RICHMOND, Va. — A small gym in Richmond’s South End has seen one of the biggest transformations in high school hoops.
Richmond Christian moved up to second in the private school Division Three state poll thanks to a 15-1 conference record this season.
Khalil Ward is a senior at RCH and has seen both the good and the bad of this program.
He was also part of the change that now puts them in contention for a state title.
“People seriously wanted to play basketball, but the connection and the practice just wasn’t where it needed to be,” Ward said. “It’s now a year-round thing. We play basketball year-round. We train year-round and strive to improve every day.”
Gérald Bland is at the center of the team’s overhaul.
In his second season in charge of the Warriors, he aimed to build a roster that reflected his work ethic and passion for the game.
“I expect all of my players to be gym rats,” Bland said. “It’s a year-round program. I’ll give you an example, last year the season ended in early March. Two or three days later we’re in the gym.”
Bland coached at Amelia and with Tony Squire’s AAU programs and spent most of his life in the game.
He accepts no excuses and makes no exceptions.
“If you want to play at a high level, you have to work on it. It’s as simple as that,” he said. “A lot of times guys play and something happens that we worked on in training, they look at me and laugh because I’m like, now you see why we’re working on stuff like that.
Khalil Ward said Coach Bland was tough on the players.
“He’s on us all the time and keeps it real. You wouldn’t even know he’s my uncle from the way he coaches me and everyone. No matter who you are, he’s going to coach you hard” , Ward said.
Coach Bland is Ward’s uncle.
Khalil’s mother, Tonya, who was Bland’s older sister.
She died of an illness and left a void that can never be fully filled.
“She was everything,” Bland said. “Sister, best friend, like a mother. We never argued. It was unmatched.”
“She was the same as my uncle. Tough on me, very loving and caring and a great person,” Ward said.
Due to a promise made to his older sister, Bland is not only Ward’s uncle, he is also his legal guardian.
They share a house and almost every moment with his nephew he tries to live up to Tonya’s words that they both hear in their heads to this day.
“Keep going. Don’t stop,” Ward said. “She wants me to keep going and keep going hard.”
“She just says keep going,” Bland added. “Just keep doing what you’re doing and I’m watching you and I’m proud of you.”
The Warriors recently hosted a senior night before their final home game.
It was another reminder that Bland and Ward’s time together is running out and they have one last chance to win a championship together.
“We all want it. We’ve been there and lost, and we want it,” Ward said.
“The work is not finished,” added his trainer, uncle and guardian. “It’s going to be an emotional night. But we have to put that aside, take care of business, enjoy every moment and keep moving forward.”