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TC Prep is the first charter school to enroll students in the Traverse Bay Area Early College Program. In association with Northwestern Michigan College and the TBAISD Career Tech Center, students can earn their high school diploma and associate's degree in five years tuition free!
Grand Traverse Insider Greg Gielczyle
TRAVERSE CITY – It was just the first step, and it wasn't always a smooth path for the Traverse City College Prep Academy boys basketball team.
After a four-year hiatus, TC Prep brought boys basketball back this season knowing that it was going to take time for the sport to grow again.
Head coach Jim Barbera, who understands that the focus is on academic excellence and the basketball team as a family, faced some unique challenges.
Few of the seven players on the roster had more than a passing acquaintance with the sport, and with three foreign exchange students, the learning curve was a steep one.
Getting them to understand the game and execute the plays he diagrammed every game often took a lot of patience and encouragement.
He had some help on the court, though.
Senior point guard Ricky Steffe had played basketball in the seventh and eighth grade, which made him a natural to be named the team's captain.
Living in South Boardman, he drives every day to attend the Manufacturing Technology Academy until 11:30 a.m., when he goes over to TC Prep for the second half of his day.
"Coming in as a captain is pretty cool, but also a lot of stress," said Steffe. "There are things you have to watch for that you normally wouldn't, and it also makes it a lot harder when you're playing with a lot of first-year players, and this is the first time they've seen a basketball before.
"But, it also makes it a lot sweeter in the end because everyone is coming away with an experience that no one else will if they didn't come from this country.
"Like Arthur (Xiong, of China), Kim (Chaeun, of South Korea) and Jakub (Klodwig, of the Czech Republic) are all going to come away with something, and they wouldn't have that chance if they didn't come to America to play varsity basketball.
"We learned from every single game, and we came into this game (pre-district contest at Traverse City Christian) feeling that we were prepared."
Despite the long odds they faced in every game, the Knights never quit. "If you come into it with the mentality that you're going to lose, you're not going to meet expectations," Steffe remarked. "I feel like everybody on this team played to win. The talent level might not have been there, but definitely the dedication and hard work was."
Barbera followed that credo as well.
"I tried to make them believe you can shock the world," he commented. "You've got to coach thinking you're going to win the game. Everything that I wrote on the board, if we would have done that (last Monday) it might have been a little bit closer. But, it kind of got away from them. Also, we were playing a very talented team that can pass the ball real well."
Xiong wouldn't have missed playing for anything, even if the Knights won only one game all year.
"It's a very precious experience for me," the sophomore guard said. "I was very glad to meet coach Barbera. He's a very nice basketball coach. I want to thank him. Actually, I played basketball before. My skills are so-so. I never played an organized basketball game. That's fun.
"Practices were tough, because I'm not that in shape. The weather of Michigan, I couldn't adapt to it, but later, I was totally into it. It was fun for me."
Most of the team's eight-game schedule was against freshmen and junior varsity teams because the program started so late.
One day soon the Knights hope to become competitive against varsity squads.
"TC Prep wanted to create an atmosphere for these kids to play basketball, and also go to school," Barbera said. "We're working on building our gym for the future."
And the future looks bright for the TC Prep basketball program. The Knights are in this for the long haul.