CHARLOTTE – For Ardrey Kell basketball coach Mike Craft, this week was nothing like he could have ever imagined.
First, when the Knights fourth-round playoffs game against West Charlotte was moved to Vance due to concerns over seating capacity, some West Charlotte fans began to claim Ardrey Kell had rigged the move so they didn’t have to go to the west side of town. Other charges of race-related undertones began to emerge.
The move proved to be prudent as Vance’s gym, which is said to seat 1,100, sold out by 6:30 p.m. Craft said when he and the team arrived at 4:30 p.m., lines were already stretched all around the gym.
Then, Monday night, the day before the game, Ardrey Kell’s leading scorer Snapchatted a racist post that was captured and shared on social media. The player was suspended immediately and indefinitely, but Craft and his staff had to get his team ready to play.
And to his credit, they did.
Craft said his team had a morning meeting, but by the time he saw them again, they were all business.
“We have had a lot support. It’s been overwhelming,” he said. “Once they got to the gym they said, ‘Let’s go get ‘em.’ They were focused. We talked about how we have earned the right to be here.
“I was really, really proud of my team. They stay focused around all of the adversity and controversy and they really competed.”
Senior forward Christian Pickens scored 22 points through the first three quarters, helping the Knights more than hold their own, although they wore down in the fourth quarter and lost, 69-53.
Through three quarters, and with all of the emotion of the game and their week and without their leading scorer, the Knights strengthend.
In the end, the 21-7 West Charlotte fourth quarter was the difference.
“I hate people will read the paper, see the score and think that they killed us,” Craft said. “They really didn’t. We gave them all they can handle and more.”
Craft applauded Knoah Carver, who started and had eight points and Stephen Sherrill, who scored nine, but in the end, Florida State commit Patrick Williams took over.
“We were really good on defense,” Craft said. “We battled, we competed, we got 50-50 balls but the only problem we had was that we got worn down. The other big factor was Williams. He’s the best player we’ve played against and he decided he wasn’t losing. He was good inside, outside, he made threes, he drove to the basket, he posted up, he made free throws, he made jumpers, he just did it all and I think that wore us down a little bit.
“But what a great high school atmosphere. The fans were great, although most of them were West Charlotte fans. They just cheered. Nothing was said, they were really good fans. Once the ball went up in the air, it was just a high school basketball game.”
The controversy that surrounded the game didn’t lead to any issues, except for the impact of the suspended player and his family, who released a statement to the media prior to the game that took responsibility and expressed remorse.
Craft said it’s a “day-to-day” situation, but now, hopefully, they can move on.
It’s a shame it happened on many levels, but for the 1,100-plus fans in attendance because the game, which was great for three quarters, maybe could have been great for longer like the Knights thrilling overtime win over Independence three days earlier on Royce Jarrett’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
“I hope that’s a reflection on our program,” Craft said. “ We were able to focus, compete and give them all they could handle, but we’ve been doing that all year.
“To win the conference tournament against Olympic, who was a great team, and to win the sectionals and beat Independence, who is a great team, on their home floor it’s just a shame. We were playing our best basketball, it’s just unfortunate we couldn’t move forward with our whole team.”