Blackhawk Christian is trying to keep this week like any other – practicing on the same schedule as always, game planning like they would for any other matchup – but on Saturday it will play one of the biggest games in program history when the Braves face Barr-Reeve for the Class A state title.
Senior guard Frank Davidson refers to the championship game as a “business trip,” while his younger brother Marcus, a sophomore guard, said he is looking forward to playing under the bright lights at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
“It's a big stage that I've always dreamed of, and it's a dream come true, so I'm going to go out there and play hard,” senior guard Trinity Clark said at practice Wednesday.
Senior guard Abe Hicks said he and his teammates are taking this heady event in stride.
“It's pretty cool to go down there, to Bankers Life, and play,” Hicks said. “All the guys on the team, we've had a level mind about it. We just want to play basketball.”
Blackhawk Christian (27-2) was a heavy favorite to make it to this stage after spending most of the season ranked No. 1 in Class A. But despite their dominance over the last two seasons and 12 sectional titles since 2003, this is only the second time the Braves have reached the state championship game. They've never won a boys basketball title.
“It would be a great thing (to win) ... for our school, for our community,” Blackhawk coach Marc Davidson said. “There are a lot of people that have spent a lot of years laboring and toiling and really laying the foundation for Blackhawk Christian, not just the basketball program but the school as a whole. And I think about what it would mean to all the people that went before us, Steve Longbrake, who started the basketball program and was its first coach; Jeff Kowatch was there for years; and Gary Merrell brought the team to state many years ago.
“It's a big family, and when I think about the opportunity that's before us, I think of all the guys that paved the way and laid the foundation for those of us who are here today.”
Kowatch and Merrell remain on staff at Blackhawk Christian. Merrell was the coach of the 2004 team that fell 69-54 to Waldron in the Braves' previous trip to the state title game.
“He's been talking about it, he's been coming to our games on the weekends and talking to us during the week, so it's been fun,” Frank Davidson said of Merrell. “He said to just go out and make the most of it.”
The Braves also went far in last year's state tournament but missed out on a trip to the finals after a 55-53 loss to Southwood at semistate.
“Last year we were so close, then we lost at the buzzer,” Marcus Davidson said. “That really hurt, and that kept us going. It'll be really surreal if we do get it done.”
Since that heartbreaking loss, the Braves have grown even closer.
“We have a group chat together, we go out to dinners, we like to hang out together,” Clark said. “We figure if we stay together, stay close together, that will help us a lot.”
Sophomore forward Caleb Furst said onlookers can see the camaraderie play out in the way the team plays on the court.
“We've all just come to know that we have our roles, and whatever our certain role is in this specific game, to accept that and do that to the best of our ability,” Furst said.
The other change since last season is the increasingly vocal leadership roles Furst and Frank Davidson have taken.
“Coach, he had a big challenge for me to get louder on the court, talk more and communicate with my teammates,” Furst said. “I've been trying to get better at it this season.”
Even though they're close enough to taste a title, the players said they're thinking more about preparations for the state final than they are about what it means for the team's place in school history.
“I've thought about it a few times, thinking, 'Hey, we could,'” Hicks said. “But the only way we can is if we go out and execute the game plan and play for each other and with each other.”