By Jeff Nations
WINCHESTER -- Just when it appeared Wayne Alsberry's picture-perfect day just couldn't possibly get any better, Mountain View Christian Academy boys basketball coach Michael Harbin delivered a bombshell.
Alsberry, a star 6-foot-4 forward for the Conquerors over the past three basketball seasons, had earned one final accolade and Harbin was waiting for just this moment to deliver the news -- Alsberry has been named the National Christian Schools Athletic Association (NCSAA) National Player of the Year for the small-school division.
Why wait until Thursday? Harbin had his reasons.
During a ceremony in the school lobby, Alsberry made school history in front of a crowd of students and well wishers by signing his letter-of-intent to play college basketball at Cincinnati Christian University. Alsberry, who will receive a full scholarship from the NAIA school, is the first MVCA athlete to ever earn a college scholarship.
It will be the next move for the well-traveled Alsberry, just back in Winchester after a 10-day senior class trip to Europe where he toured the likes of London, Paris, Rome, and Frankfurt, Germany.
"I just got back from Europe, and they're about six hours ahead," Alsberry said. "I got maybe three or four hours of sleep.
Alsberry has also taken a mission trip to the Dominican Republic and spent time in Jamaica, so southern Ohio doesn't seem too daunting.
"The school's small and the student-to-teacher ratio is good (16-1)," Alsberry said. "I'm not the type of student where I can be in a big class and get what I need to learn."
Harbin helped make the connection between Alsberry and his new school with an email, one of many to prospective schools who might have interest in his standout player.
Cincinnati Christian coach Kellen Zawadzki read the email, got in touch for some film, started communicating with Alsberry and had him come for a visit to participate in an open gym. Alsberry didn't' think he performed all that well against college-level competition during that April visit, but Zawadzki had a different assessment.
"We look for players who make multiple good plays in a row," Zawadzki said. "He may have been nervous, but his talent and skills took over."
Zawadzki liked what he saw enough to offer Alsberry a scholarship to become a member of this year's six-player freshman class, and after about a month of deliberating Alsberry decided to join the Eagles.
"I must have filtered through 1,000 emails to get it down to six," Zawadzki said. "I read every email because you never know."
Alsberry will be joining a program on the rise under Zawadzki, who led Cincinnati Christian to a 20-14 record, which included a Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletics Conference tournament championship and an appearance in the NAIA Division II national tournament. Heading into his second year as head coach, Zawadzki wanted to add quality depth to his roster to keep the Eagles' up-tempo attack churning at full speed.
In the long and athletic Alsberry, Zawadzki thinks he's found a player who could potentially have an immediate impact.
"I'm a firm believer in the best player plays," Zawadzki said. "So I take that off my plate and puts it on his plate."
Alsberry has a history of making an impact. Before he arrived at MVCA three years ago, the most wins the school had ever had in a single season was 12. With Alsberry on the team, that number increased to 18. Then in his junior season, the Conquerors won 34 games including the Virginia Association of Christian Athletics (VACA) state championship and a third-place showing in the National Association of Christian Athletics (NACA) tournament in Dayton, Tennessee.
This season, heavy graduation losses off that team and a key injury stymied the Conquerors' progress a bit, but Alsberry flourished as the primary option on both ends of the floor. He averaged an amazing double-double of 19.3 points 17.3 rebounds per game. He also averaged 5.3 blocks per outing, and had a memorable 12-block performance against Fresta Valley Christian this past season.
Harbin's favorite memory of Alsberry comes from his junior season, as the Conquerors prepped to play for the VACA state championship against Dayspring Christian.
"He had a 103-degree temperature and was extremely sick the night before," Harbin said. "He told me, 'Coach, I'm going to play as long as I can.' I said, 'OK, just give me everything you can.' "
The Conquerors struggled in the first half of that game, forcing Harbin to call on Alsberry to take over guarding Dayspring's top player. Alsberry shut him down in the second half, sparking MVCA to the championship.
Harbin recalled a short response when he asked Alsberry how it felt to be a state champion.
"He said he just wanted to go to bed," Harbin said.
Alsberry probably felt the same way on Thursday as he battled jetlag and a lack of sleep, but just like that night against Dayspring Christian he wouldn't let anything hold him back from accomplishing this latest goal.
"My past three years here at Mountain View Christian Academy have helped me to become a man, which I'm still in the process of becoming," Alsberry said. "I've learned to take responsibility and just to walk with God. I think God has me on the right path."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>