Defense keys Berkeley Stags to strong start

Senior guard Molik Meggett leads Berkeley in scoring with 10.9 points per game. (Dan Brown/Berkeley Independent)

Success in any sport usually comes when a team buys into the philosophy and mindset of its coach. Such is the case with the boys basketball team at Berkeley High School.

Fourth-year coach Joseph Wallace admits it has taken some time for his players to believe in his system. The Stags won seven games in his first season, eight in year two, and managed 10 victories last year.

Already this winter, Berkeley has matched last season's win total, entering Region 8-AAA play next Tuesday with a 10-3 record. All three losses came in very close games.

Wallace's philosophy of "defense first" is finally paying off for this year's roster of juniors and seniors.

"We have a lot of young men who have been in the program for a few years now and it seems to have clicked this season," said Wallace, a former all-state player at St. Stephen High School. "I felt like we had a chance to be pretty competitive this year if this team would buy into what I wanted. They have gelled, they have come together, and they are understanding that if we stick to the plan, we can be a really good basketball team. I've been very pleased so far."

The Stags average 56 points per game offensively through 13 games, and are allowing only 44.1 points per game.

"We want to create offense off our defense, really make teams work on every possession and force turnovers," Wallace said.

The team does not have one "go-to" scoring threat but displays solid balance in the boxscore.

Senior guard Molik Meggett leads the scoring with 10.9 points per game. Senior Demery Ford averages 10.7 points and 6-8 senior Alex Taylor adds 7.7 points per game.

The play of floor leader Keyshawn Matthews, the senior point guard, has been key to the team's overall development as well, Wallace said.

"Keyshawn has really come around to understanding what we need from him as our point guard," the coach said. "Last year he tried too hard to be a scorer. What we need from him is to run our team, distribute the basketball and play solid defense. He's averaging about six points per game, but the things he has been doing aside from scoring have been very important to our early success."

Berkeley will open region play with two consecutive road games next week - at Beaufort on Tuesday and at Hilton Head on Friday. Wallace said the region will be as competitive overall as any in the state. Orangeburg-Wilkinson and Hanahan might be the early favorites, but every team in the region has solid talent and experience returning this season. Getting off to a good start, especially on the road, would be beneficial.

"Everything we have done so far has hopefully prepared us for region play because all that matters is what you do in your region," said Wallace. "We're 10-3 and we are no closer to making the playoffs than we were when we started. But we're a confident team now. We know we can compete and win games. The true tests are ahead of us and we know it's going to take our best effort every night in this region."