Jared Leveson (@jared_leveson)
It takes a village to develop a Division I talent. Christian Bliss was fortunate enough to have one.
His parents, Vanessa and Nicholas, are caring and supportive. Nicholas Jr., Bliss’ older brother, offers counsel.
Christian Bliss (above) led George School to the 2022-23 Friends' Schools League championship. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
With his strong foundation, the 6-foot-4 guard looked at basketball as a means to develop himself as a player and a person.
He left Archbishop Molloy (N.Y.) in 2021 for the George School and head coach Ben Luber, a former Penn State point guard, hoping that Luber could propel him, the then-role player on the PSA Cardinals, to the Division I level.
Bliss flourished under Luber and is now taking his next step and keeping his priority the same: where is the best development plan? The Non-PIAA CoBL Boys Player of the Year entrusted head coach Tony Bennett and the University of Virginia to prepare Bliss for the professional level.
On Friday, the FSL First-Team honoree chose Virginia over Xavier, Villanova, and Miami via Twitter.
“I just really believe in the plan that they have for me,” the Queens, N.Y. native said over the phone on Saturday. “I think it’s somewhere I can become a better person on and off the court.
“Coach Bennett is as real and authentic as they come, so it was kinda easy to put your belief into someone who is that caring.”
Virginia assistant coach Orlando Vandross first introduced himself to Bliss during the high school season, and the two stayed in contact throughout the process. But the Cavaliers took their time evaluating him and didn’t offer the rising senior guard until May 8.
Bennett got involved once the offer came through, and Bliss visited campus in late June. His time in Charlottesville, Va., proved critical.
The academic and athletic facilities caught Bliss’ eye. But the staff and people who worked in and around the university attracted Bliss. He met the coaches one-on-one and sat down with Bennett, who flipped on the projector.
“They kinda broke it down,” he added. “They showed me what they would do to help me to fix the things I want to improve on and then just all about getting better and getting myself ready to play at the next level.”
Having played for the Charlotte Hornets and professional ball in New Zealand, Bennett has a knack for developing talented guards like Kihei Clark, Kyle Guy, and Malcolm Brogdon, not to mention Philly’s on De’Andre Hunter, now with the Atlanta Hawks.
The staff expects Bliss to come in, compete and earn his spot.
“They like my feel for the game,” he added. “That I just play the game the right way and make good decisions. They think I’m a good point guard and floor general they’re looking for.
“I’m not asking for anything. I’m just ready to work.”
On his visit, another critical person Bliss spoke with was Ty Jerome, a former first-round NBA draft pick, 2019 national champion at Virginia, and PSA Cardinal.
The two had known each other for a few years through PSA Cardinals, usually discussing basketball and what work is necessary for the next level. But their meeting in Virginia was the first time they talked more personally.
“Just getting his experience of what he went through and what I should be prepared for,” Bliss said. “It was all stuff that I thought I could handle, that I thought was a good situation, and obviously it’s where I want to be so I think that kind of helped put it in perspective.”
Bliss went home and reflected on his options. He had grown up watching Villanova and loved the program’s history. Miami has had recent tournament success and a solid track record of developing professional talents like Lonnie Walker IV and Bruce Brown.
Former George School teammate Kachi Nzeh is beginning his career at Xavier, and the two discussed reuniting on the hardwood when Bliss visited campus.
He wanted to make the best decision for himself.
Bliss relied on his kitchen table conversations with his older brother, Nicholas, to help navigate his commitment. They’d talk through everything together.
“I think a lot of it was how much I liked the development plan (and) coaching staff (and) how much I believed this is a place where I can develop just both on the court and off the court,” he added. “For me, it’s bigger than basketball, basketball is definitely the main thing, but I kinda just looked at every school and thought how could I become a better person.
“I think it’s just developing those relationships with my coach, the people, my future teammates, my classmates, and kinda just becoming a well rounded person. My parents are very strict on the importance of education so I think that’s something that stuck out to me.”
He slept on the decision Wednesday night and called Bennett Thursday morning before his announcement scheduled for Friday evening.
Bennett’s reaction comforted Bliss, reassuring him that he’d made the right decision.
His family was excited too, but they expected this outcome because of Bliss’ determination and consistency toward becoming a better basketball player and person. There wasn’t a huge party or anything of the sort.
They kept it small and focused on their tight-knit unit.
“I went to dinner,” Bliss said. “My parents celebrate with me everyday. They’re my biggest fans, but the past couple of weeks have been telling me how proud they are of me and all that so (Friday) wasn’t nothing too crazy.”