Coach Chris Berger “I’m not a basketball coach, I coach life.”
Charlotte Latin faced Durham Academy, the number one seed in the NCISAA 4A semifinals on Friday night. Known for being one of the premier high school basketball coaches in the Charlotte Metro area, Chris Berger’s teams have a reputation of playing fundamentally sound basketball, not to mention they are very poised and mature. In the 68-62 win over Durham Academy, Charlotte Latin had a chance to play for the NCISAA 4A state championship, their first since 2004. After the game, we had a chance to speak with coach Berger.
Phenom: What does this game mean to you?
Coach Berger: “I’m so thrilled for these seniors, they’ve worked so hard. Five of the six seniors have been with me since they were freshmen. It was a marathon and not a sprint. I couldn’t be happier for them to reach this milestone. It’s been since 2004 that the Hawks played for a state championship, under coach Falkner and I was on the staff and remember it. Doesn’t seem like 16 years ago, but thrilled! Absolutely thrilled to go home and see what we can do.”
Phenom: What was the goal coming into the season?
Coach Berger: “Honestly, every coach is optimistic, probably overly optimistic. I knew we had some great leadership, great returning players, and a Division One-point guard that we could work around, and guys that played their role and accepted it. So, I was really excited about this season. Our first goal was to win our conference. Cannon’s obviously dynamite and we finished second. We had to readjust our goals and say hey, why not? Let’s see if we can get into that last Saturday in February. So, we’re very excited.”
Phenom: Coming in, you’ve done more with less (on paper) than any other team
Coach Berger: “I don’t look at it to be honest with you. I really focus on our 13 young men and every single day is a journey. I’m not a basketball coach. I coach life and so we use basketball as a tool to do just that. I coach people and will probably get emotional, but these are great young men and they deserve this and we are very excited.”
Phenom: I was so impressed in how they believed in each other on the court. They were making seven, eight and even nine passes. They believed in the next guy to make the next play.
Coach Berger: “That’s important. You know it’s trust and love and we say it every day. We love each other, we going to go through a wall together, band of brothers, whatever you want to say. You cannot be a successful team without loving the guy next to you, and that goes with our coaching staff. Again, it comes down to love and trust and appreciate you noticing that.”
Charlotte Latin “readjusted” their goals and did indeed made it to the NCISAA 4A championship game. Playing before a sold-out crowd, Latin trailed 71-69 with less than 10 seconds remaining. Latin had one more chance to either win the game with a 3-pointer or tie it with a field goal. With five seconds on the clock, Latin took a 3-pointer that was on target, but fell just a tad short. They then collected the rebound for a final shot attempt, but it too was off the mark and Cannon escaped with the win. It was one of the most exciting and entertaining games we have seen in state championship play, but for coach Berger it was the journey that mattered most. You see, he was proud of his team and their accomplishments and nothing else seemed to matter. He was coaching young men and life skills. This game just happened to be tool in the game of life.
Photos courtesy of Charlotte Latin SID