Almost a year ago to the day – January 15, 2019 to be exact – the Chattanooga Christian Chargers announced to the area that they were a team that deserved a little respect.
On that night, the Chargers defeated a previously unbeaten Baylor team – who themselves proceeded to march all the way to the Division II-AA state semi-finals – 69-58. All CCS did from that point forward was to rattle off eight consecutive victories that took them to the Division II-A state quarterfinals, where they fell to Webb School to finish with a record of 22-4.
But that victory put them in a different conversation locally, and as several members of the team noted, moved the needle on the recognition the program received as one of the best teams in Chattanooga.
It’s not as if nobody knew the Chargers were good; they came into that game with a 14-3 record and a narrow four-point loss to McCallie, also in Division II-AA.
But playing in a lower classification, they had long stood in the shadow of the Red Raiders and the Blue Tornado.
Coming into the 2019-2020 season, the veil had been lifted on just how good this team was and could be. Having moved up to join “the big boys” in Division II-AA, they play in a stacked four-team East Region that includes the aforementioned Baylor and McCallie, as well as Knoxville Catholic.
Even with the classification transition, the Chargers are loaded with talent, and are primed and ready to make waves in region play and the postseason. CCS is 13-3, and are led by Division I college prospect, 6-foot-7 senior Michael Houge, who has developed into one of the premier basketball players in the area.
“He's a good universal player who can do a lot of things very well,” said Chargers’ coach Eddie Salter. “Michael is so good around the basket. He has a soft touch from the outside as well, but where he is at his best is around the basket. One thing Michael could do better is to be consistent in his play; no matter who we are playing against he needs to be the type of kid who, regardless of the level of competition, he's not going to change.”
The big man isn’t just a force inside, but has worked hard at becoming more versatile both offensively and defensively. Playing at the top of the Chargers’ full court press and aggressive half-court zone, Houge’s length and athleticism cause problems for smaller guards and lead to turnovers and transition opportunities, creating the type of up-tempo game that Salter wants out of the Chargers.
“I've definitely worked on my perimeter game a lot over the summer,” Houge said. “Last year we had a few more facilitators and I didn't need to do as much and there wasn't as much weight on me. This year I need to be a leader in all aspects and be able to take over a game in any form or fashion.”
While Houge's skills have become well-known around the area, what makes the Chargers so dangerous is the considerable talent they have around him. The combination of size, speed, and ability to shoot the basketball from all five positions gives them an advantage few teams have.
That starts with twin brothers Treveon and Traveon Scott, who are strong, athletic wing players with the versatility to do a little bit of everything well for the Chargers. Known as "Cheese" and "Tink" respectively to Chargers' fans, the juniors are adept shooters and ball-handlers, but do their best work slashing to the basket and working the paint and the offensive glass.
The perfect complement to Houge and the Scott brothers is guard Grant Van Meter. Every good team needs a pure shooter to help spread the floor and limit the opportunity for defenses to collapse in the paint, and the senior is just that for the Chargers. What makes Van Meter different from most pure shooters is that in addition to being able to carry the team at times from behind the arc, he is also skilled at getting out in transition and taking the ball to the rack off the dribble.
"(The Scott brothers) have good hands and can handle the ball," said Salter. "Treveon might be a little better outside shooter than his brother, but they are both so strong and can really do it all. Then we have Grant, and if they stop us inside, we can kick it out to him where he does his best work."
While the above-named Chargers affect the game in ways that show up in the box score, point guard Rod Young and defensive spark plug Dee Hinton do it in ways that often go unnoticed. That doesn't make them any less valuable, especially since the Chargers rely so heavily on using their defense to create offensive opportunities.
"When we're at our best is when our defense is creating our offense," said Houge. "Our defense is definitely our strong suit, especially with how long and athletic we are. One thing we need to work on, and we're constantly working on it every day, is to be able to shoot the ball better. We have to get in the gym and work on our shooting and taking care of the basketball if we want to get to where we feel we can."
The Chargers acquitted themselves well against local powerhouse Hamilton Heights on Friday night. Despite losing 79-46 to a team with a handful of future Division I college basketball players, CCS only trailed by nine at halftime and Houge had 19 points against elite high school talent. That type of test will prove crucial as the Chargers move into the difficult region play portion of their schedule in the upcoming weeks.
That begins next week, as CCS plays its first region game at McCallie next Friday, beginning the home stretch of the schedule that has six of the final seven games inside the region.
(Contact Kevin Llewallyn at firstname.lastname@example.org)