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ANC has ‘best frontcourt in the country’?

Academy of the New Church coach Kevin Givens picked up the phone in midsentence, not yet ready to give his attention to the reporter on the other end.

Academy of the New Church coach Kevin Givens picked up the phone in midsentence, not yet ready to give his attention to the reporter on the other end.

"Sorry, it's been a crazy morning," Givens finally said into the phone. "It's been like a media day for us today."

It was Tuesday, Nov. 30. Academy of the New Church's 6-foot-6 junior forward, Savon Goodman, would go on Daily News Live that night to commit to Villanova.

Just three days earlier, the team had knocked off Findlay Prep, the No. 1 team in ESPN's top-50 national poll, by 56-50 in the State Farm Tournament of Champions in Washington, Ill.

The high expectations surrounding ANC - which now has an entire frontcourt headed to the Big East - had skyrocketed in a matter of days.

But through all the madness of that Tuesday morning, Givens sounded perfectly clearheaded when he echoed a thought that has been gaining popularity: "I believe I have the best frontcourt in the country."

It's a bold statement, but one that's becoming increasingly hard to argue.

Along with Goodman, the Lions' frontcourt features 6-11 senior center Malcolm Gilbert, headed to Pitt next season, and 6-9 senior forward Rakeem Christmas, a Syracuse recruit.

The three are relishing the expectations surrounding them, but those expectations are nothing compared to what they expect of each other.

"We're definitely, definitely competitive with each other," Goodman said.

"We're all good friends and teammates. But once we step on the court, you got to show me something. In practice, everyone goes hard. You have to push your teammates to get better."

"It's kind of crazy that we're all going to Big East schools," Christmas said.

"And it does just make us go that much harder against each other in practice."

While there might be a friendly competition in practice, a tough season last year taught the Lions' big three that they need to be united on game days.

"That's the best thing about these guys right now: They really like each other," Givens said.

"And they're a team out there on the court. They respect each other, they cheer for each other, they're there for each other, and that makes all the difference in the world. There's no selfishness on this team. Everybody supports each other."

Last season, the Lions could be likened to the Miami Heat. The team had all the talent in the world but struggled to win games initially.

ANC finished 13-9 overall and 6-3 in the Friends Schools League.

Most players will tell you that they lacked chemistry on the floor and struggled to find the right roles.

"This year is different because we know our strengths and weaknesses now," Gilbert said. "We were humbled by last year. But this year, we're expecting a lot out of each other.

"We all have to do our part. That's what helped us beat Findlay Prep, because everybody did what they were supposed to do."

Gilbert is a defensive specialist; he had 16 blocked shots in the team's first three games this year. Goodman is a hard-nosed scorer and was named tournament MVP after scoring 24 points and grabbing 14 rebounds against Findlay Prep. And Christmas is an extremely athletic power forward who averaged 13 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3 blocks last season.

The Lions also are anticipating better guard play this season, bolstered by point guard Dinjiyl Walker, a junior transfer from Canada.

"All the pieces are in place," Goodman said. "We just need to fill in the blanks. Everyone knows we didn't meet our expectations last year, so we're just rewriting our story. And it started off really well."