Josh Berry knows what he’s up against.
The third Muskogee High boys basketball coach in three seasons knows that his first task is to develop trust in the players he’s had in the gym since the first official day of basketball practice on Oct. 1.
Berry didn’t have the summer to get that done, having been hired in early August. He was the girls coach at Tulsa Rogers and before that, assistant on the men’s team at Independence (Kan.) Community College.
“That is the main thing, getting people to trust you and buy in,” he said. “The majority of these guys being juniors and sophomores, that’s all they know is people coming and going.
“And they’ll fight back against you. So the key for me is being consistent and disciplined in everything I do. As long as they can see that and they see you’re genuinely there, they’ll come around and the truth is, I’m seeing some of that already.”
He left Rogers after one season coaching girls, having sought that job to get closer to home. He graduated from Tulsa Washington but spent up to the eighth grade growing up in Muskogee, where he returns and inherits remnants of a squad that went 8-15 but won only two of their final 15 contests.
Among the top returning players is David Beasley, a junior guard who averaged a team-leading 17.1 points and three assists. A pair of juniors who had solid years as sophomores a year ago are still in football — 6-foot-5 Tramal Ivy and 6-2 Anthony King. The team graduated five seniors, but only two of those saw starting action last year.
Those who already are, of which Berry said have “potentially seven or eight” varsity players, are getting a crash course in Berry’s expectations with practice at 6 a.m. and again at 2 p.m. Crack of dawn practices date back to Terry Scott, who resigned two years ago after three seasons and two state tournament appearances.
Berry called it a “unique opportunity” but it sounded more like a necessary evil needed to make up for missed time.
“There’s a lot of teaching, a lot of extra reps and extra work needed. It’s not all going all out on court. We’re doing a lot of teaching,” he said.
“It’s a strenuous thing to commit to but for the most part the guys we have are giving their all. The good thing about it is that you know once they’re there, they’re at school, you know they’ll make it to class and also to tutoring on time.”
If he’s not yet familiar with the players, he’s got perhaps a better degree of such with his staff. Jimmy Walker was a boys coach at Rogers while Berry served there.
Mishawn Dubose was a teammate of Berry’s at Sterling College and they also had connections at Kansas Wesleyan, where Berry would play and graduate from. Shawn Wilkerson, who coached at the middle school level here last year “grew up around the corner on 17th Street and I lived on 16th street,” Berry said.
Wayne Jackson played under Scott on Tulsa Central’s 2006 Class 5A state championship team, prior to Scott’s arrival at MHS. Darnell Hale is the only returning high school staff member, having served under Lloyd Williams in Williams’ only season here last year.
“We’ve known each other through mutual friends and both our dads went to Tulsa Washington and graduated in 1972,” Berry said.
One thing Berry says he will emphasize more than anything is court smarts.
“We’ll play to our strengths once that’s determined but I want them to be ready for anything offensively or defensively,” he said. “If we have to play half-court to win 30-28, we’ll go do it. If we play an all-out full-court I want us to make good decisions controlling the basketball or defending, then getting out on the break. Anyone who has aspirations of playing at the next level has to be ready for anything.
“It’s like what I heard (Boston Celtics coach) Doc Rivers say the other day. You practice for a reason and make sure every practice you’re developing championship habits.”
Camp for youngsters
The teaching by members of the MHS boys basketball staff isn’t limited to high school players.
On the Rise Inc. and Playmakers Fundamental Basketball Academy Training/Mentoring, ages 7 and up. Sessions begin 6:15-7:30 p.m. and will begin Oct. 16, $75 for a week or $35 for one session. All sessions will be held in the Muskogee area at a location to be announced. To register, contact Muskogee High assistant boys basketball coaches Robert Dubose, (405) 219-4257 or email@example.com or Jimmy Walker, (918) 850-8192 or firstname.lastname@example.org.