HENDERSON — The Crossroads Christian men’s basketball program’s second season under head coach Scottie Richardson saw them finish with a 16-13 overall record and advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCISAA 1A Tournament, where they lost 72-70 against Cape Fear Christian Academy.

Richardson had hoped to make a deep tournament run after advancing to the Elite 8 in his first season, but he praised his players for working through adversity during the 2019-20 campaign and believes that tenacity will enable CCS to contend for a state championship this year.

“It was a great year for us,” Richardson said. “We lost two starters at the beginning of the season, but that team persevered and we had a shot at it, and that’s all you can ask for, but now that we’re in year three of our system, we’re looking for bigger things.”

A key component to CCS’ success last season was the senior backcourt duo of Taylor Bell and Zach Murphy, as they served as the top two scorers for the team with 24.5 and 21.4 points per game respectively, with each eclipsing the 1,000-point barrier during the year.

Richardson knows that it will be difficult to replace the production that Bell and Taylor provided, but he expressed confidence that his incoming senior class can fill their leadership roles and continue to build off the momentum from the previous two years.

“Sixty-five points a game walked out the door,” Richardson said. “Not only did we lose Taylor, Zach and our other senior in Austin Hayes, but Caden Woodward and his family moved to Virginia, so that’s another big blow. It’s hard to replace that, but we have three seniors that are really solid.”

Leading the senior class is guard Asher Fulk, who was the third leading scorer for CCS last season with 11.4 points per game and is currently the all-time leading three-point shooter in school history.

While Richardson expects Fulk to improve on his numbers from last year, he singled out his overall knowledge of the game as his primary strength, which has resulted in him receiving offers from Murray State, Wofford, UNC-Greensboro, UNC-Wilmington and Liberty as a team manager with the possibility of becoming a coach in the future.

Fulk said that playing under Richardson’s system has given him the practice he needs to make the transition to coaching after high school, but he is focused on working with his fellow seniors in Noah Brantley and Colby Taylor to help lead CCS to the state championship and pass on their values to the underclassmen.

“I feel like we are three assistant coaches on the court,” Fulk said. “Scottie coaches us and then we coach everybody else, and Scottie is like a dad to all three of us. We try to emulate him and emulate Christ as best as we can.”

Brantley only averaged 3.0 points per game during his junior year with CCS, but served as a key figure underneath the rim with 3.2 rebounds per game. Taylor, who transferred to CCS halfway through the 2019-20 season, is expected to see an expanded role in the team’s starting lineup.

Brantley said that he has talked frequently with Fulk and Taylor over the offseason about how they can improve their leadership skills with CCS, and believes that the best way for the entire program to succeed and contend for a state title is for the three of them to be role models both on and off the court.

“We have to lead by example,” Brantley said. “You can talk a big game and you can be up in somebody’s face, but if you’re not willing to get down and get your fingers in the dirt, that’s a flaw in leadership. We’re trying to be the ones to put the shovel in the ground and get dirty because we want our team to follow our example, and if we don’t follow our own example, then we’re just a bunch of hypocrites.”

Outside the senior class, Richardson expects Sam Boyd to develop his game further after he enjoyed several solid outings with CCS during his freshman season, which ended with him averaging 3.9 points per game and 1.5 rebounds per game.

CCS will also have the assistance of several transfer students for the 2020-21 season such as junior Andres Prince from Wake Forest High School. Richardson believes he will be a favorite for the NCISAA Mid-Carolina Conference Player of the Year as long as he maintains his speed and shooting accuracy.

Other transfers joining the CCS roster include Drew Rogers from Wakefield High School and Joshua Rogosich from North Raleigh Christian Academy, both of which are expected to be active members of Richardson’s rotation consisting of Fulk, Boyd, Taylor, Brantley, junior Ryan Adock and others.

Combined with a talented group of freshmen that helped lead CCS’ middle school boys basketball team to the conference championship last year, Richardson has every reason to believe that his program will finally be able to hang a state championship banner inside the gymnasium and is looking forward to watching how the season unfolds.

“We are right there,” Richardson said. “I’m excited about this season since we are in year three of our system, which is very unorthodox. We want 90 possessions a game and shots in seven seconds, but we also want 70% of our offense of the defense. We have 22 defenses in the playbook, so we are a tough team to scout and we have the right personnel for year three.”

Crossroads’ first game of the 2020-21 season is scheduled to take place in early November barring any setbacks stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.