Henry standing tall as Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach basketball standout

02/09/2013 4:52 PM

02/09/2013 5:03 PM

Darren Gore is already talking about what the loss of the quintessential Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach student is going to mean to his basketball team next year.

This week, Kendall Henry was named as the SCISA Region IV-A Most Valuable Player for the second consecutive year. He’s averaging a double-double, has his face plastered all over the school’s website and already has a NCAA Division II scholarship offer with another one possibly on the way.

And there’s a chance you have no idea who he is.

“If he’s at any of [the public schools], he’s still a star,” said Gore, who started the private school’s basketball program six years ago. “He’s going to lead them in points. He’s going to lead them in rebounds. He’s going to lead them in steals.

“He just gets a little more exposure.”

At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Henry is the centerpiece of a team that next week will be going after its fourth SCISA Class A state title. The Saints (20-5) have the look of a contender and will enter the postseason as one of the favorites.

Henry is a huge reason why.

Entering Saturday’s regular-season finale against Lowcountry Prep, he was averaging 17.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and 4.9 steals per game. He’s done all that without having a true gym to call his own.

Christian Academy is still putting the finishing touches on a new building that will take the school out of the First Baptist Church on 4th Avenue North in Myrtle Beach. Following a series of donations, the school will have a new home off Dick Scobee Road near U.S. 501 and S.C. 31.

The Saints were hoping to play one game – Saturday’s homecoming – inside the new gym. Construction delays prevented that from happening.

In many ways, the development illustrates his struggle to dispel myths about his career, his team and his school.

Sticking with the small guys

Henry has ties with plenty of the Grand Strand’s players in the public-school ranks.

Myrtle Beach’s Nolin Butler and Socastee’s Will Caswell were former Christian Academy students, and they’ve remained friends.

But unlike the other two, Henry stayed at Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach.

“When people ask ‘Why didn’t you go to Myrtle Beach or why did you go to Christian Academy?’ they see it as ‘why would you choose to go to such a school?’ ” Henry said. “[They ask] ‘Why don’t you come to my school? We would be sick if you were on my team.’ Well, we’d be even better if they came to my school. I always try to turn the tables on people when they ask that.”

South Carolina High School League policies are relatively forgiving for students transferring in from private schools. Parents rarely have to show much documentation that typically accompanies transfers between public schools.

But that wouldn’t have been Henry.

His mother, Nancy, is an administrator at Christian Academy and a former Chairperson on the school’s board of trustees. Kendall Henry’s older brother, Patrick Charles, also graduated from there.

Still, Henry said there were moments when he thought about it.

“When some of my friends left the school, that thought popped into the back of my mind – what if?” he said. “But I just started to appreciate it more and more and I don’t want to leave here. It’s crazy to walk into the gym for P.E. and know every single second-grader’s name or know every single kindergartener’s name. It’s like family. And I didn’t want to leave the family.”

Gore said that Henry has become a role model for all of those younger students.

The same can be said for other players on the Saints’ basketball team. Freshman Bernard Jones, in his first season at the school after transferring from Mullins, knows Henry has commanded the respect of others.

Be it basketball or everyday life, younger students frequently hit up the out-going senior for advice, even when he doesn’t know it is happening.

“After every game, if we lose, he calls the whole team up and we pray. We do that every game, win or lose,” Jones said. “I think that’s special to have that mindset. I wouldn’t do that. I would go straight to the locker room. I know he’s a great guy.

“He’s got something special inside here,” Jones added, tapping his chest.

Building a new tradition

Myrtle Beach Christian Academy has some inherent road blocks toward public credibility.

The school itself is less than two decades old, and with approximately 325 students between kindergarten and 12th grade, much of the community has zero connection to it. Gore hopes the academy’s sports program can change that. Next year, the Saints will have an eight-man SCISA football team, and the volleyball team under coach Alex Sing has developed quickly into a top-notch program.

The school also makes no bones about using basketball to help spread the word.

A picture of Henry with a handful of other students adorns the school’s Internet home page. More shots can be found with a click or two.

“Sometimes they might pull me out of class and take a photo,” he said. “I feel like it’s awesome; it’s a great thing. If you’re able to use sports any way possible besides going out and playing a game that you love, everyone should be doing that.”

Granted, not every private school has been able to do what Henry has helped the Saints accomplish.

For all the smack talk he hears about attending the school, for all the friendly requests for him to transfer, Henry has proved himself against the public schools. The Saints split two-game series this year against Socastee, Waccamaw and Aynor.

They also swept a two-game series with Green Sea Floyds.

In those eight games, Henry averaged 17 points and 10 points, roughly his season averages.

“I think most of the time [people think] he’s a soft player because he’s in SCISA and all that,” Jones said. “He’s putting up double-doubles every game because he’s playing SCISA? Nah, that’s not true. He’s done that against Socastee, Aynor, Waccamaw – same thing.”

This is the most public schools Christian Academy has played in a season.

There are more planned for next year, when the school’s new gym is ready for use. Of course, Henry won’t be a part of those teams. Soon, he’ll be making a trip to Anderson University for an in-person workout that could lead to a scholarship offer.

Newberry has already pulled the trigger, and he’s been in discussion with coaches at Liberty about possibly trying to walk on to that team.

Maybe seizing those opportunities would be easier had he transferred. Maybe higher-profile games and increased media coverage would have helped get him in front of more college recruiters.

Only problem with that line of thinking is believing he hasn’t achieved enough as it is.

“When I talked to my mom and talked to my dad about this, I had to come to peace with it,” Henry said. “God’s always had a plan, and I just felt like this was in his plan for me to be here. All signs point to this school. Everything has worked here.”

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