HENDERSON — An unconventional senior night for the Henderson Collegiate men’s basketball team took place at the Aycock Recreation Center on Wednesday, where head coach George Marshall recognized the athletic and academic accomplishments of his most experienced players in front of their families.
While Marshall would have preferred a more electric atmosphere that included the Henderson Collegiate student body, he was proud to honor a senior class that helped transform the basketball program into a powerhouse through years of determination and adversity.
“This really speaks to the grit, the tenacity and the perseverance of the Pride of 2021,” Marshall said. “They had to start by overcoming so much when they were freshmen and sophomores and now they’ve continued to do that throughout the course of this season, which has been very unique to say the least.”
In the early days of the Henderson Collegiate men’s basketball program, Marshall and several members of the current senior class were forced to practice at the Old Aycock Gym, which had fallen into a state of disrepair.
Marshall said that it would have been easy for his seniors to lose confidence and give up under the circumstances, but complaining was never a common occurrence for the team and they consistently put in the necessary effort to make Henderson Collegiate competitive.
One of the eldest members of Henderson Collegiate’s senior class is Khris Franklin, who still remembers the consecutive blowouts the team suffered when he joined in the fourth grade, which has made Henderson Collegiate’s evolution into a state champion all the more special for him.
“We were smaller than everybody,” Franklin said. “We lost every game by at least 30 points, but we rebuilt the culture, and I think that shift has really been the biggest difference.”
The path to the NCHSAA 1A championship would not be easy for Franklin and the rest of the senior class, as they had to navigate through growing pains at the varsity level during their freshman year, which saw Henderson Collegiate finish 13-13.
With guidance from Marshall and members from the first senior class in Ashad Jefferson, Micah Lewis and others, the current group of seniors found their voices as leaders on and off the court and helped power Henderson Collegiate to a 31-3 record in the 2018-19 season.
Although Henderson Collegiate came up short of a NCHSAA 1A championship that year to Bishop McGuinness, the team regrouped and put together another solid campaign the following season that ultimately resulted in them sharing the title with Winston-Salem Prep.
Franklin admitted that he initially did not believe Henderson Collegiate would win a state championship after the tribulations he experienced when he was younger, but said that the keys to the program’s success came down to buying into Marshall’s vision of a selfless, efficient basketball team.
“We had to help Marshall come through and rebuild around the people that had been here,” Franklin said. “People still needed to relate to the struggle that we dealt with, and even though a lot of people came in from different schools, we still remained humble and kept learning from different challenges that we faced.”
Senior Davon Allen was among those that joined Henderson Collegiate during its journey toward building an efficient program when he was in ninth grade, and like Franklin has carved out his own role on the court while stepping up as a leader in practice and in the classroom.
Allen has several memories that stand out to him during his time with Henderson Collegiate, but he said that just spending time with his teammates through the good days and the bad will be something he always remembers about the program once he goes off to college in a few months.
“Winning the state championship will always be special to me,” Allen said. “I’ll also remember all of us just coming together going on trips, staying at hotels and just having fun. I think the trip we took to the mountains was my favorite because we all just bonded, and that was the best part of this team.”
Allen and Franklin are only a small, but instrumental part of an efficient Henderson Collegiate senior class that includes Akhris Holden, now the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, and Javonte Waverly, who frequently generates offense for the program even when he is not scoring alongside Holden.
Marshall affirmed that proficient scoring alone has not carried Henderson Collegiate to so much success over the last few years. The team would be nowhere close to efficient if the seniors chose to focus on themselves instead of improving each other and guiding the underclassmen to embody the same principles, he said.
“They care more about their teammates than they do themselves,” Marshall said. “We’ve talked a lot over the last three years on the idea of ‘we over me,’ and we celebrate that all the time as a program. [Akhiris] might be the leading scorer in one game, and then there is another one in which Davon, Khris, [Javonte] or someone else is the leading scorer.”
Allen does not doubt the ability of himself, his fellow seniors and the underclassmen to bring another championship back home to Henderson as the state playoffs begin.
“We have to practice hard every day,” Allen said. “Practices are very competitive and we always push each other, and we need to keep doing that so we can come together as a team during the playoffs. We know people are coming for our heads as the defending state champions and nothing is going to be given to us, so we have to go out there and take it.”
Basketball only partially matters for Marshall when it comes to the long-term prospects of his senior class, as he expects them to excel academically in college and build successful lives for themselves.
“They have the potential to change the world,” Marshall said. “That’s what we want them to do. The stigma and paradigms that exist about people coming from Henderson are something that we don’t buy into. We buy into the fact that their potential is limitless and we expect them to change the world through what they say and how they conduct themselves.”