As illustrated by a 6-0 start and 72-58 win over Faith Christian last Tuesday, the Chatham Charter Knights have one major strength that simply can’t be taught: pure athleticism.
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SILER CITY — Every high-caliber team has strengths.
Those strengths may be as simple as one or two players who can shoot the lights out on any given night, or a staunch defense that excels in shot-blocking and creating turnovers.
Sometimes, the strengths stem from great coaching or fundamentally sound players.
But as illustrated by a 6-0 start and 72-58 win over Faith Christian last Tuesday, the Chatham Charter Knights have one major strength that simply can’t be taught: pure athleticism.
When watching the Knights play last Tuesday against the Eagles, it’s hard to ignore the team’s athleticism in all five positions.
The Knights’ three-quarter-court press rivals that of Bob Huggins’ West Virginia teams — or “Press Virginia,” as they’ve been deemed — and is only made possible by the athletes they have on the floor, wearing offenses down, little by little, until they break.
Against the Eagles, Chatham Charter forced 13 turnovers — 10 of which came in the first half — in a textbook example of how to run a successful press.
Every time the Knights scored, they’d allow the ball to be inbounded and immediately step into the face of the ballhandler, forcing them to make quick decisions — and, often, quick mistakes.
While the success of the Knights’ press can undoubtedly be linked to the coaching mind of Head Coach Jason Messier and his players’ desire to buy into his strategy, it’s also a testament to his team’s prowess and pure skill as athletes.
“I think that we’re athletic and we have a decent length to us and they commit to it, so we practice (the press) a lot,” Messier said after the win. “Every game, we’re going to come out and make teams see if they can handle it and establish that tone. We want to come out early, hard and aggressive, and make teams adjust to our style of play.”
However, as athletic as the Knights are, they differ from Huggins-coached teams in the sense that they don’t run the press throughout the game, unless necessary. While that may help to wear down opponents, it also does the same for your own players.
Instead, as was the case against Faith Christian, the Knights use their press to take a significant lead, forcing turnovers and turning them into points, then back off and settle into their defense.
In the first quarter against the Eagles, the Knights forced six turnovers en route to taking a 20-5 lead with a little less than two minutes to play in the period.
Chatham Charter was running a track meet, while Faith Christian was simply trying to hang on.
Whether it was darting up the floor after every change of possession in hopes of a quick basket or cutting gracefully — and rapidly — to the hoop off of textbook screens on offense, the Knights did all they could to catch the Eagles’ defenders slacking and score most of their points in the paint.
The Knights’ ability to move without the ball — cutting to the basket or setting screens for teammates — is just another way this offense, which has scored at least 57 points in five out of six games, reaches its peak. And if the passing lane’s not there, they won’t force it for the sake of scoring quickly.
“We practice a lot and assess and try to execute those things, how to set up those screens so we can get those wide-open looks,” Messier said. “It takes execution to run those types of sets. … Some of those sets are multifaceted, so teams may be able to stop the first option, but can you stop those multiple options that come after?
“I thought today we were a little more patient, letting it develop,” he added.
The first half was not only a showcase for the Knights’ now-veteran leaders, junior forwards Aamir Mapp (16 points, leading scorer) and Adam Harvey (eight points), but also for some of the team’s most promising freshmen players.
Starting point guard Beau Harvey, Adam’s brother, is a freshman with plenty of potential, Messier said, illustrated by his ability to facilitate an efficient offense just four games into his high school career.
“He’s had to see different types of defenses, different lengths, and I thought he did a fantastic job today running the offense and calling sets,” Messier said. “I didn’t call too much here on the sideline, I was letting him see what he saw, call some of our sets and get the ball where it needed to go.”
The team’s other major freshman, Brennan Oldham, is a 6-foot-6 big man with just as much athleticism as the guards on his team; his ability to block shots, intercept passes in the press and score at the basket make him a force in the paint.
He was the team’s second-leading scorer with 14 points.
“I thought Oldham had a really nice game with his inside presence,” Messier said. “He bothers people. And he’s athletic enough that he can run the floor and do those types of things.”
By halftime, the Knights had amassed a 20-point lead, 40-20, and in the second half, they’d run away with it even further.
Right out of the gate, Chatham Charter started the third quarter on a 7-0 run that included buckets by Mapp and Adam Harvey, followed by a triple from Beau Harvey to make it 47-20.
Towards the end of the third period, Messier went ahead and sat most of his starters, who he didn’t even bother to bring out for the start of the fourth as the team nursed a lopsided 58-35 lead with just one eight-minute quarter to play.
Messier gave some of the Knights’ younger players the floor in the fourth period, while the Eagles left most of their key players in the game.
It wasn’t the prettiest quarter — the Knights turned the ball over four times and allowed the Eagles to cut it to a 12-point game — but there were some bright spots, including the play of junior Jamir Wright (eight points) and junior Cedric Schwartz (six points), each of whom had a couple of high-energy plays in the paint as the crowd got loud.
“We still have some things to work on,” Messier said. “With some of these younger guys out here, we have to understand game management, not letting teams do things that you’re not comfortable with, things that we don’t practice. … They have to recognize that where we can beat them is by executing our half-court offense to get some layups and easy shots.”
The Knights’ 6-0 start — which came after defeating both the Vandalia Christian Vikings and the Uwharrie Charter Eagles — marks the fourth straight season where they’ve been perfect through six games. In each of the past two seasons, the Knights have used their hot spot to catapult them to a conference title.
This team’s level of athleticism paired with their youth — no seniors on the entire roster — is not only a mixture that has Messier excited for the team’s current winning streak, he said, but also the road ahead.
“Really, we haven’t even come close to our real potential yet,” Messier said. “We have a lot of upward growth to do. And we’re going to get there.”
Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.
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