January 21, 2022

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Even as one of the nation’s top basketball programs, Branson’s Link Academy is still learning a lot

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Having a roster talented enough to where a top 50 prospect committed to Ohio State who comes off the bench seems like an easy coaching environment. 

Link Academy head coach Rodney Perry would tell you otherwise.

Link Academy is the newest high school basketball program in the area that is located on the campus of Camp Kanakuk in Branson.

They have players like Omaha Billiew, which 247Sports Composite has ranked as the No. 7 player in the Class of 2023. The rest of the roster is littered with talent, many of which already have at least a dozen offers from some of the top programs in college basketball.

More: Link Academy: Meet the new Branson high school basketball power you’ve never heard of

ESPN has it ranked as the No. 12 high school basketball team in the nation. All of the players are incredibly athletic and capable of taking over a high-level game.

The talent has presented some unique coaching challenges.

“This has been very hard,” Perry said. “A lot of people think when you have a lot of talent that ‘hey, it’s easy.’ I’m going to tell you that it’s not easy — at all. The fact is, when you do have that much talent, it’s a matter of getting the talent to actually play together. That’s the hardest part about it. Sometimes they look at you like ‘coach, this is the way I’ve always played.”

It is still a work in progress. Link Academy played at Glendale High School as part of the Ozark Mountain Shootout on Thursday night against Jonesboro, an early favorite to win a state title in Arkansas.

The Lions won 72-41.

But even with the 31-point margin of victory, Perry was still getting on his players for mistakes. He threatened a few of his starters with bench time after they made poor decisions. Defensive lapses were met with a booming reprimand.

More: Link Academy: Here are the elite recruits committed to the new Branson high school program

The reasoning behind this style of coaching is the driver behind Perry’s coaching style and it is something his assistants and players repeated.

“This is your freshman year of college right now,” Perry said. “You’re going to be on a team like this when you do get to college but you’re going to already know how. Our practices are just like college, our daily schedule is just like college and our offensive and defensive concepts are just like college.”

When the players started to commit to Link Academy before the school year, Perry made sure to let them know how it would be different for them.

“Coming into it, everyone knew they were going to have to sacrifice some things,” Perry said. “A lot of that sacrifice comes from scoring. We have a lot of guys, if they were on a traditional high school team, they would be scoring 25-30 points a game. Here, they’re scoring 12. We constantly remind those guys that it’s okay to score 12 on the best high school team in the country.”

Even with the players knowing that it has still been a learning process.

“It’s tougher to coach kids that are at such a high level because they’ve had so much success,” assistant coach Jake White said. “It’s not that they’re uncoachable, most of our kids are very coachable. But throughout their whole life, they’ve been able to do it their way. We’ve had some growing pains for sure.”

Even with the growing pains, the attention to detail and emphasis on playing as a team is something the players are starting to see as a valuable experience.

“It’s different,” Jordan Walsh, a five-star player committed to Arkansas, said. “I came to prep school because I wanted to be better and play with the best people and it’s a great all-around basketball style here. A lot of people come here after having to not do things like pass or other little things, and having to sacrifice for the better of the team is way more important. This is a great preparation year for me before I go to Arkansas.”

Link Academy is MSHSAA affiliated for the purposes of playing in Missouri but is not in a specific class. The Lions will not be playing for a state title or competing in any sort of state playoffs. They will be competing in the GEICO Nationals, a tournament for the top high school teams in the country at the end of March.

Next up, however, the Lions will be playing at the Norm Stewart Classic at Mizzou Dec. 10-11 against PRISE Academy (Columbia, Missouri) and Southern California Academy.

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