requirements -- "They have to have a 2.0 grade average and no F's," says Carla Andrade - there have been stringent limitations on how much time can be devoted to sports.

"Four activities a week," Bowman says.

Practices cannot exceed 90 minutes either.

"If we have 3 games in a week, then I have 90 minutes of practice time," Moore says. "Sometimes I will just have to tell them what they have to do. There is only so much I can do.

Such restrictions during the school year temper the oft-asked question of how the Rams would do against some of the public school teams. It is a question that one cannot answer.

And one that is not likely to be answered anytime soon.

The reason is the fact that Christian Academy and the other schools in the KCSAA allow home-schooled kids to play on their athletic teams. In fact, of the Rams' first seven players, four - the two Karsners, Hall and Andrew Underwood - are home-schooled. Bowman has also been home-schooled in the past.

Carla Andrade says the decision to allow home-schoolers to play was not meant to be a way to build a powerhouse, even though that has been a by-product. "Several years ago, at our monthly athletic meeting, we decided it was not a bad partnership," she says. "It has created a wonderful partnership."

The setup is not as uncommon as it might seem. While Kentucky does not allow it, more than 20 states allow home-schooled kids to play for a public school team. The most famous home-schooled athlete in the news today is Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, whose parents opted to to teach at home but took advantage of a Florida law that allowed him to play at a public school. Michael Beasley, a basketball player at Kansas State, was also home-schooled for a time.

In Kentucky, the most prominent home school alumnus might be former Louisville player Chris Current, who was home-schooled before attending Frankfort High School.

"Over the years, we had had several call us about playing sports for us and we had to tell them no," Andrade said. "When we started allowing home-schoolers to play, we did call them back."

While the perception might be that Christian Academy has tried to just field powerhouse, Gilbert says that when the decision was made to allow home schoolers to play, it was simply a matter of giving people who had the same educational philosophy an opportunity.

Christian Academy, which had been playing in the Kentucky Christian Athletic Association, which does not allow home schoolers, moved to the KCSAA. "I was not aware of any home-schoolers or their success in athletics," he says. "Our home school families came to us and asked for a chance for their children to play.

"The school athletic manual only allows enough home-schoolers to fill out a roster so that we can have a team for CAL students. Each CAL student is guaranteed a spot on a team while a home schooler must be evaluated on an individual basis from a Christian viewpoint. In fact, the parents and potential player are interviewed as if they are applying for admission to the school."

While not all of the academy's players attend school there, it is obvious that they are all Rams. They make the extra pass, often eschewing the open jumper for a teammates easier shot. They chest bump and high five like a team that has been together for years.

"We came together as a basketball team," Bowman says. "We don't care who does what."

Ryan Andrade, who missed the Georgetown tournament due to his selection as a Governor's Scholar last year, adds, "We have been playing together for a while. When you are a team for a while, you start to realize what people can do."

What the Rams do is represent themselves and their school very well. They win big and they win with class. And they are a hot topic at the school.

"It is exciting to be a small school and compete at the level they do," says Carla Andrade, the principal. "The kids talk about the team and they are always encouraging them. But things don't rise and fall with the success of the basketball team."

Moore does not demand perfection, but does demand the effort, even if it means the score might get out of hand. "I take this very seriously," he says. "I ask for 100 percent and I have to give that much back. Some people might not like the intensity I demand, but it's not necessarily running up the score. I just want them to give 100 percent on every play."

Andrade, the principal's son and Governor's Scholar seems to have gotten the message.

"What I believe the Bible says is that when you do something," he says, "you do it to the best of your ability."

And this weekend, the Rams hope to have a trophy to commemorate just that.