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Crusader boys grabbing share of attention


Keswick Christian seniors have entered unchartered waters. In fact, the entire boys basketball team has stepped into an entirely different dimension.

But do they feel nervous, scared, even lost?

Far from it. In fact, it's paradise.

Keswick Christian (20-9) plays at Orlando First Academy (23-6) on Saturday in its first region final and a chance at the state final four.

"We're definitely excited and looking forward to the challenge," said senior forward R.J. Denton, who leads Crusaders in scoring (14.6 points a game), assists (5.3) and steals (4.2). "This year has been a whole new world. In years past, you could basically hear crickets whenever we'd be playing. The only time fans would show up for our games would be against Admiral Farragut to watch them dunk on us and run up and down the floor on us."

But Keswick moved up to Class 2A this year, changing the picture. Including more fans. And, even a few dunks.

Both fairly uncommon for Keswick boys hoops.

The Crusaders have only played a handful of times in the region tournament - the last appearance was in 1998 after they won the Class A, District 10 title. The Keswick girls, on the other hand, have been a mainstay in the region and state playoffs.

"It's been refreshing this year," said another senior, Stefan Larson, who has played varsity all four years. "We've been acknowledged around school (for this season's success) and it's been great to be mentioned (along with the girls). We actually have an organized student section and the whole place fills up. And now it's to watch us play."

Players describe the regeneration as "a puzzle with all the pieces falling perfectly into place."

First, the school hired coach Jack Skipper, who played professionally overseas after his college days at NAIA Birmingham Southern. He has brought an uptempo style on offense and defense.

Next, it was the senior leadership, including Larson and return of Denton (who missed most of last season with a ankle injury) and Blake Engelhardt (who skipped last season to focus on football). Then, senior Ben Paul transferred from Osceola, adding stability and athleticism at guard.

Next, returners like junior guard Tony Anderson and forward Lars Larson, and newcomers like sophomore guard Tarvin Jones added to the mix. And, finally, there has been a commitment to Skipper's mentality and philosophy.

"It's been a whole new approach," said Engelhardt, who leads the team in rebounding at nine a game. "Coach has instilled a lot of confidence into us and we've embraced the way he coaches."