Berry leads young Admirals in first year

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Danville girls basketball has a new look this season.

The Admirals are led by first-year head coach Clifford Berry, and he said that he has two big goals this season: Get up and down the floor and develop youth.

In Tuesday’s 73-53 victory over Pulaski County, Berry started a junior, three freshmen and a seventh-grader. The Admirals are young after graduating five seniors — including three starters — but return one of the top 12th Region players in junior Ivy Turner.

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As for getting up and down the court, the Ads (2-2) have scored more than 70 points twice in four games this season. Last year, Danville passed the 70-point mark four times. In 2015-16, Danville had just one game with more than 70 points.

“That’s the style that I like to play,” Berry said. “It takes a lot of pressure off, especially of young players. They don’t have to learn a lot of plays. It’s just secondary break and run. Get in a lane, fill it and put the ball in the basket. Then they can get themselves going. Early in the game, they had that tempo going and had it figured out.

“When they tire out, that’s something we’re working on. Conditioning. That’s something we’re working on, we want to play that way the entire season. But that’s our style: Play good, tough defense and get up and down the floor.”

A fast-pace helps Berry and his coaching staff evaluate the young players. More possessions means more opportunities for each player. Against Pulaski, 12 different players saw the court and 11 of them scored.

“We’re starting to figure out the young ones that can play,” Berry said. “Like we told them, ‘the only way you’re going to get better is to get into the game and play.’ I knew this would be a game where Pulaski is kind of young, they’re still trying to figure out their season, I knew this would be a chance for my young girls to get in there and play a little more.”

Turner led the way with 19 points, but freshman Jenna Akers wasn’t far behind with 15 points.

“Jenna Akers is just amazing us more and more every game,” Berry said. “She had 15 tonight and just played well, played within herself. I don’t think she forced any shots. She got to the basket and she made smart plays. That’s really what we’re looking to do: Just get games where we can develop the youth and get a chance to play and get better.”

Danville has two sets of twins — Jenna and Lara Akers are both freshmen, Carolina and Nancy Gonzalez are both sophomores — and all four are guards.

“You see we’re loaded with guards. We have to make sure we can use them in the best way possible,” Berry said. “Jenna is showing that she can be a pretty good rebounder at the guard position is helping out a lot.”

Having so many guards gives Turner plenty of breaks off of the ball. She was the primary ballhandler last season, scoring 19.6 points per game.

She’ll still take over when needed, but freshman Ahyana Burnett has also handled point guard duties starting this season.

“I think, right now, it’s smart for us to mix it up a bit and give Ahyana Burnett on the ball,” Berry said. “That takes some of the pressure off of Ivy. She doesn’t feel like she has to come down and create a shot or create for somebody else. We���ve kind of taken her off the ball some and let Ahyana bring the ball up. If there’s a situation where we’re under a lot of pressure, we’re getting it in her hands. But it’s about developing Ahyana as a point guard right now to where Ivy doesn’t have to do all the work.”

Pulaski County started Tuesday’s game in zone, and having different threats on offense aside from Turner helped the Admirals to a 36-25 lead at halftime.

“I preach to them every night: If we only have one player in double figures, we’re going to get beat,” Berry said. “We can’t win that way. Up at Henry Clay, (Turner) scored 36 and we got beat by 10. That’s how it’ll go. But if we have nights like tonight, we’ve got people close to double figures, we’ll be able to compete. I’m constantly beating that over their head, we can’t compete with just one player scoring all of our points. You started to see it a little bit more tonight. It’s just a matter of them gaining some confidence.”

Danville has two seniors on the team that have helped Berry in his transition to head coach: Kirby Harrison-Alcorn and Kassidy Lanigan.

“I look at Kirby as the consummate leader,” Berry said. “She doesn’t have to start, she doesn’t have to be in there every minute, but she’s always engaged. She’s always keeping the girls into it. Early in the season, she was the one getting everyone motivated and getting everyone into the gym to work.

“Like I told her, if she is serious about this team and she wants to finish on a good note, she has the opportunity. She’s going to get a lot of minutes this year and I look for her to show the younger girls how to play. Kirby and Ivy are really the only ones that have varsity experience. So I look for Kirby to be that vocal leader and pick them up.”

Lanigan played just 16 games last season and scored two points in those games. But Berry said she can bring much-needed size to the lineup when called upon.

“Kassidy hasn’t played a lot at all, and we’re working with her skill-wise every single day,” Berry said. “As soon as she starts to develop more of what she did tonight, rebounding the ball and keeping the ball up high, putting the ball in the basket, that’s the piece that we need. That’s what we’re missing. Somebody in the middle that can help us on the boards. If she plays more like that, we’ll be fine.”

As a first-year coach, Berry also said that their attitude toward his coaching has given him confidence.

“I always preach to them, ‘don’t put more pressure on yourself,’” Berry said. “There’s a lot going on already. We’re going to get better and we’re going to work hard all year. I really appreciate Kirby and Kassidy because they came into a situation, new coach, I could’ve sat them on the bench and moved on, but they said that they were willing to play whatever role I asked and they’ve had a great attitude.”

Berry’s attitude: Follow Mercer County’s model.

The Titans are defending state champions, like to get up and down the court, and also started youth early on.

“That’s my model. Coach (Chris) Souder was a coach here when I was in high school, we have conversations every once in awhile,” Berry said. “They keep telling me, ‘you’re doing the right thing.’ It’s going to be tough, first year. I’m a greedy kind of guy, I want to win them all. But I know it’s tough, we’re going to take our lumps. But I’m cool with that because I’m looking to the future. I want another one of those banners up there. I think we can get it. We’ve got a great group of young girls.”


Danville girls basketball roster


Kirby Harrison-Alcorn Sr.

Kassidy Lanigan Sr.

Ivy Turner Jr.

Amber Wheat Jr.

Nautika McPherson Jr.

Carolina Gonzalez So.

Nancy Gonzalez So.

Tailyn Guest So.

Madison Terrell Fr.

Ahyana Burnett Fr.

Haley Price Fr.

Lara Akers Fr.

Jenna Akers Fr.

Tyliah Bradshaw 8th

Desiree Tandy 7th