Shaped by mini homework assignments, major volunteering projects and a completely new on-the-court system, the culture of the Livonia Churchill girls basketball program is evolving on a daily basis under first-year head coach K’Len Morris.
The Chargers’ homework assignment — researching the meaning of “Ubuntu”, an ancient southern African term that helped the 2007-08 Boston Celtics bond during their NBA championship run — has been the least time-consuming of the tasks, but important all the same.
According to Wikipedia, the term means “defining oneself based on what is accomplished as a team” — a philosophy Morris encourages his players to embrace on and off the court.
The volunteering concept — which has included working with special-needs children, visiting a young girl battling brain cancer and spending time with hospitalized veterans — has been educational and fulfilling for the Chargers, Morris observed.
And the new way of doing things once the opening tip ascends toward the gymnasium ceiling is moving forward, but is still “a work in progress,” admitted Morris, a former University of Michigan basketball player who once checked NBA superstar Steph Curry when both players were college freshmen.
“When I played, the coaches I played for always talked about giving back,” Morris said, describing his emphasis on off-the-court activities. “As far as working with special-needs kids, I want the girls to appreciate the opportunities they have, and being around kids that will never have the opportunities they do is an important step.
“It’s been fun to watch the girls interact with the kids. They have really embraced it. I’ve even had a few players who have gone out on their own and looked for other volunteering opportunities. To see that is very, very rewarding.”
The Chargers don’t open their season until Dec. 8 — one week later than most metro-Detroit teams — which is a good thing considering four varsity players only have a handful of practices under their belt after helping Churchill’s volleyball team advance to the Class A semifinals.
“The best word to describe our team right now is ‘progress’,” said Morris. “What I’m doing is a little more advanced than what most high school teams do, so there is going to be some struggles early on. One day I’ll see positive flashes, and the next day I won’t. They’re still trying to figure it out, especially the volleyball girls who missed time.
“They’re over-thinking a little bit now, which is expected. The more they do it, the less they’ll be thinking and just playing instinctively.”
With returning varsity starter Anne Yost, a junior, and first-year varsity senior Gabby Carter, the Chargers are blessed with good size around the basket.
Among the perimeter standouts are the squad’s only two seniors — Alivia Kondrath and Molly Pummill.
“I’m very excited to see what Anne will do this season,” said Morris, who also coaches the 6-foot center’s summer travel team. “Alivia and Molly have more varsity experience than anyone else on our team, so we’re leading on them for leadership.
“I love the way Gabby plays — she’s physical and not afraid to get in there and scrap. She’s a workhorse.”
Morris also delivered high praise for junior forward Sam Zonca, one of the four volleyball players.
“Once she learns everything, Sam is going to be a big contributor,” Morris said. “She’s long, athletic and she has a good mid-range game.”
Two freshmen made the varsity roster — Maria Targosz and Mary Claire Yost — due to their fearless approach to the game, Morris said.
“I like their toughness and the way they scrap for loose balls,” Morris said of the two ninth-graders.
The Chargers’ schedule is unforgiving, Morris noted.
“We can’t take any nights off,” he added. “For instance, next week we play Salem and Novi with only one night off in between games. I’m trying to teach them how to love the competition and not be intimidated.
“Canton is probably the favorite to win the (KLAA South) division, and rightfully so. Plymouth is always solid and Wayne is better, I’ve heard.”