By Garrett Cote
Prior to Chaminade College Prep (MO) taking the court for their Sunday afternoon game for the 2022 Spalding Hoophall Classic presented by Eastbay, a special Red Devils alum maneuvered his way through the crowded tunnel flooded with Chaminade players and found a front row seat behind the far basket of Blake Arena.
Sitting in that seat, wearing a large cheetah print puffer jacket and a bright red Cardinals baseball cap, proudly representing his home city of St. Louis was Jayson Tatum, eagerly awaiting his high school alma mater’s matchup against Long Island Lutheran School (NY) to get underway.
“You know, Jayson is obviously a great basketball player, but he’s just a phenomenal person,” said Chaminade head coach Frank Bennett. “Chaminade means a lot to him, the program means a lot to him, so it was nice to see him come show support. He could be doing a million other things, but he carved time out of his day to come watch. That means a lot.”
Back in 2016, Tatum recorded 40 points in an overtime win at the Hoophall Classic and Sunday, he came back to take in the next generation of Chaminade greats.
Aside from Tatum, Chaminade College Prep has continued to pump out collegiate athletes across all levels, appointing to the underrated – but extremely talented – players the state of Missouri has to offer.
Often overlooked as a basketball powerhouse, the state of Missouri has produced a laundry list of NBA players, including: Bradley Beal (Chaminade), David Lee (Chaminade), Alec Burks, OG Anunoby, Tyronn Lue, Otto Porter and Landry Shamet.
Red Devils’ junior guard BJ Ward is the next in line to secure a Division I scholarship and make an impact for a program immediately, carrying on with the trend Chaminade has started over the past several decades.
“There’s a lot of talent in Missouri, really,” Ward said. “A lot of guys go unnoticed, and there are some guys that could really go Div. I but don’t. And Chaminade, you know, coach Bennett has a lot of connections, and he just puts everybody out there and gets us connected with coaches.
“I’m just trying to put my city on the map,” he continued. “And for the younger guys coming up, trying to get them noticed. Division I is the plan. I want to go D-I. I want to make it all the way.”
For Ward, having a caliber of player like Tatum looking on with encouragement was a plentiful experience. Although Chaminade lost to Long Island Lutheran, the opportunity to play in front of one of the NBA’s best was a win on its own.
“It was a great opportunity,” he said. “We didn’t take advantage of it, but it was good seeing him. Seeing him yesterday, getting to talk with him and that kind of stuff was cool.”
Seemingly every year Chaminade is invited to the annual Hoophall Classic, and seemingly every year they don’t disappoint. Bennett certainly doesn’t take for granted the historic feeling of playing at the birthplace of basketball, digesting all that the city of Springfield has to offer with each and every trip.
“It’s something I’m personally grateful for,” Bennet said. “The entire Hoophall community has been extremely good to us as a school and program. It’s definitely something I don’t take for granted and again it’s just a great opportunity for our guys.”
Along with Ward, who has received plenty of interest from Division I schools thanks to his tremendous ability to handle the ball and create open looks for his teammates, coupled with his ability to score, Chaminade courts a plethora of other collegiate-bound players.
Nate Straughter, the leading scorer for the Red Devils Sunday afternoon with 13 points, has committed to Millikin University – a Division III program in Illinois – along with his brother, Walt. Nilavan Daniels is a capable and willing shooter to compliment Ward’s playmaking prowess, while Filip Sinobad is a good-sized forward to provide a perfect combination of strength and skill.
To see a flurry of players reach the next level never gets old for Bennett.
“Missouri is definitely a hidden gem in our country,” he said. “We have so many guys who can compete and take basketball very seriously. I think if you do that over the course of time, you can do some excellent things, including playing at the next level. It’s always cool to see your players succeed, and to be a part of it is a great thing.”
Bennett even has a Div. I football commit on his team, forward Jimmy Lansing who is set to join Southern Illinois University’s team next fall.
Back in 2013, Bennett took over for longtime Chaminade coach Kelvin Lee (who coached there for 16 years) and has run the program ever since. Now in his ninth season at the helm, and with a state championship under his belt, won in 2016 on the back of Tatum, Bennett has developed into one of the best coaches in Missouri, repeatedly representing the red and white of Chaminade in a respectful, competitive fashion.
As long as Bennett is the one leading the charge, that notion isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Bennett and Chaminade will eternally send an endless amount of players to college programs and beyond.