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Knights aiming to rebound with potential No. 1 seed on deck

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Chatham Charter’s men’s basketball team is on the verge of posting its third-straight one-loss regular season. With a 20-1 record (5-0 in Central Tar Heel 1A conference) through the team’s first 21 games and just six games left on the schedule, the Knights are trending toward a potential No. 1 seed in the 1A East of the NCHSAA playoffs.

One of the keys to the team’s success is its versatility, with two duos — juniors Adam Harvey and Aamir Mapp, along with freshmen Beau Harvey and Brennen Oldham — leading the charge on a squad with a plethora of offensive weapons and a defense-focused mindset.

This week, the News + Record spoke with Jason Messier, the Knights’ head coach, to discuss how this year’s team can bounce back from last year’s postseason struggles, how he’s helped his young players succeed and who he’s been most impressed with over the season’s first couple of months.

This is Chatham Charter’s eighth season as a varsity program, right?

JASON MESSIER: This is our eighth year. And really, as our record has gone on, we went from two wins our first varsity season to six wins our second season, then we went to 17 wins, 18, 27, 32 and last year we were 12-2 with the shortened COVID season and right now, we’re sitting at 20-1. One of the things that we get a lot of flack for is that our conference isn’t always the strongest and this and that. And I think that doesn’t hold a lot of value. Maybe this year, a little more value, but I think in the past, we’ve always had teams like Research Triangle in our conference that has gone on to the second round. And really, for us, that’s why we preach those fundamentals of the game. Because, to me, if you’re doing things the right way, playing defense, closing out the right way. If you’re doing all those things the right way, you can hold your own against those top teams. It’s a matter of teaching how to go about doing the things, it’s not a matter of just saying, ‘We’re more athletic than you, we’re just going to outrun you or just be more athletic than you.’ Because I’ve always had this saying that I say over and over and it’s, ‘What do you do when you run into a team that is just as athletic as you, just as big as you?’ because then it comes down to that coaching and it comes down to the fundamentals of the game, who’s doing things the right way?

Last year, you guys had a 12-1 record entering the playoffs, but the first round didn’t really go your way. What are you doing this year to ensure you don’t suffer another first-round exit?

I think last year, not playing as many games, you still didn’t get that chance to have that camaraderie that the guys have as far as playing that team basketball. Right now, we’ve already played 21 games, so we’ve already played seven more games this year. Early on, especially, we had a nice mix. We got to play Southern Alamance just last week, a larger 4A school that’s battled some teams. Their record at the time, I think, was 6-6, but they’ve had some closer games and we did a really good job against them. And then in our last game, we’ve got Seaforth, so we’ve got a couple of games there that we’re hoping will just kind of give us different looks for the type of teams that we may face going into the playoffs.

Come playoff time, you don’t know who you’re going to see. When the seedings come out, there could be upsets here, there could be upsets there, but really, we just continue to preach the particular style that we play. We’re really based on that team basketball. We don’t rely on just one guy, where you can stop that one guy or that one guy can have a bad game and you lose. We really rely on that team basketball, where we have multiple guys on the floor that are able to score points and I think that can help you weather a few adverse conditions. We may have games where a guy steps in and, in the previous game, he may have only five points and, next thing you know, he’s sitting here with 21 points the next day. I think that the team concept of basketball that we push and that we promote, just that physical, aggressive style of defense that we promote, I think those are things that are going to bode well for us no matter who we play.

Now that you only have a few games left in the regular season, what’s the key for you guys closing this thing out on a high note?

Well, we close with six games and five of those are going to be conference games. We’re still keeping our rigorous practices, where we’re just continuing to challenge the guys and trying to get them to challenge themselves each game, whatever the goal may be, whether it’s to hold this team to 25 points, to hold them to 30 points, to have this many steals or this many whatever. These guys aren’t settling, we’re constantly challenging them to motivate themselves for success. And really, this bunch of guys is as motivated a bunch as we’ve ever had. And I’m talking even with our regional finals team. I think they really have bought into that culture, they’ve really bought into those things that we preach as far as defense and team basketball. And just like any time, when we get to the playoffs and find out who we have, we’ll prepare for that particular team.

We’re a tough matchup for a lot of different teams. We can play a lot of different styles. Earlier in the year, we were kind of that run-and-gun team, but as my young guys have continued to improve — and then even my juniors, because one of them, Adam Harvey, didn’t play his freshman year because of injury — we’re still learning how to play differently. I just think that we haven’t even peaked yet. We’re getting to that point where I think we’re going to be playing our best basketball as we get toward the state playoffs.

One of the things that Chatham Charter has been known for in recent years is what you’ve been able to do with some of the younger players — you had Adam Harvey playing well as a sophomore last year, now it’s Beau Harvey and Brennen Oldham as freshmen this year. I’m sure some of it is their own individual talent, but what have you done to help them grow and get to the point where they can actually contribute their freshman and sophomore years?

I’ve always been one to kind of throw them into the fire. What I mean by that is that I like to have them out there early. As soon as they are going into their freshman year, they come to our summer workouts, where we go to jamborees where we’re playing against bigger schools. I know it’s summer, but usually those bigger schools have more to choose from as far as players that are looking to play basketball. And we have players that are returning from our team last year that continue to show these values as far as what the expectations are, what the culture is, what the standards are of how we’re going to go about doing things. If you were to watch our young guys, especially the two starters (Beau Harvey and Oldham), you see that they’re better players now than they were when they came in. I even have one of my former players, Jordan Hamilton, that comes and practices and he’ll work with my big guys on certain things. It’s not only back-to-the-basket post-up stuff, it’s about everything we do and how it fits into our offense, how it fits into our defense. We just continue to have that standard.

The way you guys play basketball, it seems like on any given night, any player can shine. But even with your team-focused philosophy, do you have any players in particular that you’re most impressed with this season?

Well, I don’t know if I can really just single out any player. The reason I say that is because a lot of our success is attributed to that concept of team basketball. I think my guys that have come back from last year have set the expectations for these new guys that we have coming up and how we’re going to go about doing things. It sounds like I’m trying to take the easy way out here, but I just don’t think that there is just that one player. Obviously, the freshmen, as they’ve continued to grow as players, have been great, but I think that even with our experienced players, we’ve had guys like — the other night, when we played Southern Alamance — Aamir (Mapp) and Adam (Harvey) really rise to the occasion. And then we may have had another player who maybe didn’t have the stats that they’re accustomed to having, but they played really good defense on a key offensive guy on the other team or they facilitated through their assists or their hustle. So our success is really based off of that concept of team. What we push to the guys is that you just never know when your number is going to be called, when you’re going to have to step up, whether it’s because of foul trouble or because a guy’s struggling in the game. I don’t think that I can give you just one guy. I always felt those teams that have just one dominant player, you can game plan for that, but how do you game plan for those teams that have multiple options?

 

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