Meeks Takes The Lead

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Winning a championship is hard. Coaches and players will tell you, however, that defending and repeating is even harder.

That's why Kennedy Meeks, the Most Valuable Player of the 2011 4-A state championship game, thinks West Charlotte's biggest obstacle to winning another title is that entity that Allen Iverson loathed.

"Practice," Meeks said succinctly. "In practice, if we don't challenge each other, then during the games we're going to be sloppy and confused. We can't win that way."

The Lions return 13 players from last year's team that beat Raleigh Millbrook, 78-69, in the title game, and enter the season on a 14-game winning streak. That familiarity and cohesion gave them a running start when schools across the state began practicing on Oct. 31.

West Charlotte head coach Baronton Terry said some of the normal pitfalls of teams defending a title - complacency, satisfaction and lack of desire - likely won't plague his squad.

"The one thing that was really rewarding about last year, I have some kids that played as ninth graders and are seniors now," he said. "They were here when we lost in the game before the state championship and were here for the state championship. We've got some kids that have been there before, so I'm not worried about those things."

Terry pointed to Meeks as one of the team's leaders and said his leadership is invaluable.

"I'm not on the court, so he's the coach out there," explained Terry. "When they're in the locker room and even away from school, he's like the coach. That's a tremendous help to our program."

Meeks added with a laugh, "I'm like the best teammate ever. You saw me out there encouraging guys and telling them to keep going. It's like that every day."

On a team heavy with experienced upperclassmen, Meeks said he filled the leadership void created two years ago when former Wake Forest guard J.T. Terrell graduated.

During this past summer, Meeks honed his leadership skills playing with the Team United 16U squad.

"AAU is more of a show, but high school ball is like a business," he said. "I like high school much better, because in AAU everyone is just out for themselves. In high school, it's about family. As a leader, that's something I've tried to tell my teammates about."

On the court, Terry said he expects Meeks to pick up where he left off - a 12-point, 19-rebound performance in the state title game.

"He's gotten a lot stronger and his footwork has gotten better," Terry said. "We just expect him to play a lot better with his back to the basket."

Meeks said rebounding is his best skill and that he doesn't need a specific number of shots or touches in the paint to help his team

"I'm a good rebounder," he said. "I don't have to score points. I want to average 15 or more rebounds per game this season.

The Lions expect most of that improvement to come from Meeks' new-found ability to stay on the floor for more sustained periods. During the summer, Meeks dedicated himself to improving his endurance.

"He's lost some weight, about 10 or 15 pounds, and it's going to help him," said Terry. "He's able to run two miles non-stop now. He's gotten a lot stronger in the weight room and cut down on some of the fat, but he still has a ways to go as far as conditioning."

Terry, who is the third West Charlotte coach to win a state title, along with Meeks' mother, aunt and immediate family will help the 6-foot-9, 275-pound center make his collegiate decision.

"I don't care one way or another where he goes," said Terry. "I take the role of just helping him become a man and preparing him for the challenges that await in college. I think he's going to have a chance to become big time, if he works on his time management and taking care of his body."

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