Private school basketball team in Branson has 8th best player in the nation and a national win under its belt
Link Academy started its basketball program two years ago.
Link Academy, a private boarding school in Branson, is gearing up for its third season as a basketball program, and it’s had an impressive record so far. The Link Academy Lions hold an overall record of 61-3 in their first two seasons and are also coming off a first-place finish in the 2023 Geico Nationals where the top level of high school basketball teams compete.
Link Academy’s head coach is Bill Armstrong, who has been an assistant coach at Louisiana State University for several years. Armstrong, who is coming off his first season as a head coach at the Branson school, talked about his decision to take the job there.
“In year one I recruited Julian Phillips when I was at LSU, was up here quite a bit in recruiting him, just saw how nice of a place Branson was, the infrastructure of the school and Link," said Armstrong. "When the job came open after the success they have had, you know I thought it would be something I would really enjoy doing, I had never been a head coach before.”
Coach Armstrong attributes the team’s success at such an early stage to the Link's inaugural season in 2021 before he arrived. He said those players laid the foundation for success in the years to come.
“It’s just an amazing story for them to be able to do what they did.. go 34-2 and get to the national championship game. That in itself allowed us to recruit at a high level -player and character," he said. "So when we go into homes or we're out on the road recruiting, families and players want to hear what we have to say and how we think we can help their son get better and prepare them for college, and I think that the success has allowed us to recruit really good players and high character kids.”
Physical skills aren’t the only attribute Armstrong looks for when recruiting players. He said, although they’re a significant factor, they also want players who work well on a team.
"Because it’s a big sacrifice and a major commitment to come up here and play with 10 other high-level players," he said. "You've got to give up a lot of your stats and things of that nature, just make sure that's something that they want to do and kind of get into the character and what their mentality is, and what they are looking for.”
Ja’Kobe Walter is a senior at Link Academy. He is the highest-ranked basketball recruit in the state of Missouri for the class of 2023 and is ranked the eighth best player in the country by 247 Sports. He said trust was a big factor in his decision to choose to attend the Branson school.
"You know, we have to trust the coaching staff here at Link, I definitely have to understand the vison they have for me and how they were going to help everyone on the team get better every day," he said. "So the biggest factor was definitely my family believing in the coaching staff.”
Walter said although he had to leave his family in Texas, to attend the Branson school, it was an easy yes for him. And, as he looks back on his time at Link, he said he’s glad he made that decision.
“It’s been a great experience, definitely just being in a different city like Branson, coming from Dallas, I had to get used to it for sure," he said. "But the basketball part and the family culture we have at Link it was really fun… I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and it was a really good experience.”
Walter said his favorite memories at Link are celebrating with his teammates after the Geico Nationals and after other big wins. He’s signed with Baylor University to play basketball starting this fall.