It had been more than a month since the Providence Day boys basketball team had lost when coach Brian Field walked into the locker room following their 12th straight victory at Cannon School on Feb. 4.
The Chargers had won in rather easy fashion, beating the Cougars 83-41 in a game in which 10 different Chargers scored and eight players had eight or more points.
But when Field walked in to address the team, he saw his players all huddled together pestering the scorekeeper.
“I don’t like that,” he said. “My initial reaction was ‘Oh my gosh, my guys are all trying to see how many points they had and I don’t like them to do that.’”
Thinking about what he was going to say, Field realized his team was looking at the stat sheet, but for a different reason.
“They were actually checking Cannon’s stats to see how many the (guy they were guarding) had scored and comparing defensive stats,” Field said. “I was like ‘Man, that’s actually really good. And if this is where we’re at this point in the season, we have a chance to make a run.’”
And the Chargers certainly have at the very least a chance to be state title contenders, with a collection of steady guards like Davidson commit Jordan Watkins and key reserves Julius Felder and Deonte Henderson.
Throw in sophomore posts Grant Williams, Isaac Johnson and Josh Howard and this Charger team is as loaded as any in the city – and they’ve proved it with wins over public-school powers Hough, Independence and Georgia heavyweight St. Francis all while going undefeated in conference and winning their second consecutive Charlotte Independent Schools Athletic Association title.
But the key to just how good this Chargers’ team can be may rest in the capable hands of junior point guard Chaz Raye, the leader and distributor of the conference’s best offense, and senior wing Devin Mills, who is as steady and consistent a player as they have and their best on-ball defender.
One of the things that separates Mills and Raye from some of their teammates is they’ve seen the opposite end of Providence’s Day’s recent success.
The Chargers shot more than 70 percent from the field on Feb. 7 in beating conference rival Charlotte Latin by 30 points. But just two years ago – when Raye was a freshman and Mills a sophomore – the Chargers were throttled on the same court by the Hawks, falling by 30 points.
“We learned from it and it taught us how to fight,” Mills said of the 2011-12 season, when they went 13-17. “When we’re down, we’re fighting to get back in it, but even when we’re up, we want to keep our foot on the pedal and not let off.
“We went from a pretty negative season to coming back and getting to the semi-finals of the state (last year). Now we’re keeping it going and it feels really good. Hopefully we can get to the championship and get our rings this year.”
And judging from the Chargers’ 22-3 record through Feb. 23, this team has a different feel to it even from last year’s 25-win season. It’s obvious in the way they play on the court together.
“Most of us have been friends since middle school,” Raye said. “We’ve become friends and have been around each other for a long time, so when we play we go out there and have fun.
“We all like each other. We’re more than just teammates – we’re brothers and we consider each other family.”
That’s why the kind of bantering they were doing following the win over Cannon so impresses Field and his coaching staff.
“Our attitude isn’t that when the ball goes through the net I get my points, it’s we get our points and nobody is concerned who does it,” Field said. “But what I’ve been most proud of, and the reason why I think we’re having so much success – especially late in the year – is because we’re absolutely sharing the basketball. They don’t care who our leading scorer is, nobody’s caught up in their points.”
To his point the Chargers have had six different players lead the team in scoring this season, including Watkins, who averages 15.5 points per game; Williams (nearly 13 points and seven rebounds); and Howard (10 points per game) who has shot a remarkable 70 percent and upped his scoring to 14 points in conference games, where the Chargers are winning by an average of 23 points.
But, like their dominating win over Charlotte Latin perfectly illustrates, this team can only go as far as Mills and Raye can take it.
Raye runs the offense to perfection and averages 6.5 points per game, but it’s often a big 3-pointer or run out lay-up that ignites Charger runs and that was the case against Latin, where he had 17 points on a number of uncontested breakout layups.
“He shoots it well and likes to run, but he’s one of those guys that can hurt you in so many ways,” Field said. “He can have zero points but have a huge impact on the game, but he can also go out and drop 21 (points) like he did (against Charlotte Catholic in an overtime win on Feb. 1).
“He’s a quiet leader, but he’s so respected by his teammates. He’s one of those guys that you always know what you’re going to get. In three years with him as our starter, never once did I feel like he wasn’t giving us 100 percent effort. The kid averages a turnover per game playing at a torrid pace where we’re averaging somewhere around 70 possessions a game and that’s remarkable.”
The same can be said for Mills, who takes as much pride in his defense as he does on the offensive end, where he averages seven points and four rebounds per game.
“Devin’s a high-energy guy,” Field said. “He’s a really good on-the-ball defender, he’s long, he has size and his wingspan is really good. He moves his feet laterally and he does anything I ask of him. He’s a consistent player who we can always count on.”
Despite a wealth of individual talent, when the playoffs begin on Feb. 20 – the Chargers will undoubtedly have a first-round bye and probably be one of the top seeds – they’ll be ready because they’re united as one group.
“I know that if we want to win, then everybody can’t have the ball every possession or be the man every game, you have to learn how to play as a team and we’ve done that so well this season,” Raye said. “We can’t get too high because as soon as you start being complacent that’s when it falls apart, so we’re going to keep working together.”
And it’s that togetherness which has Field believing this team is truly special.
“A lot of times when you have a lot of talented players on your team, you have to deal with a lot of egos and attitudes and we de have that,” he said. “They’re like brothers; they’re best friends and it allows us to come in (as coaches) and just teach basketball. The guys are locked in on it and I’m glad we’re experiencing