By Bruce Campbell, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Ben Berry’s ambition is to play professional basketball someday — either overseas or even in the National Basketball Association.
Whether those dreams are realized, the Northern Oklahoma College Enid sophomore does have a different appreciation of the game after sitting out last season with a broken foot.
“I definitely appreciate it more,’’ said Berry, who will be leading the Jets against Redlands Community College in the second half of a 6 p.m. doubleheader at the Mabee Center tonight.
“Last year was horrible for me. It was painful to sit and watch the team play. Even in the games that we won, I was wishing I was out there with them ... even more so in the games that we lost.’’
Berry, the Sooner Athletic Conference freshman of the year in 2012 at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, had transferred to NOC Enid hoping to be the last piece of a national tournament team. He could have gone to a four-year school and have three years of eligibility, but instead he chose to return to NOC Enid as a redshirt sophomore.
“I wanted to widen my options and get more looks, hopefully, from some bigger programs,’’ Berry said. “I’m definitely shooting for Division I.’’
He is encouraged by recent Jet stars Joe Smith (Wichita State), Wayne Runnels (Creighton) and Connor Brooks (Stephen F. Austin),, who have found their way to Division I rosters.
Berry felt that last year, to recruiters, he was damaged goods because of the injury. He even had some doubts himself.
“You worry about coming back ... Would I still be able to play the way that I wanted to?’’ he said. “My foot was bothering me. I had never been injured before. You never know about these things.’’
Those doubts have gone away in a season in which he is averaging 15.5 points per game for the Jets, who are 11-4 overall and 2-3 in conference.
“Most of it is mental,’’ he said. “You just have to get your confidence back and believe in yourself. The ability didn’t go anywhere. It was just the way I was thinking. I was able to get back in motion.’’
Even last season, Berry was saying he wanted to come back because of Jets coach Greg Shamburg, who offered him a fresh start after an unhappy time at USAO.
“The reason I left USAO was a lack of will on the team,’’ he said. “The players didn’t want to win enough. Coach Shamburg promised me a structured program that would win games and work hard. That attracted me.’’
The Jets had six returning sophomores then. Their national tournament hopes fell just short in a 22-10 season that ended with a loss to Connors (54-50).
Berry was one of only four players to return from that team. Only one — guard Marquavius Williams — saw any measurable amount of playing time.
But Berry, who turns 21 next month, has found his niche with a freshmen dominated team.
“My goal is still the national tournament,’’ he said. “I think we have more talent than last year. We’re definitely more athletic. We’ve just got to keep playing together and keep growing.’’
That inexperience, Berry said, may have led to the Jets losing three conference games in December — all of which they led at some point in the second half.
“We made a couple of minor errors,’’ he said. “We have a lot of young guys on the team and I think they are getting it. It’s definitely early. We still have a lot of time left.’’
Berry’s maturity is valuable to the team, Shamburg said.
“He knows the ropes, especially going on the road,’’ Shamburg said. “He’s teaching the others they have to be prepared to play on the road.’’
“I have no problem taking a shot in the last couple of seconds,’’ Berry said. “I’m not nervous. You just don’t let the moment play you.’’
Berry has a give-and-take relationship with his coach.
“I definitely like the way he coaches,’’ he said. “We have disagreements about stuff and he has to get on me now and then, but he’s the boss. I know that, and he knows that, so we have a nice relationship.’’
He doesn’t see himself as the old man of the team.
“We don’t look at each other with age,’’ Berry said. “We look at each other as equals.’’
That brings some good intra-team competition. If freshman Jordan Evans is draining threes, Berry wants to do it too.
“There’s always something happening,’’ he said. “Someone is always trying to make a play. It makes me more competitive.’’
Berry is shooting 51.4 percent from three-point range and 57.6 percent from the field. He is averaging 7.1 rebounds per game.
“I really like to think that I can do a little bit of everything,’’ he said. “Lately, I’ve been shooting a lot of threes. I don’t know how coach thinks about that, but I’ve been making a lot of them. I feel I should be an all-around player instead of just being a three-point shooter or an insider shooter.’’
Berry enjoys all kinds of music, especially hip hop and rock-and-roll. He is studying social sciences. The only bad thing about classes beginning again is a 7:45 a.m. breakfast.
“That’s what gets me,’’ Berry said.
Redlands is 13-3 overall and 3-2 in conference after a 85-67 loss to Eastern on Thursday. Shamburg said the Cougars have had eligibility issues and “we’re not sure how it stands until they show up.’’
Redlands’ women are 8-7 overall and 2-3 in conference after a 94-76 loss to Eastern. NOC Enid is 10-6 and 2-3.
The Lady Jets are led by Breck Clark (19.6) and Rylie Swanson (14.8).
Both games will be broadcast by KCRC (1390 AM).