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National Christian, a local power with national ambition, takes care of things on the home front

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 1/14/2022 Michael Errigo
National Christian's Isaiah Coleman, right, and Rob Lawson are two of the high-level players brought in by Coach Kenny Johnson. © Scott Taetsch/For The Washington Post National Christian's Isaiah Coleman, right, and Rob Lawson are two of the high-level players brought in by Coach Kenny Johnson.

The net, rippled then folded, clung stubbornly to the rim after National Christian guard Tekao Carpenter opened Thursday night’s game against Fairfax Christian with a picture-perfect three-pointer.

Before anyone noticed, the Eagles got a quick defensive stop and junior guard Isaiah Coleman lined up an open three-pointer of his own. He had a wide smile on his face as he shot it, seemingly well aware that his ball would set things right again.

The back-to-back threes gave the Eagles an early lead that they never relinquished in a 57-43 win over the Cardinals in Sterling, Va.

“We always want to find a way to get the win and still have fun at the same time,” Coleman said afterward, still smiling.

The No. 3 Eagles have emerged from the pandemic season of 2020-21 with a slightly different identity. The Prince George’s school has long been an area power, but August 2020 saw a major shake-up as its basketball and football coaches left for nearby Rock Creek Christian Academy. From the outside, it seemed as if the Eagles might be bowing out of the basketball landscape.

Instead, the school turned to Kenny Johnson, a former high-profile college assistant with deep basketball ties in the area. Johnson wasted no time in assembling a roster of Division I prospects.

This season has served as a coming-out party for the program, as the experiment in team building has produced a 14-2 start. This week, the McDonald’s All-American Game announced its first round of nominations and the Eagles landed five seniors on the list. No other area program has more than two.

They have spent much of this winter on the road, attending events from New York to South Carolina. But part of building a strong local reputation means taking care of business in games such as this one against Fairfax Christian.

“When we’re on the road, it’s about competing nationally. But when we’re home, it’s all about showing what we’ve learned out there and showing that we’re one of the best, if not the best, teams in the area,” Carpenter said.

Both the Eagles and the Cardinals (13-3) entered this matchup with undefeated records in the Metro Private School Conference, a newly formed league featuring eight programs from across the D.C. area.

Thursday’s game was fast-paced and physical, with Fairfax Christian showing some fight early but getting slowly worn down by the depth and athleticism of the Eagles. Coleman led the way with 16 points and Carpenter added 13 as the Eagles led by double digits for most of the evening.

“We’re not doing this for ourselves, we’re doing it for those after us,” Johnson said. “We want to establish National Christian as a nontraditional path — non-WCAC or IAC or what have you — to compete nationally. We’re trying to climb the mountain so relentlessly so that we eventually become the mountain.”

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