The old adage goes that you can’t judge a book by its cover, and that’s certainly the case for this year’s Covenant Day boys basketball team.
If you just looked at their recordit would appear that the Lions have struggled this season, going 8-13 overall and 4-6 in the Metrolina Athletic Conference. But to take only the end results of their season would be overlooking how far they’ve progressed this year.
Covenant Day graduated nine seniors from their team that went 11-18 and finished sixth in the MAC last year. In addition, they brought back just three players with any varsity experience and had to replace each of the five starters from last season.
If all of those obstacles weren’t hard enough to overcome, the Lions have gone large stretches of the year with three of the new starters missing significant time with injuries, illnesses or, in some cases, both.
While various players have missed games, the two mainstays in the Lions’ starting lineup – junior point guard Sean Bryant and senior forward Justus Melton – have carried the bulk of the workload and done so admirably.
“We heard it all season that we weren’t supposed to be any good and we’ve proven that to be wrong,” said Melton, a 6-foot-6 forward in his second season at Covenant Day after transfering from East Meck.
“We’ve had to persevere through some injuries and sickness and we’ve come together as a team. I can see that top to bottom the whole entire team has improved.”
Melton has been a big reason why, according to second-year coach Wade Tapp.
“He’s one of the most consistent players that I’ve ever coached and he handles adversity really well,” Tapp said. “He doesn’t need to get hyped up to play and he doesn’t get down when things aren’t going well. That’s really the mark of a true leader, when you can make other players better regardless of how talented they are and that’s what he does.”
Melton has utilized his wide array of skills this season and is having a breakout year. He leads the Lions in points (21.3 points per game), rebounds (12.9), offensive rebounds (five), assists (three), steals (2.8) and blocks (1.6) and said he’s considering a number of schools that are recruiting him to continue his career next season. But for now he’s excited to lead the Lions as their most consistent player.
A former guard before he began growing in the eighth and ninth grades, Melton can handle the ball, shoot from the outside and is a tenacious rebounder – especially on the offensive glass – who makes more than half of his shots this season.
“He does a little bit of everything,” Tapp said. “He’s our secondary ball-handler and the key to us handling pressure. He’s our best rebounder by far and he’s an exceptional offensive rebounder. That’s probably one of the areas he helps us the most. Even if he doesn’t get the rebound he keeps a lot of basketballs alive.
“The ability to get the offensive rebound and take off and lead the break has been huge for us and it generates a lot of points through him.”
With Melton controlling the inside, Bryant, a junior who transferred from Butler where he played JV and varsity last season, has adapted to running the point and has flourished in his new role after moving from the off-guard position.
“Sean is naturally a (shooting guard),” Tapp said. “He’s a very skilled player and he’s our best all-around basketball player – he’s a great shooter, a good passer and is our best on-the-ball defender.
“He’s had to adjust in terms of how to run a team. He’s consistently scored, but he’s had to learn how to get a team consistently in an offense and he’s gotten better and better at that as the season has wore on.”
Bryant has adjusted well, averaging 16.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists in his first season running the Lions’ offense.
“It’s been different coming to Covenant Day and it’s been an adjustment, but it’s a good one,” Bryant said. “They depend on me and (Justus) to carry the load and I think we’re both fine with that and have done a good job.
“They put a lot of responsibilities on me and I’ve liked showing what I can do. I’m not the tallest guy on the court so I have to use some floaters in the lane and hit my shots when they come. I try to be as smart as I can with the basketball.”
Even with the high-scoring duo leading the way, the Lions have been on a bit of a free fall of late, dropping six of seven – but once again, looks can be deceiving.
For the first time in a number of weeks, the Lions had their starting lineup intact and healthy in their 77-71 win over Westminster Community Charter on Feb. 3. Melton led the way with 27 points and Bryant added 12, but the contributions of Garrett Mosely (17 points), Chase Dixon (10) and Jack Shannahan (seven) made the difference,
With that, Melton said they’re hoping to make a run in the conference, where they sit fifth (through Feb. 4) – just one-half game out of fourth place.
“I want to see us continue to improve and get the fourth seed in the conference so we can get a home playoff game,” Melton said. “But I think we’ve improved so much this year and I think the young people are getting great experience that will help this program and help us when we can get everyone back.”
Despite how the season winds up and how far the Lions can go in their conference tournament, Bryant said this year has been a huge success in his eyes.
“We had so many critics and even kids in the school saying we weren’t going to do very well with all that we lost and everything,” Bryant said. “But looking back at what we’ve done, we played at a very high level, especially being so young, so that’s what I’m proud of.
“From the beginning of the season to now, we’ve improved tremendously. We may not have as much talent on our team as some of the teams that we play but we’ve worked really hard, we push through and we go 100 percent at every game and at every practice and that’s something to be really proud of.”
And Bryant knows the future is bright, too, as Melton is one of just three seniors who will leave after the season. So this year is setting the groundwork for what’s to come as the Lions will return nearly intact but with added experience and confidence.
“It’s important for us to go 100 percent in every practice and in every game because we know the younger guys are looking up to us,” Melton said. “These guys are getting the experience now that’s going to help us continue to grow the program and keep getting better and better.
“I’m happy to be a part of it and do what I can.”
Bryant agreed: “I think that this year is good because all of our freshmen and sophomores are getting experience and gaining confidence. By the time these guys get to be upperclassmen, their skills and confidence will be high. That’s the advantage we have at Covenant Day, this year is going to make us better next year and the next couple of years.”