Jeremiah April has always been the tall kid in class, even before he neared the 7-foot mark. And he’s loved basketball since age 7.
When it was time to decide on a high school, however, he went in the opposite direction of most tall, talented hoops prospects. He went small.
April, then a mere 6-8, went to play for a varsity program in its first year at one of Arizona’s smallest schools. Joy Christian went through several practices that season without a coach.
“My mom wanted me to have a Christian education, and she didn’t really care about basketball,” April said. “It’s kind of exciting to start a legacy. And the grades come first here.”
Three years later, April doesn’t regret his decision, either on campus or on the court. He said he’s enjoyed his time at the small, private school in Glendale.
Plus, he’s leading a basketball team with legitimate hopes of a Division IV state title.
Joy Christian is 12-1 and won the Rain and Drain Tournament.
After winning their first playoff game last year, the Eagles are looking to bring back the school’s second trophy. The rapid ascent of the football program, which won state in November, is motivating the big man.
“I think we’re trying to carry the momentum from football,” April said.
The senior class is on its third coach this year. Scott Brown brings 19 years of experience at all levels of basketball.
Brown helped the program some last season, the second under the direction of Bob Henige. The big man, who played pro basketball in Europe, became April’s low-post tutor.
It wasn’t always easy but these sessions, combined with April’s rare gifts, shone through during games.
Unlike most high school big men, April is not out there to block shots, rebound and throw down the occasional dunk. If anything, his game tilts a bit to the other extreme.
As a sophomore, he averaged 10.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and under a block per game. Last year, they jumped to 14.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and two blocks.
But as Brown’s noticed, there’s more there.
“Coach Henige did a teriffic job with Jeremiah inside. He has a great game with his back to the basket, thanks to him,” Brown said. “What we’re trying to do with Jeremiah because of the double teams is trying to teach him the all-around game. He has 3-point range and has some nice moves going to the basket from the perimeter. We try to move him around so teams can’t double and triple him.”
April has enjoyed playing all over the court, and he’s surrounded by defense-stretching marksmen. Fellow senior Trevor Deason (16.5 ppg last year) and junior Cody Nicely (9.4 ppg) took more 3’s than two-point shots last year and shot above 35 percent.
“A lot of teams triple and double-team me, so I can trust Trevor, Cody Nicely and all our guards. They all can shoot,” April said.
Several schools are looking at April, including Texas-El Paso, but he’s in no rush. He said he’s concentrating on the Eagles’ state title drive and will explore college options in earnest after the season ends.
Brown, who has coached some Division II basketball, said the school that gets April is getting a center with forward skills and plenty more to develop. They’re also signing a hard worker and well-rounded young man.
“The first thing you tell them is ‘You don’t make 7-footers,’” Brown said. “And then when they find out what kind of kid he is and they see he has other abilities, that’s made him more attractive.”