20 questions with Neill Berry

Gamecock Anthem sat down with South Carolina assistant Neill Berry to ask him a series of questions about himself and the state of the Gamecocks' basketball program. In this exclusive three-part series the South Carolina basketball staff gives open and honest insight.

Where are you from?
Originally from Jackson, Miss. Born and raised. I actually moved all over Mississippi, but I started in Jackson.

What high school and colleges did you attend?
I went Madison-Ridgeland Academy, and I played basketball at Southeastern Louisiana.

Do you have any siblings?
I do. I have one little sister. Her name is Hope.

What's your favorite food?
I'd probably have to say steak. I love a good steak. I don't have a favorite restaurant in Columbia or anything, but when I go out, I like steak. And my wife makes a pretty good shrimp pasta that I like.

What's the greatest basketball moment that you've ever seen?
It was the year when Ty Rogers hit the 3-pointer to beat Drake in the NCAA tournament. We were up by about 16, and they made an amazing comeback. We were actually down in overtime, but he stepped up and buried it. In college, we played Oklahoma State in the tournament. It wasn't much, but where we were as a program when I was freshman, it was amazing to get the NCAA tournament in my senior year. And also when we won at Rupp. Zam Fredrick made some shots, and also, Devan (Downey) was hot. We were down, but we were able to come up with the win. It was fun.

What's it like working for coach Horn?
I love it. He's the only coach I've worked for, and it's been like a pure blessing. When I graduated, I was able to work with him as a graduate assistant, and I love it. It's been about seven years now. He's so loyal and hard working. He's very family oriented. It's been a blessing. I know a lot of people don't really get to know him because of the position he's in, but he's a phenomenal man. It's just really great working with him.

What has it been like to go from Western Kentucky to South Carolina with coach Horn?
For me, growing up in the South and going to school in Louisiana, I always dreamt about the SEC. So it was a dream come true. I actually had to take a lesser job coming to South Carolina that took me off the road. But I did what I had to do to work at South Carolina. We've had some ups and downs, but more ups. We've had some big wins. I think with building the program, the foundation has been laid. We're definitely proud of our guys, and there's nothing like being in the SEC.

You went from intern to assistant coach, can you put that path into perspective?
It was a blessing. As an intern for coach, you get to do a lot of different things. You get to develop a lot of relationships with the players. It was great for me developmental wise, and we got to think outside the box dealing with a lot of different things. We got to really develop a rapport with the players, and I still keep in touch with them. It gave me a lot of opportunity to get on the road and start with recruiting. It's helped me reach my dream of coaching.

What's your favorite moment as a coach?
I think, as a coach, the most important thing is the relationships you build with the players. Watching them grow from 18-year-old freshmen into men. Watching them go through challenges in life and excel and grow into men. Nothing is better than that. Helping them get better on the court is great, no doubt, but helping them understand responsibility and becoming a man is far more rewarding than anything we do on the court.

How did the offseason and summer-evaluation period change after the birth of your son?
It was the best thing ever. You hear so many stories from people about how it's going to change your life, but it's the best thing that's ever happened to me. It just gives me a balance in life. I've been married, but having a child is just different. We still go out and recruit, but calling home late at night — even though he's only four months — and hearing him make noise just really gives me a balance.

What's your take on the direction of the program?
We're on the way up, and there's no doubt. The kids in our program are phenomenal. The kids believe in what we believe in. We know that you have to go through the tough times to go up. The tough times have brought us closer as a family. We look forward to getting out there Oct. 14 to start practicing everyday leading up to the first game Nov. 11 against Western Carolina.

What are some things the team is trying to accomplish to be more successful?
The biggest thing that we're trying to do with these guys is just focus on today and not get caught up in the past — or tomorrow or next week or next month — and just enjoy the process. Don't get caught up in it, and just take care of today because tomorrow's not promised. Let's just get better today, one day at a time. That's the biggest message we've been passing on.

What is a realistic expectation for this coming year?
Who knows? We don't really talk about expectations and stuff like that. The biggest thing is working on getting better today. I know that's boring, but that's what we want. We just want to come out and get better today. If we have a goal, that's it, and everything else will take care of its self.

How is the team progressing thus far?
We're very excited about it. We had six freshmen last year, and the best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores. There's limitations with the time we can spend with them right now — we're only allowed two hours with them a week — but if we can focus on today and get better, we can do a lot. We have a lot of guys that can do a lot on the court, and we have some tough kids that think they are pretty good, so that's a good thing to have. So, we're excited.

How do you prepare a team that's so young for the rigors of the SEC?
I think it's just going back and focusing on today. If you think about this team and that team, you get caught up on the wrong thing. So let's just go back and work on today. If you don't, you won't get better. We know it's a tough league. We think it's the best in the country, and there's no doubt about that. We like what we have, and we just want to stay focused. We have a bunch of guys who are mentally tough, and they think they are good and believe in their selves and each other, and that's what's important. We have some veterans in Lakeem Jackson and Malik Cooke, and they do a phenomenal job of leading the other guys. And those freshmen are now sophomores that had to play a lot of minutes last year, so there's nothing they haven't seen yet.

What do the newcomers bring to the table for the team?
Obviously, Damien Leonard is known for a guy that can make shots at a high level. That helps. That's an area that we needed. And he has that mentality to think that every shot he takes is going in, and that's a good thing. We need that. When he gets on the court, he thinks he's one of the best players and definitely the best shooter. That's the type of confidence that'll help us succeed.

Anthony Gill, he's phenomenal kid. He's a matchup nightmare. He can do it all. He can shoot it, he can pass it. He's extremely strong for a freshman. He's up to about 240. He has the versatility to do whatever. AG is going to add a lot to our team. We're very excited to have him. If you get to know him, you'll love him. He's always got a smile on his face, and he goes to work every day.

Brenton Williams, He's a combo guard. He's a JUCO guy that wasn't as highly touted as the other two, but he can shoot it too. Athletically, he's about as athletic as you can get. He's about 5-foot-10 with long arms, and if you look at his high school and JUCO stats, you can see that he can score — just score, score and score. Some guys can rebound and rebound, but man, he can just score, and he can handle some point for us too.

If you look at what these guys did over the years against highly rated guys in high school that were supposedly "the best" in the country, they produced. And they think they are good, and that helps.

The team didn't do as well last season as you guys would've hoped, how do you bounce back?
It goes with our home theme of "today." This is a different team, and we've learned. We've gone through tough times, and we just have to get better. I think the returning guys have learned from how the season ended last year. And I think we'll be ready, but we've just got to focus on today.

You guys play the top three teams in the country (North Carolina, Ohio State and Kentucky twice), who's responsible for that? And what's the thinking there?
It's a scheduling philosophy for us. It's not just one person responsible for that. We want to play the best. We believe it's the best conference, so we want to prepare for that. Every team in our conference is good, so we want to play the best. That's what coach said he was going to do when he got here. Having Ohio State come in, that gets us on TV — ESPN, CBS. That's good for the whole program. We're not worried about who's on the other side; we're going to lace'em up and get out there.

Which player on this team do you think most resembles you?
I don't know if any of them do. I was very limited offensively. My role on my college team was to guard and make the next pass. So, I don't know if anyone really resembles me. I took pride in being a tough player, and I took pride in being a great defender. I don't know. Somewhat Lakeem Jackson. He takes pride defensively. Even his freshman year he took on the likes of John wall, Chandler Parsons, Jeff Taylor. He can run and jump a little bit better than me though.

It's no secret that Bruce Ellington is playing football this year as well as basketball, if there was one football player you could bring over to basketball, who would it be?
Brandon Shell was a pretty good high school player, but maybe (Jadeveon) Clowney or (Melvin) Ingram. If they walk out the locker room in a jersey, they'd probably scare some folks. Alshon (Jeffery) was pretty good too, but if Clowney walked out, I think the other team would have to wonder what to do. He'd definitely look good rolling out in a jersey.

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