Heart of a Champion

Former Charlotte Catholic star determined to land Division I hoops scholarship

by Andrew Stark

Ex-Charlotte Catholic standout Robert Champion is working toward his goal of earning a major-college basketball scholarship by playing on a Massachusetts-based AAU team this summer. Andrew Stark/SCW photo

This past winter, Robert Champion helped lead the Charlotte Catholic boys basketball team to a 22-7 record, which was its best season in recent memory. The Cougars’ star senior had one of the finest individual seasons in all of Mecklenburg County but was not attracting the interest of Division I college coaches.

His play on the court certainly warranted attention, as the 6-foot-5 guard averaged 20.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and nearly two steals and two assists per game while connecting on 49 percent of his 3-point attempts (72 of 147).

Still, few college coaches called Champion, whose dad, Wes, was a standout at the College of Charleston in the late 1980s. So, over the Halloween break, Champion made a trip to the Northeast to help cement his basketball future.

“I was wavering back and forth,” said Champion, who graduated from Charlotte Catholic last month. “I didn’t know if I was going to get any offers my senior year that I wanted. In January, I decided that I was going to be a 2013 (recruit) and go to Brewster (Academy) because that was the best option for me.”

Brewster Academy is a private, preparatory boarding school in Wolfeboro, N.H., that has a history of success on the court. Last season, Brewster finished 33-1 and ranked second in the end-of-season national prep school rankings after spending much of the season as the nation’s top team. Last year was not a flash in the pan, either, as Brewster has posted a record of 178-20 the past six seasons.

More important to Champion, the 2011-12 Brewster squad sent six players to Division I programs and has been home to high-profile players such as Thomas Robinson, a 2009 graduate who starred at the University of Kansas and this summer was chosen fifth overall by the Sacramento Kings.

Champion said the past stars didn’t attract him to Brewster Academy; it was more about what it can do for his future on the court.

“When I went to visit, I just liked everything about it,” Champion said. “I love Coach (Jason) Smith, and I really liked the campus and what they have to offer. I got my tour from Mitch McGary, who is a really nice guy and is going to Michigan. The guys were awesome and it was definitely something that I wanted to be a part of, and I am excited to be going there.”

While Brewster Academy could help him generate more interest from college scouts, Champion has been playing well on the Massachusetts AAU circuit and generating attention on his own.

Since February, Champion has been attending Charlotte Catholic during the week and living in Springfield, Mass., with his uncle while playing with the East Coast Elite AAU team on the weekends.

The results have paid off, as several Division I schools have begun to take notice. Boston University, Hofstra, Manhattan, New Hampshire, American and Furman have already been in contact with him this summer, and Champion expects some scholarship offers to follow.

“I am still working on some things with my game, but I am getting a lot better playing with the competition we face (playing AAU),” Champion said. “I am working on my defense and playing against guys as talented as what we face. I am learning to stay in front of people better and becoming a better overall defender.

“I know that if I play D-I basketball I will probably be a (shooting guard) so I have to improve on my ball-handling so I can help bring the ball up court. I have been working hard on handling the ball and have made strides with that this summer.”

Entering his senior season, Champion worked hard on shedding his label as simply a jump shooter. He averaged more than 15 points per game as a junior but was mostly spotting up for shots on the perimeter. This year, he made a conscious effort to take the ball to the basket, helping him develop a more well-rounded game.

“Being a more complete player helped my game a ton,” Champion said. “My inside game has improved. Last year, I was a jump shooter, and now I can get a one-dribble pump fake and get to the rim.

“I have incorporated that into my play this summer, and it is making a big difference in my game. We are playing some really good competition, so I have to be able to do a lot of things well on the court.”

At Brewster Academy, Champion will be playing against some of the nation’s top postgraduate players. The Bobcats have won two of the past five New England Prep Schools Athletic Conference titles and played in five consecutive National Prep Championship Final Fours.

While Champion has no guarantee of cracking the Bobcats’ starting five, he is confident he can fit into what the program is all about.

“(Coach Smih) talks about working hard, and I’m going to go there and work as hard as I can,” Champion said. “If I do that, I will be fine.”

Joining Champion will be a familiar face: former Myers Park guard Patrick Wallace. The two were teammates on the Charlotte Reign AAU team and have a common goal of securing Division I scholarships.

“(Brewster Academy) lost a lot of guys from last year,” Champion said. “So hopefully me and Patrick and some of the other guys can come in there and keep going what they have started.”

If Champion continues his torrid play on the AAU circuit and contributes to another strong season at Brewster, he believes he’ll reach his goal.

“Hopefully next year I will be in summer school playing D-I basketball somewhere,” Champion said. “I have gotten a lot of mid-major interest this summer, and I have been playing well and have gotten a couple of calls recently. So hopefully it all works out.”

 

THE ROBERT CHAMPION FILE

Height: 6 foot 5

Weight: 185 pounds

Age: 18

Who is your sports hero? That is tough, but I would say Ray Allen. I have tried to base my shot off of his because he is such a great shooter. Plus, he is really respected around the league.

What is the best show on TV? I have been watching a lot of “Family Guy,” so I would say that.

The U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team will … Win the gold medal.

How many games will the Charlotte Bobcats win next season? Wow, I’m hoping that they can get to 15 or 20 wins. Hopefully.

What is your favorite NBA team? The Bobcats

What’s your favorite college basketball team? I like N.C. State because my uncle went there but also the College of Charleston, where my dad (Wes) went.

What is the best sports movie? “Miracle.” I love watching that movie.

Who is your biggest role model? My dad, for sure. He has had a huge impact on my life and in basketball.

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