It was all about going home for Lamon Church. He was born and raised in Chester and, like budding basketball stars, recruited by a number of outside schools that like to mine the young talent in the Chester Biddy League. They couldn't miss Church. He was taller than most of the kids his age, had a good handle, and wore the "The next one . . . " tag.
In Chester, that could mean a variety of previous young stars, such as Whip Cooper, Zain Shaw, Jameer Nelson or Tyreke Evans. Church and his family opted to go the Inter-Ac League route and attend Malvern Prep. For 3 years, it worked. Until the 6-3 shooting guard felt an urge to return home.
Now he's happy. The Clippers are happy. And it seems a team that was a curiosity before the season is taking hold as possibly one of the best in District 1 Class AAAA - thanks to Church's homecoming.
The senior transfer was averaging 17 points a game in aiding Chester to a 5-0 start this season. Church adds size to the Clippers' perimeter game and a matchup problem for any team that faces Chester. He's too quick to guard on the wing, and too big for a "two" guard to man-up against down low.
"Lamon is a Chester kid, and I remember watching him playing in summer leagues growing up," Chester coach Larry Yarbray said. "What I like about Lamon is that he does all the little things. He's an overall team player. If you're not really paying attention, he's sneaky. He doesn't look he's scoring 17, or grabbing eight or nine rebounds, and when you open up the scorebook, he has greater numbers than you think. He just goes out and works hard."
The last few years, Chester has had a small backcourt. The 6-3 Church has added another dimension to the vaunted Chester press: an athletic, rangy presence who opposing teams will have trouble passing over.
But the Clippers' good fortune wouldn't have come unless Church decided to go back. The choice was not easy.
"It wasn't," acknowledged Church, who has received offers from UMBC and Long Island, and is getting some local attention from St. Joe's, La Salle and Temple. "It was like culture shock, going from Chester to Malvern Prep. I lived and grew up with black kids my whole life, and suddenly I'm one of a handful of black kids at Malvern Prep. I felt left out sometimes, being there at Malvern, and it took some getting used to. But once I felt comfortable, it was like I was family, because that's the way they treat you at Malvern Prep. It was a good learning experience.
"The funny thing is that it took some getting used to when I returned to Chester. It was like reverse culture shock. I was going from a place like Malvern Prep, where everyone wears suits and ties, to where I was walking through a metal detector when I went to Chester."
There was only one thing Church yearned for, something he couldn't get at Malvern Prep - a chance to play for a state title. He also wanted to play with the kids with whom he grew up.
"That's why I decided to make the move," said Church, who maintains a 3.4 GPA at Chester. "The Chester area gets a bad knock, which I don't think is necessarily fair. People talk bad about Chester. It's not the teachers or the school. It's the kids. If you want to do well at Chester, there are resources there at Chester to do well. I wanted a chance to win a state championship, and I'm going to help this team do it."
But before Church was going to do anything, he had to explain to his parents the move - in mid-August, with his senior year about to begin. They wore blank expressions when Lamon tried explaining why he wanted to transfer to Chester. The Churches wanted their son to stay at Malvern Prep for the education, but when Lamon threw in the home factor, that swayed the argument in his favor.
"It came down to what made me happy," Church said. "I'm home. Chester is home, and it's about coming home to a place and playing with people that I've known my whole life." *