Coulter picks up, goes with hoops for Judah Christian

Coulter picks up, goes with hoops for Judah Christian

CHAMPAIGN — Philip Coulter boasts a strong statline for Judah Christian boys’ basketball entering the Class 1A postseason.

Prior to Friday night’s 57-39 victory against Cornerstone Christian to secure the East Central Illinois Conference Tournament title, the senior was averaging 18.6 points, 2.3 assists and 2.2 steals per tilt for the now-26-2 Tribe, not to mention 59 three-pointers.

Pretty good numbers for a kid who “didn’t know basketball was a thing” until he reached middle school.

Coulter spent the early years of his life in both Africa and Albania, the son of missionary parents. As such, the hoops life wasn’t one he was exposed to.

“I was a soccer guy,” Coulter said. “I didn’t start playing basketball until about seventh grade seriously. So I picked it up ... and now it’s what I do.”

And Coulter does it quite well for second-seeded Judah Christian as it prepares to face either No. 8 Mt. Pulaski or No. 9 Blue Ridge in Wednesday’s 1A Blue Ridge Regional semifinals.

“His skill level’s pretty high,” Tribe coach Bill Ipsen said. “I talk about him and (fellow senior) Josh (Candler), they have that extra gear, that motor of competitiveness, and everything carries from practice on to games.”

Coulter needed plenty of reps to become even a serviceable piece on the hardwood, let alone the area’s sixth-leading scorer.

“I was bad (at first),” Coulter said. “Until about eighth grade, and then I got the hang of things. I just kept working. That’s the thing. You’ve got to hustle.”

By the time he was a 10th-grader, Coulter began feeling comfortable in his sneakers. That sensation’s only grown since.

It helps Coulter is surrounded by other talented athletes, such as Candler, Connor Lash, Tyler Grenda and Noah Jackson. So, too, does his 6-foot-2 frame.

Ipsen feels the latter factor helps Coulter on both sides of the ball.

“He has a pretty good vertical of just getting up above people and making that pull-up (jumper), which is kind of a lost art in the game today,” Ipsen said. “He’s usually a couple inches taller (than his assignment), and he has more length than the people he’s guarding.”

Nothing can make up for tenacity, though, and Coulter possesses that in droves.

He put it on display as a junior, when the Tribe won its first-ever regional championship.

“It’s really been beautiful, actually, because ... a lot of people don’t take you seriously for a while,” Coulter said. “You start working hard, you believe in yourself ... and eventually you build up that solid reputation. Everyone believes you can do it together, and now it’s a reality.”

Not only is Judah on the cusp of successfully backing up its best-ever campaign — perhaps even surpassing it — Coulter also is getting next-level interest.

Following a December road win at Tuscola, Coulter was approached by a member of the MacMurray College coaching staff out of Jacksonville.

“My parents always told me, ‘If you just work hard, stuff will happen,’” Coulter said. “It means a lot to see that something that’s a dream of mine can come true.”

First, more work remains for Coulter in the Tribe purple and gold.

Those who experienced first-hand last season’s 84-80 sectional semifinal loss to St. Anne — Coulter among them — feel there’s a longer playoff road out there for Judah basketball.

That path wouldn’t lead quite to Albania or Africa. But Carver Arena in Peoria would suffice.

“We’re just trying to focus in and take it one game at a time,” Coulter said. “And we’ve just got to stay excited — which, I’m excited. I cannot wait.”