Midtown: Sports

Ravens persevered through adversity for first title

Each player on Ravenscroft’s boys’ basketball team had visualized what the scene would look like if the team won its second state title in school history. The Ravens knew they were going to host the N.C. Independent School Athletic Association championships on their campus.

Plus, with eight seniors on the team, the motivation to win the championship on its home court for that group was strong throughout the season. Kevin Billerman, the Ravens’ coach the last 12 years, had never led a team to the state title.

The Ravens realized their dreams Saturday afternoon when they won the NCISAA 3A title with a 64-52 victory over Greensboro Day School.

And as if scripted for the finale of a sports-themed Hollywood crowd-pleaser, the Ravens (31-3, a school record for wins) were mobbed on the court by parents, students and fans.

“I told them they had a chance to be special, and I think they took it to heart,” Billerman said Sunday. “To have it at Ravenscroft was a great ending to a great season.”

And the celebration will continue.

Since Ravenscroft hosted the tournament all day Saturday, the team had to delay basketball’s post-championship ritual. Billerman led his team on the court one more time – at 8 a.m. Monday – to cut down the nets.

Billerman also understands this is another chance for him to reiterate a message he gave the Ravens earlier this year.

At 6 a.m. preseason workouts, Billerman told his players he wanted them to be tough, to let their hard work be the reason they achieved their ultimate goal. Anton Gill, a junior guard, led his teammates in building their work ethic. Gill, who averaged 16 points a game, never jogged in practice and took extra shots to become better.

“I could tell he got better and he was here before practice every morning to shoot,” forward Isaac Copeland said of Gill earlier this season. “After time, you could begin to notice him pushing other guards around and being more physical.”

Billerman said the same went for Madison Jones, a senior point guard. As a freshman, Jones was an undersized player who struggled on defense.

In the win over Greensboro Day, Jones led the Ravens with 22 points, all while maintaining his defensive intensity throughout the fourth quarter while playing with four fouls.

“He became one of the best defensive guards for us,” Billerman said of Jones. “Our teams have transitioned from the ‘soft’ label to being disciplined and physical on defense.”

The statistics back up Billerman. According to MaxPreps.com, Ravenscroft had to beat four of the top seven schools – in the entire state, no matter the level of public or private schools – in order to be champions.

Gill knows the Ravens won the title because of Billerman’s continuous desire to make the team better.

“I think Coach Billerman has helped us recognize the game and to play off the weaknesses of your opponent,” Gill said earlier this year. “We’re definitely thinking the game more than we were before.”

When the Ravens met Monday inside their gym for the final time, Billerman pointed to one of the walls.

“I’ll talk about the championship banner on the wall and how proud they should be of that,” Billerman said. “This is a life-altering event that they will remember for the rest of their lives.”