03/14/09 — Cherry earns coach of the year honors

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Cherry earns coach of the year honors

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on March 14, 2009 11:32 PM

Winning is the common tie during Chris Cherry's coaching career. But he had to battle the odds this season.

A soft-spoken floor general who constantly brims with enthusiasm, Cherry inherited an injury-plagued roster and churned out 19 wins in his debut campaign at Goldsboro High School.

The Cougars won the Eastern Plains 2-A Conference regular-season championship and advanced to the semifinals of the Sectional No. 3 playoffs.

For his on-court leadership, Cherry is the 2008-09 News-Argus All-Area boys basketball coach of the year.

"I have had a lot of great players. They deserve all the credit," said a modest Cherry, who also received EPC coach of the year award. "It takes kids that want to win and want to play hard for a team to be successful."

Obstacles nearly hindered that success.

Goldsboro's football team advanced to the eastern 2-A (small-school) semifinals and several players missed basketball practice. Not long after those players traded in cleats for sneakers, the Cougars suffered another setback.

Keovanta McDuffie suffered a season-ending, ACL injury.

Cherry's team started the season 0-3.

"The football team did great things and we were happy for them," said Cherry. "But that meant we had to battle for the first few games with guys in and out of the lineup."

Once the Cougars developed some team chemistry, they reeled off 14 victories in their next 16 outings. Opportunistic offense and strong interior defense spearheaded the turnaround.

"I really believe that you can overload kids on the basketball court," said Cherry. "I don't try to teach a huge number of set plays because I think it makes a team robotic. The last thing a coach wants is for his players to look lost once a set breaks down.

"I teach kids to play, not how to memorize plays."

Opponents struggled to counter the Cougars' fast-paced offense. Goldsboro finished 8-2 against EPC opposition and lost to rival North Lenoir in the tournament championship game.

Seniors Tyrelle Jackson and Donald Lewis flourished as the Cougars raced into the playoffs, but Pittsboro Northwood ended the team's postseason run in second-round action of the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs.

Goldsboro averaged 71 points a game.

"I would really like for that number to be even higher," said Cherry. "I would love to score 80-85 points per game. I tell the guys at practice, 'If you sell out on the defensive end, I will let you let you play a little on offense'."

The Cougars will join the Carolina 1-A Conference next fall due to the latest NCHSAA realignment. With a strong nucleus of players expected to return, Cherry anticipates another playoff berth.

"My goal for my team every year is to make the regionals," said Cherry. "I don't care if it's 1-A, 2-A or 5-A, that is where we want to be. It's going to be an interesting transition because there is some really good basketball played at the 1-A level.

"We have to commit to getting better every day and stay focused on working hard over the summer."