Just outside the heart of uptown Charlotte, Berry High has quietly built a basketball power.
In a city that boasts high school heavyweights like reigning N.C. 4A champion Olympic, national power West Charlotte and nationally-ranked Northside Christian, Berry has slowly begun to carve out a niche for itself.
The Cardinals (25-3) are one win from tying a school record and will play rival Ardrey Kell at home Friday in the N.C. 4A sectional championship game. Tipoff will be at 7 p.m.
Berry will try to make its third N.C. Western Regional appearance in five years. Not too many area teams can boast that type of success. Since the start of the 2009-10 season, Berry is 116-35.
This season, despite losing conference player of the year Cazmon Hayes to graduation, Berry won the SoMeck 8 regular-season and conference tournament championships, speeding past regional powers – and conference favorites – Ardrey Kell and Olympic to do it.
Unlike a lot of top teams, Berry doesn’t have a single double-figure scorer. Quindon Cottman, a 6-foot-3 junior, 6-0 senior Josh Lancaster and 6-1 junior Matthew Powell average slightly more than nine points each.
“We do it by committee,” second-year coach Maurice Jones said. “It’s always good to have one guy you can rely on, but it puts you more at ease. That way, if one guy is taken away, someone else is willing to step up.”
Jones said sometimes it’s Cottman and sometimes it’s leftie center Devarious Christian, or maybe it’s Chandler Murray coming off the bench to hit three huge 3-point shots in a 63-60 win against Butler on Wednesday.
“We play a lot of guys,” Jones said, “and any of those guys are liable to have a really good game.”
Jones is the school’s third coach in four years. He plans to stay awhile. He played at Sumter (S.C.) High at both guard spots and at Anderson in college. After working 12 years as an assistant at The Citadel and then Butler High, West Mecklenburg and South Mecklenburg, Jones finally got his chance last year.
He led Berry to the second round of the playoffs as a rookie coach. Now he’s got the school on the verge of its first N.C. 4A Western Regional appearance. The previous two were in the 2A class.
“This is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Jones said. “I played in college and it’s been my passion to teach and I wanted to teach guys to play the right way. The kids have bought into that, just playing hard and playing the right way.
“And we don’t think this is a surprise. Looking over the conference, you knew it would be tough. People saw us losing Cazmon Hayes, the player of the year, but we only lost two seniors from last year. Everybody returned.”
Now Berry is three wins from the school’s first state title game.
“I’m not trying to put the cart before the horse,” Jones said. “We just talk about the goals we set. From the beginning, they said, ‘Let’s win conference.’ We did that one. And we set the next one, to win the conference tournament. And we got that one, with some new gray hairs along the way.
“Now, man, it’s just one game at a time. I told them it’s pretty much survive and advance. That’s our mantra now.”
Wertz: 704-612-9716; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
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