ALBANY -- Chris Atkinson has grown only one inch since he was called up from the junior varsity three years ago and, as a 5-8 freshman, guided Long Island Lutheran to the state Federation boys basketball championship.

But he sure has grown up.

"That's the biggest part of my high school career," said Atkinson, the Crusaders' poised point guard, before Friday night's 50-44 loss to defending champion Christ the King in a state Federation Class AA semifinal at SEFCU Arena. Wings Academy defeated Shenendehowa, 44-35, in the other semifinal.

"Coming from Hempstead, where I was sometimes a bad kid or there were bad kids around me, to LuHi changed me a lot. I became a grown man," Atkinson said.

Not only has his game grown -- he has added shooting range to his always steady floor game -- but the once- shy 14-year-old is now a vocal leader on and off the court.

"I learned a lot. I'm more vocal. I project myself more," said Atkinson.

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"I was quiet at first, but now that I've been here [at the Federation tournament] four times, I can reflect on it for the younger kids on the team," Atkinson said. "And now they look up to me as their leader. They want me to be more vocal and to tell them what to do."

Atkinson entered Friday night averaging 11.0 points, a team-high 4.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game this season.

He said he's a "much better student" since he's been at LuHi and has managed to carry his basketball experience into the classroom. He is working on an English paper, due Wednesday, in which he is writing about himself. He calls it "The Igniter."

"I go back in time and talk to other people about winning a championship in my ninth-grade year. It's like a flashback," he said.

A flashback to a time when Chris Atkinson was only an inch shorter but so much smaller in stature than he is now.