- February 27, 2018
OCOEE Standing in the Champion’s Gym on the campus of Central Florida Christian Academy, some may be surprised by the number of banners hanging on the building’s back wall.
Sure, some are district-championship banners — but nestled among them are banners remembering the school’s two state championships in softball and its appearances in the Final Four for baseball.
Then, there’s the school’s sole appearance in a state championship game for boys basketball in 1997.
The Eagles lost that game, and the program made just two brief playoff appearances over the next 18 years.
Fortunately, things have changed following the hiring of its latest coach, Jonathan McClintock, who joined the Eagles in 2014.
McClintock came to campus with the intention of reinvigorating the program, but even he could not have imagined how quickly it has happened. The Eagles have made the state playoffs in each of his first two seasons and are gearing up for a third run as the winter season begins.
“I was blessed to meet (assistant) coach Andrew (Gustafson), and I was blessed to have an influx of several kids who really helped,” McClintock said. “That was super important to have some guys who can play.”
Of course, as more players begin to transfer in and choose CFCA, sometimes spurning more traditional powerhouses in the area, there’s another theory about the Eagles’ recent success.
And it may have something to do with the guy walking the sideline.
“I’ve seen a lot of basketball, and I’ve seen a lot of good high school coaches and teams,” said CFCA Athletic Director Kyle Wills. “The guy that we have heading up our team right now, Jonathan, is incredible.”
The Eagles took in five new players this school year, headlined by Troy University signee De’Lazarus Keys, a transfer from perennial powerhouse Orlando Christian Prep. Also included among the newcomers are Danny Rivera, Sebastian Brown, Kendrick Brown and Zen Goodridge.
McClintock attributes the growing interest in the program to its guiding philosophy.
“I would hope one of the overriding themes of our program is our guys don’t really care about who gets what shot or how many — it’s all about the results on the scoreboard,” McClintock said. “We try to invest in our kids, from the moment we meet them throughout the process.”
It’s an easy thing to say, but by all accounts, it is something that is carried through by McClintock and his staff — Gustafson and Jerred Treacy. All are dedicated to following through with their players on the court, academically and spiritually.
“By the time when we get to basketball time, when we have to critique them and point out areas of their game that aren’t good, they know our heart toward them by then,” McClintock says. “They know that behind every critique — or even behind discipline — is a heart that cares for their greatest good.”
The newcomers, combined with standout junior guard Dante Treacy and a few other talented returners, have CFCA considered a legitimate state-title contender in Class 2A.
Over Thanksgiving break, the Eagles (3-2) were invited to participate in their first Metro vs. Florida Challenge, where they lost an exciting, hard-fought game to Wekiva High Nov. 25 — a Class 9A program — 59-57.
Although disappointed with the result, even though it came against an elite opponent, just being invited suggests the program is on the right track.
“Absolutely it’s valuable,” Wills said. “For such a small school to get invited to these things and being placed in the mix with bigger schools, it’s been excellent for us and excellent for the kids to see even being at a small school like ours, you can still get notoriety.”
“I’ve seen a lot of basketball, and I’ve seen a lot of good high school coaches and teams. The guy that we have heading up our team right now, Jonathan (McClintock), is incredible.”
— Kyle Wills, CFCA Athletic Director
The loss to the Mustangs, who are 3-1 at the time of publication, was significant for another reason: The Eagles were down one of their top players. Keys injured his hand in a game earlier that week, and the entire team stepped up in his absence, with Treacy pouring in a game-high 34 points.
“That was some surprise adversity that we had to deal with, and the kids really focused up and took every detail of the game plan with the highest seriousness,” McClintock said. “The kids passed those tests really, really well, and it gives you a glimpse of what our group can be like.”
If the group can reach its potential, and if that potential involves a possible trip to Lakeland for the FHSAA Final Four, it could mean a lot for the small campus in east Ocoee.
“It goes beyond winning a championship — it’s building family and camaraderie within the student body,” said Dr. Robert Gilliland, the school’s headmaster. “We have a different family-feeling around our school than other schools do.”
McClintock, who brings a detailed and disciplined approach to the game that is reflected in the way his team plays, isn’t thinking that far ahead yet.
What he will say, though, is that this team has plenty of potential.
“If this group plays extremely hard and humbly, and they approach the game the right way, they’re really hard to beat,” McClintock said.
But, he added, “We are far, far from a finished product.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected]