With quality teams from Butler, Myers Park, Hickory Ridge and Rocky River annually competing in the Southwestern 4A conference, it’s pretty remarkable that any team could win the conference tournament and the regular season in the same season.
But to pull off that feat for three consecutive years? That’s what coach Preston Davis and his Independence boys basketball team just accomplished by beating Hickory Ridge and knocking off Myers Park twice in the same week.
While that is extremely hard to do, for Davis to do it this year says something about what he’s built at Independence.
“When the schedule came out, I don’t think there were many people picking us to win it,” Davis said.
And there was a good reason for that.
The Patriots had just graduated five seniors – all of whom are playing college basketball right now – and had more question marks than answers when they started the season 2-4.
They dropped out of newspaper polls and people wrote them off way too early.
“We had to figure out an identity,” Davis said. “We lost five starters that went on to play college basketball and eight seniors total. We had a couple of people returning, but they were in new positions so we had to figure out who were going to be our leaders and what styles were best for us defensively. We just had to figure out this team, the rotations and put the pieces together.”
One key returnee, Anthony Allen (16.5 points per game), has emerged as the team’s 3-point marksman, leading scorer and a big-time playmaker who had a career-high 10 assists in a win over Rocky River this month.
When he’s sharing the ball that efficiently and the Patriots can run their offense through him, they’re pretty tough to beat.
“The biggest thing with Anthony is me not wanting him to try to do too much,” Davis said. “As long as he’s not trying to do too much, I like our chances. When he plays unselfish and doesn’t force it, we’re pretty good.”
The Patriots have reeled off nine straight wins as they enter the playoffs. With their 20-7 record, Independence has now won 20 or more games for the fifth straight season.
Nygell Verdier (13.2 points and 4.9 rebounds) has emerged as Allen’s running mate after not getting a ton of playing time last year.
That may be hurting his recruitment some, although Davis says there are a few Division I programs interested in him, but his play has been huge.
“College coaches don’t know who he is and that’s the frustrating thing for me because he’s a college player. He’s a scholarship player,” Davis said. “I know he’s a full scholarship player. DI, DII, DI-JuCo, that’s what we’re looking at. That’s not him, he just wants to play anywhere at the next level, but that’s me because I know he’s a DI player.”
Holdover Omarion Bodrick (9.3 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists) patrols the paint along with senior De’Drick Givens (5.2 points and 5.7 rebounds) while Butler transfer Jalen Hinton (10.7 points) has fit in well.
Junior Tachai Miller is probably their top reserve, but the up-tempo Patriots go nine or 10 players deep, which can wear teams down this time of year.
Even so, Davis knows the rigors of the playoffs although he’s ready to see how his team stacks up Feb. 27 against the winner of the Butler-Richmond County game.
“I hope we can keep it going and make a run,” Davis said. “But you know this time of year, so we’re just trying to make sure guys are loaded and locked in and take advantage of playing on their home court. I’m definitely excited for it.”