RICHMOND, Va. -- A small gym in Richmond's Southside has seen one of the biggest transformations in high school hoops.
Richmond Christian has risen to number two in the Private School Division Three State Poll on the strength of a 15-1 conference record this season.
Khalil Ward is a senior at RCH and has seen both the good and not so good out of this program.
He has also been part of the change that now has them in contention for a state title.
"People were serious about playing basketball but the connection and the coaching just weren't where it needed to be," Ward said. "It's now an all-year thing. We play basketball all year. We work out all year and we're striving to get better every day."
Gerald Bland is at the center of the team makeover.
In his second season guiding the Warriors, he aimed to build a roster that reflected his work ethic and passion for the game.
"I expect all my players to be gym rats," Bland said. "This is an all-year program. I'll give you an example, last year, the season was over at the beginning of March. Two or three days later, we're in the gym."
Bland has coached in Amelia and with Tony Squire's AAU programs and has been around the game most of his life.
He accepts no excuses and makes no exceptions.
"If you want to perform at a high peak, you have to put the work in. it's as simple as that," he said. "I get a lot of times when the guys are playing and something happens that we worked on in practice they'll look at me and laugh because I'm like, now you see why we're working on stuff like this."
Khalil Ward said Coach Bland is hard on the players.
"He's on us all the time and keeps it real. You wouldn't even know he's my uncle based on how he coaches me and everyone else. It doesn't matter who you are, he's going to coach you hard," Ward said.
Coach Bland is Ward's uncle.
Khalil's mom Tonya who was Bland's oldest sister.
She passed away after an illness and left a void that can never fully be filled.
"She was everything," Bland said. "Sister, best friend, like a mother. We never got into a fight. It was unmatched."
"She was the same as my uncle. Hard on me, very loving and caring and a great person," Ward said.
Because of a promise made to his older sister, Bland is not just Ward's uncle, he's also his legal guardian.
They share a home and nearly every waking moment with his nephew, he tries to live up to Tonya's words 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 to keep going," Bland added. "Just keep doing what you're doing and I'm watching and I'm proud of you."
The Warriors recently held Senior Night before their final home game.
It was another reminder that the time Bland and Ward have together is running out and they have one final chance to bring home a championship together.
"We all want it. We've been there and lost, and we want it," Ward said.
"The job is not finished," his coach, uncle, and guardian added. "It's going to be an emotional night. But we have to set that to the side, take care of business, enjoy every moment of it, and keep moving."
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