Tayon Gleaves is the leading scorer for the Independence basketball team.The team has had its best start in the past three years. But Gleaves doesn’t want to talk about scoring.When did the 5-foot-11 junior point guard know in offseason workouts that the team could be good? When the players started working on defense. “We knew that was going to be a staple of our team,” Gleaves said. “So when we worked on that and we saw how we could stop teams from scoring, it just really gave us a lot of confidence.” Defense led Independence to a 7-4 (1-1 Southwestern 4A) record coming out of winter break. The team also won the CMC-Northeast Holiday Classic at Cox Mill High, beating Central Cabarrus, Sun Valley and Weddington. The Patriots have already won more games than they did in two of the past three seasons since head coach Preston Davis took over four years ago. Davis knew coming into the season this could be a good Independence team. The Patriots returned nine varsity players and the bulk of the starting lineup from last year’s team, led by Gleaves, junior guard Marcus Graves, junior forward Workpeh Kofa and senior forward Jeffery Dennis.“We definitely have camaraderie out there,” Gleaves said. “We know each other so well. We like playing with each other, so that just makes it a whole lot easier.” This was the same group who won just two games last year, finishing in last place in the Southwestern 4A conference with just one conference win. But Davis said that record is misleading. “If people didn’t see us play last year and they just saw our record, than a lot of people thought that we weren’t a good team,” he said. “But last year we were actually a good team, we just fell short in a lot of games and, like I said, you just had to see us play.” Davis noticed a difference in the team during camps in the offseason. The Patriots went 17-2 in those scrimmages and they were winning the kinds of games that they would have lost the year before: big wins over teams they should beat, comeback wins and holding off late runs by other teams.Independence opened the season with a win against then Sweet 16 No. 15 Hough. It was the first time since Davis started coaching the team that the Patriots won their season opener. Davis said it gave the players confidence they’ve carried with them through the season. “To get that first win, first game of the season, was a big start,” he said. “Just having the early success was real good for us, for these kids and just for them to see that their hard work is paying off.” Independence beat North Mecklenburg two games later and also had a win over Porter Ridge and a conference win against East Mecklenburg before the winter break. The Patriots led nationally-ranked West Charlotte by 11 at halftime of a game Dec. 11 before the Lions made a second half run and won by 13.“We should have won that game,” Gleaves said. “We were playing great defense the first half and we just took a break in the second half. That also showed that we were a far better team than we were last year.” Gleaves leads the team with 13.9 points and has 2.1 steals per game. As the point guard, he’s also the leader on the floor, facilitating Independence’s other scorers, like Graves (10.9 points per game) and junior Deion Lane, who is averaging 12.3 points and a team-high 6.2 rebounds in his first year on varsity.Though it doesn’t always show in the stat sheet, Davis said Kofa (7.8 points, 4.7 rebounds per game) has been one of the most important parts of Independence’s success.“Playing football, he brings a lot of toughness and strength to us, but Workpeh is also versatile enough where he can guard, you know, a perimeter player as well as strong enough to guard the post,” Davis said. “He helps us a lot defensively because a lot of times I can put Workpeh on the other team’s best player.” Davis, like Gleaves, says the team’s strength is its defense. The Patriots press and trap opposing teams, forcing turnovers that lead to easy baskets. Davis, an animated coach on the sideline, wants his defense to be energetic and active. “We’ve got a small team and in order to make up for that lack of size we’ve got to play with a higher energy and a higher effort defensively,” Davis said. “We have to play with high energy. We’re small and quick, so we have to utilize that to our advantage as much as possible.”Gleaves is proud of the way his team has played so far, but he said the players need to stay humble and not “get big heads.” He has high hopes for the team, including a top finish in the conference and playoff appearance.“We’re finally starting to click and it’s a long time coming for me,” Gleaves said.Seeing his team play well also means a lot to Davis, who played basketball at Independence and helped the Patriots win a 4A state championship in 1997.“I bleed green and gold,” Davis said. “Independence is definitely close to my heart, so for us trying to put things together and start trying to look like we’re on the right path, I’m excited. “But the biggest thing for me, to be honest with you, I’m happy for the kids. I’m happy for their hard work that they put in and the results are starting to show. We’re not there yet but we’re on the right track.”
Tuesday, Jan. 08, 2013
Patriots basketball is back on the right track
Independence has tripled its win total from last year and won a holiday tournament
Independence junior point guard Tayon Gleaves has helped the Patriots boys' basketball team get out to its best start in four years. Gleaves says defense has been the key to the team's success.