From the moment a basketball player slips on the purple jersey at Miller Grove, the concept is drummed into his head. Team.
Devon Provost first got a taste of that concept coming up from the junior varsity to the varsity as a sophomore.
“You hear about it in practice, before games, during games,” said Provost, a 6-foot-3 senior guard. “The coaches and players always talk about it.”
For an outsider, it may be easy to label Tony Parker as the superstar for the Wolverines.
After all, the 6-foot-8 junior has more than two dozen scholarship offers, including Duke, Georgetown, Ohio State, Georgia and Georgia Tech. Parker leads the county in rebounding and is one of the top scorers in DeKalb for a team that has won two straight Class AAAA state titles. He has a 27-rebound game to his credit this year and was named MVP of a holiday tournament.
But the team concept has been in place since coach Sharman White started the program when the school opened in 2005. The system is working as the Wolverines were 14-0 before their Jan. 19 game against Dunwoody and ranked in the top four nationally in three different high school basketball polls—PrepNation (No. 2), ESPN (No. 4) and USA Today (No. 4).
The Wolverines have beaten teams from five other states and have wins against former national No. 1 Milton (a Class AAAAA team from Alpharetta), and Columbia, the defending Class AAA champions.
“Tony is the engine that drives us but we wouldn’t be where we are without everyone else on the team,” White said. “This came from working on the team as a whole and developing a good work ethic. My teams have always been like that.”
It starts with character development, which White said begins at home with every player.
“These are high-character kids and they’re taught to stay humble and stay hungry,” he said. “It makes it a lot easier to establish the concept I’m trying to get across.”
In addition to Parker, White has three seniors who have the potential to land college basketball scholarships. Provost and point guard Thomas Marshall form one of the top backcourts in the state. Forward Henry Brooks, 6-8, is a versatile player who has several scholarship offers from across the country, including Georgetown, Harvard, Maryland, Northwestern and Oregon State.
“Nobody has the spotlight,” Brooks said. “You pick up the concept of wanting to win instead of worrying about yourself. It’s different this year. We’re all one. We all revolve around each other. If a teammate is down, I know exactly what is going on inside his head.”
Said Marshall: “There’s no individual better than everyone else. We all feel like we need each other to be successful and we’re like a family. Everybody knows Tony but we know he’s not our only weapon.”
In addition to focusing on team first, White makes sure his players are accountable on and off the floor, and that the message filters down to the younger players.
“I’ll check in on JV practice and they’ll be messing around,” Brooks said. “I’ll let them know what it is and that they can’t be doing that.”
It’s a message Brooks and the other seniors also picked up along the way from former players including Mfon Udofia, who now starts at Georgia Tech, and Donte Williams, a standout last season who is a freshman at Georgia.
“Being on same team with Mfon was a great learning experience,” Marshall said. “When the game got close he took control.”
Miller Grove has never had a losing season and has not had more than six losses in a season since the first varsity team went 19-10 in 2006. Six players have earned scholarships since the program began.
“The kids see what hard work looks like,” White said. “There’s a list of kids that show kids after them the way. Hard work dedication and sacrifice has become the standard.”
Although he has another year left at Miller Grove, Parker also does his part to set an example for the players behind him.
“We’re not successful without every guy in the purple jerseys,” Parker said. “We’ve tried to set an example. We have the community behind us. We have to have character at all times, even if we’re just going to Wal-mart to buy chips. We want to show people we’re good young men and more than just basketball players.”