Back-2-Back Championship Diary
By Robin Nelson, co-captain
Robin Nelson is another one of the Berkmar Patriot senior leaders who led the Patriots to their second consecutive State Championships in Georgia's largest classification. A four-year varsity player and the 2001 co-captain and Scholar-Athlete, Robin's contribution to the Patriots during the quest for Back-2-Back has earned him such nicknames as "White Chocolate", "The Kitchen Sink", "The Energizer", "The Equalizer", etc.. Robin Nelson is the eldest son of Robert and Becky Nelson. He will attend Georgia State University in fall 2001.
This past season was the most incredible experience I have ever had. It all started almost immediately after the 2000 championship season. Talks of REPEATing and even a national championship in one of the polls could be heard around Berkmar High. Coach Boyd had planted the seed and some of us were already analyzing the possibility of such a great achievement, our tough schedule and all. We thought about possible matchups with some national powerhouses - Willowridge (Houston, TX) with T.J. Ford and Daniel Ewing, Dominguez (Compton, CA) with Tyson Chandler and Bobby Jones, Lee (Huntsville, AL) with Chad Moore, the east coast schools with Jamie Sowers (St. Patricks), Shagari Alleyne (Rice), etc.; and we also talked about our Georgia opponents. Riverdale, Glynn Academy, East Hall, Marietta, Chattahoochee, and Brookwood. We knew we had our work cut out for us, but we didn't think it was impossible, especially winning back-to-back.
The quest for a repeat started way back in the spring with AAU games, individual workouts, our summer camp, and all the out-of-town trips. We went to the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) 2-0, Furman University 2-0, Clemson 0-2, Auburn University, and a quick visit to our great friends at Marietta (George Perides Tournament). The trip that stuck out the most to me was the Clemson trip. We rode in cramped cars the whole way and got out of the cars and went to the student center for a quick bite to eat. Then we went straight to the main gym (Little John), and started to play. It was not the Berkmar Patriots I was used to; we were flat, lethargic, raw, and we played without discipline. After we went 0 and 2 there, I was not looking forward to the ride home. If you were familiar with Berkmar Basketball, you would understand why we hate huge parking lots on our road trips, especially after a loss. We were all anticipating a date with the parking lot for a long set of "gut drills." That was when I realized that all of this talk about winning back-to-back was much harder than I had expected. Every team we had played up until this time came after our throats; they were ready to play. However, we managed to put all these teams in their places, except the two teams at Clemson (one from Alabama and the other from South Carolina). Coach spared us the "parking lot" gut drills, but he cancelled our trip to UGA (Athens, Georgia) saying that we were not focused and ready. After going 7-1 at the Perides Tournament in Marietta, we later received one of the worst beatings Berkmar had ever dealt with at the hands of Campbell High. We showed no senior leadership as no one really stepped up to fill William Witherspoon's role. To make the matter worse, Spoon came to watch that game before heading to the Air Force Academy Prep. After that, coach gave it to us as hard as he ever had and said that he had doubts about our group. His last three teams that won state always win this tournament. That loss took us out of the Perides championship game, and we settled for third place by taking it out on Wheeler High. That was our last game as a team for the rest of the summer. With only two losses (Campbell and Sprayberry), we were 8 - 2 in the tournament with double victories over some of these teams - Marietta, Sprayberry, Harrison, Campbell, and Wheeler. I had time to hit the weights. I needed to get my "swoll on" to be able to compete at the highest level. I had my bench-press up to 225lbs., which was not bad for a shiny white boy.
Then practice began and that was when I started to see that this team was bred for another title. With Shawn Ikpa as the captain, and Adrien Borders and myself as the co-captains, we decided to involve Clark Williams, James Pattman Jr. and the rest of the seniors on our team to form a Committee of Leaders. The addition of James Pattman was solid and the off-season improvement of Arnold, Williams, Ikpa, Borders, etc was obvious. We saw, in the summer games and early in the season, that we could have used Harold Wells inside to take some pressure off 65 Shawn Ikpa against such big men as 610 Josh Powell, but 66 Clark Williams stepped up big time and 67 sophomore, Alex Weekes held his own. The first five or six games were okay, but we were not really tested and not playing great team ball, except against Riverdale. We won the Coca-Cola Classic held at East Hall in Gainesville, Georgia by beating Jefferson County and East Hall (minus the Causey brothers). Ikpa and Borders made the All-Tournament team. We beat McEachern on the road and also beat a tough Riverdale team 83-81 in a thriller at the Georgia Hoopfest. Adrien Borders made the AJC/High School Sports Show Athlete of the Week, Shawn Ikpa was also on fire (19-20 FG, 1st career 3-pointer attempted/made, 14-16 FT, etc in two games), and Clark Williams was leading the team in rebounds. The Riverdale game was my coming out party. Before we left for this game, I called Ikpa and told him to expect something spectacular from me if I play, and we also talked about my new look (had my hair braided). Riverdale was killing us in every aspect of the game and leading by 10, when coach put me in and told me to give em hell. In their next five possessions, Riverdale had five turnovers. I was all over their guards like white on rice, and when I left the game, we were up by four. Those four minutes of hell earned me two more nicknames, The Kitchen Sink and White Chocolate. After the game, senior PG James Pattman, Jr., who transferred from Roswell High, had one thing to say, this is high octane basketball here at Berkmar and I am glad to be a part of it. Riverdale wanted a track meet, we gave it to them; they gave us a load of Chris McFarland and Josh Powell, we took it and kept on ticking. Clark Williams really answered a lot of critics in that game he dominated. In our first home game of the season, we beat a strong Chattahoochee team by 24 points and went on to beat Stephenson to go up 6-0. At this point, we had played six teams from six different counties and about to move on to the big times City of Palms (Fort Myers, FL) and Slam Dunk to the Beach (Lewes, DE). I was thinking, It doesn't get any better than this. We got on the plane and it was off to Florida for The City of Palms Tournament. The hotel in Fort Myers, Florida was nice and the two to a room idea worked well. The first game there ended on a bad defensive stand in a tight game at the end. We started the game on a bad note, down by 16 or more, and came back. It was tough to lose the game on such a poor defensive play at the end. I saw it coming the whole way from the sideline. It was the same feeling we had the year before, losing the first game to Dillard. The next game against Bishop Verot, we were mad and out to show we could play and coasted to an 80 - 31 victory. It could have been much worse for them. Then we came out and beat (Brunswick, GA) Glynn Academy (#2 in Georgia) and (Huntsville, Alabama) Lee High to win our second straight consolation trophy. Then we went on to Delaware and I started in the biggest tournament I have ever been to in my life; they call it the Final Four of high school basketball. We got there and it was as cold as anything. We got screwed on the deal in the tournament. We had to play a day early due to a team getting snowed in. We were not ready to play the 4th ranked team in the country that day and it showed. We played a bad game against St. Patrick's and got beat pretty bad. Then we ran into the Freak of Nature against Rice High School and the 7' 2" man-child, who dunked on us with absolute ease. Then, we handily disposed of St. Jude's (Montgomery, AL), The Superstar, Ousmane Cisse, gave up and quit after the Berkmar explosion in the first half. We ended up winning by 40 points or more.
We came back from the tournaments with a 4-3 record. We were pissed and we took it out on South Gwinnett and McEachern at home before heading to Brookwood. Ikpa reset the school record for rebounds with 23 against South Gwinnett. The Brookwood game speaks for itself. They were fired up and probably wanted it more. We knew we could beat them any given day, but the elements were against us that night as they broke our 34-game winning streak against Georgia schools. We all took it hard, our fans took it harder, but Shawn Ikpa took it very personal. The loss kept the streak from reaching his jersey number (35), he also fouled out in that game, and Brett Huckle dropped 35 points to seal that victory for Brookwood. Knowing Ikpa, it would not have mattered to him, if Huckle had scored 40 as long as we win. Coach B told us not to worry about that game, he basically took the blame for the loss, and told us to learn from it and move on. Anyway, we went ahead and circled February 17, 2001 on our calendar, hoping for a Berkmar Vs. Brookwood rematch in the Region 8-AAAAA championship game. Our rallying cry was a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, sent to us by one of our teachers, Mrs. Holly Craft. It reads: "Our greatest glory consists not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall". All our fans were behind the team and Coach Boyd one hundred percent. For the rest of the season, we didn't lose another game, but Brookwood pulled another upset on us as they failed to make it to the region finals, losing to Collins Hill in the semis. We went ahead and beat Collins Hill 85-65 to retain the Region 8-AAAAA championship. Brookwood was still the #1 team in Georgia at 27-1, but they were sitting at home the second week of the state tournament having lost to Wheeler. They were at the YMCA working on their three's and getting ready for next season, while the state tournament was just heating up. I think the Broncos weak schedule did them in. They played 15 home games and lost their first game outside Gwinnett County. For us, we were ready for any opponent by having played the best teams during the regular season. The rest of the region and state tournament schedule was business as usual. The state tournament was great the first half of the first game, then the rest of the way, it was a struggle to get back to Macon, but we made it.
Highlights and miscues of the season
There is no better coach to play for than Mr. David Boyd. If you lack confidence in your game, playing for coach B will make you almost cocky. People still wonder why we don't show emotions during games. One can never tell, by our demeanor, whether we are up by 40 points or down by 15. Bottom line was that coach B had put us through every situation imaginable - we had been there and done that. Blowout games were very boring to me. I will miss the excitement of those close games when coach would be at his best. It wasn't the things he said at timeouts, but the way he would say them. You have no choice but to believe him when he was saying, trap the heck out of em and scrap em against Savannah, when he yelled to Wayne Arnold shoot the ball like you mean it against Collins Hill or when he grabbed me and said this is your moment, son before sending me in against Glynn Academy. On these three occasions, things turned in our favor. Coach is always prophetic with his anticipations. He expected that Savannah would come out and play us very rough and tough, so he created this scenario during our last practice of the season. He stopped play and took Clark Williams out saying that a Savannah player had just injured Clark. He then subbed in freshman Kevin Bowker, and told him to shoot the free throws in place of the injured Clark Williams. I kid you not! Clark was injured during the championship game and Kevin came in and shot two free throws. Scared the heck out of me. At that point in the game, I wanted to ask coach if we were going to win so that I could relax and enjoy the rest of the game. Kevin's 1 point made him the first Berkmar freshman to score in a state championship game. Coach would have the first team down by 15 points with 3 or 4 minutes left on the practice clock and they would come out winners every time. He also designed a play where James Pattman, Jr. or Adrien Borders would bring the ball up and look at our bench (like he is asking coach) for a play and coach would shrug his shoulders as if to say, I don't know or don't ask m. Guess what? After Savannah scored to take the lead late in the championship game, a critical basket-and-one by Ikpa caught the Blue Jackets sleeping. They didn't see it coming; the play was I don't know. Coach B prepared us to handle Savannahs rough style of play without letting us know; he did not call a single foul in our last two practices; he let us bang like there was no tomorrow. Any other team would have wilted under the hurting the Savannah boys were dishing out. Ask Glynn Academy and Kwame Brown about their region championship game against Savannah. Final score was 35 28 Savannah and Kwame scored 7 points in that game. During our post game celebration, a freshman on our team picked up a sheet of paper on the court; it was Savannah's scouting report on us. It read, Harass their backcourt, Keep #35 off the boards and send him to the line, Keep the pressure on #32, Make #34 play defense, Stay focused, etc. Easier said than done. Borders and Pattman handled the rock well and made good decisions, the Blue Jackets couldn't keep Ikpa off the boards and he shot 6 for 6 from the line, they almost killed Clark with their hard fouls, but, each time, he came back stronger and refused to lose, and Arnold showed them that defense was really his bread and butter. Don't forget our 2-minute possession late in that game. All season long, nobody had held the ball on Savannah for that long, but we were poised and relaxed, and they d never seen a team like us. I think that the confidence Coach Boyd instills in people around him was the reason why his wife was bringing in a Happy 400th cake into our locker room in the 4th quarter of our 83 81 victory over Riverdale at the Georgia Hoopfest. That was Coach Bs 400th career win. Talk about having confidence in your man.
A lot of people think that all Coach B cares about is Basketball. Academics and good personal conduct are also important to him. He held the seniors on our team accountable for any misconduct by our underclassmen. Every time they did something wrong, we ran suicides. He would say, "You will continue to run suicides until you start showing them the right way to act". You get a misconduct report from your teacher, you are off the team, period. Early in the season, we ran more suicides for classroom misconduct than for missed plays. On our Christmas tournament trips, the first thing he would point out to us would be the size of a hotel parking lot, "Hmm! Nice hotel with a huge parking lot". One time, we forgot to inform our youngsters what that comment meant and we paid for it. They got carried away, horsing around in the hotel, and we had the parking lot to ourselves for a long time. I think it paid off in the end because we always get "Good Sportsmanship" and "Good Conduct" Awards every tournament we go to.
We had two major bloopers off the court in Macon. Now that I look back, they were two very funny incidents, though one wasn't really funny at that time.
The day before the championship game, we went to eat at Ryan's after our morning practice and headed back to the hotel. Couple of hours later, Ikpa barged into my room and announced that one of our teammates was missing. We left him at Ryan's he said. I wondered how possible it could be, knowing that, everywhere we went, the coaches were always the last to leave. Ikpa, not known for playing pranks, started laughing real hard and kept saying, I am for real though, he was in the restroom at Ryan's, but he is OK. He is on his way back to the hotel. The kid went to the restroom at Ryan's without telling anybody and when he came out, we were gone. After a series of phone tags, the player safely made it back to the hotel. He had called his mother from the pay phone at Ryan's and his mother called Ikpa's mom trying to get a hold of somebody in Macon. Ikpa claimed his mom called his cell phone and told him to go and get his teammate from the restroom at Ryan's. Why would somebody lock his own teammate in a public restroom a day before the big game?. Every one of us created different versions of the incident. For a minute, I thought he was trapped in the restroom the whole time. One teammate said that Savannah fans had kidnapped our missing buddy thinking that he was Clark Williams, Dawg, you should've told them you was Clark. They probably just wanted to keep you till halftime or something. This incident helped loosen us up some as we roasted this player time and time again.
The one that wasn't really funny was when the managers forgot our jerseys and stuff before the final game. In my four years at Berkmar, I had never seen coach Boyd that pissed. He gave it to Collin Rader real bad, but the one that shocked everyone was our captain, Shawn Ikpa, getting in the senior manager's already red face. I think the senior manager was more shocked by Ikpa's use of profanity than his tirade. I was glad we won the state championship for the manager's sake, because everybody would have blamed it on him.
The best was going to Macon again and playing in the Semifinals. The game was back and forth, but Kwame was the man the whole way. I was fired up to be able to come in the game and play. I had waited four years for that chance and had told Clark earlier that I was going to do something great that night. I was not nervous; it was just like playing in the back yard, like in Indiana at the park shooting free throws till dark. That was my career high 9 points. It may seem low, but was huge to me. We won by 2 in OT and Kwame had 38 points 17 rebounds and so on. After the game, one of our reserve players was teasing our 6'5" center, Shawn Ikpa, about giving up 38 points to 6'11" Kwame Brown. Ikpa responded, "I held him to 38 points and 17 rebounds. Wait till I tell my kids about this, those stats would be his career low". The bus ride back to Lilburn, Georgia was fun. We were truly going to defend our 2000 championship.
Then the send-off ceremony at school was cool. Mrs. Mason and the crew were out of control. Once again, we looked like celebrities as the whole school came out to bid us farewell to the Final Four in Macon, Georgia. The energy from our fans carried us through hard times. Last year our fans outnumbered the Warner Robbins fans, and this year was no different. Savannah brought the whole city to the game, led by their Cedric The Entertainer look-alike, but Berkmar's Red, White and Blue were all over the coliseum. Even Mr. Thees, a former Berkmar teacher who had retired and moved to South Carolina, made the trip to Macon. As the game clock ticked three, two, one, Pattman's near-steal, the missed shot, and the clock zeroed out, back-to-back became a reality. The partying, hugs, and praises were worth the blood, sweat, and tears we encountered during the season. We won our last high school basketball game, and we didn't want to let go of that feeling. The seniors on our team, Ervin, Pattman Jr., Johns, Borders, Williams, Ikpa and myself, breathed a collective sigh of relief. What we just accomplished was beyond just sucking it up. Ikpa played with tendinitis (Knee and ankle) almost all season long, Clark Williams injury in the Duluth game didn't completely heal, he missed only one day of practice ignoring doctor's recommendation to stay off of basketball for two weeks, Borders refused to acknowledge the pain in his jumping knee, Wayne Arnold continued to fall on his injured shooting wrist, and James Pattman Jr., also banged up, admitted that he drew strength from seeing everyone on the team sucking it up. That was teamwork all the way! We just simply refused to lose. The rings are going to be the best part and I am glad that Collin Rader, the senior manager will get one this year. Only at Berkmar! I will miss the familiar pre game chaos in the locker room, all the C-walking and chants before games, the pre and post game prayers, Coach B's Tums and his famous quotes, etc. The wrestling matches and the snowballs in Delaware were unforgettable. Don't forget Assistant Coach Earle Graham. You couldn't pay his colleagues, Luke Rapley and Travis Young, to room with him on road trips. Coach Graham has more gas than OPEC.
2001 YearBook Votes
Most Athletic: Adrien Borders and Kristen White (Lady Patriot)
Most All Around: Kinyumba Muttakabir (2000 Berkmar Patriot)
The Wittiest: Robin Nelson
Senior Superlatives: Adrien Borders, Shawn Ikpa, Kinyumba Muttakabir (2000 Berkmar Patriot), Robin Nelson, and Kristen White (Lady Patriot)
Most Likely to Succeed: Shawn Ikpa