Gregory Steps Up For Richard Bland
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Jan 21, 2014, 09:05
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
PETERSBURG — Lurking in the shadows of Richard Bland's two National Junior College Athletic Association's Player of the Week honorees is a 6-foot-8 forward who did not start to play organized basketball until his sophomore year in high school.
For as polished Tavon Mealy is in the low-blocks with his unique assortment of post-moves, including up-and-unders, pump-fakes and pivots, Richard Bland's Melvin Gregory scores and soars using more athleticism than technique. However, even with all the talent Gregory possesses, he stands in the background to the Statesmen's Micah Thomas — the team's leading scorer at 19.3 points per game — and Mealy's 17.2 points per game averages.
Yet, for the Statesmen to continue to have success in the coming weeks, the key will not be Mealy or Thomas' play, but Gregory's. The 6-foot-8 forward's importance to the team is highlighted in the wake of Avery Ugba's unavailability, leaving a hole in the middle of the Richard Bland front-court.
That hole has been taken over by the player who always liked the game of basketball, honing his craft on basketball courts in pick-up games at parks, and it's shown in his quiet determination on the court during a recent-four game span where he's recorded four consecutive double-doubles.
Gregory said it all comes down to the love he's had for the game since he first donned a uniform in high school
"I didn't really get into basketball until my 10th grade year, I just never looked back," Gregory explained. "The game's been good to me ... Everyone kept saying, 'You're 6-foot-8, why don't you try to play basketball?' I was good at it, too. I played, just never organized."
And perhaps it's because he started playing organized basketball late in his life that he's able to do things on the court others can't.
Unlike other post players who are taught to be almost robotic in the lay they utilize their footwork and sky for rebounds, Gregory is a completely different player. He contorts his body for acrobatic lay-ins and soars high in the air, gliding to either side of the paint on defense to alter opponent's shots.
It's how the forward has managed to compete against players who have been learning the fundamentals and intricacies of basketball for much of their lives while he started late.
"Just working hard and accepting competition," Gregory said. "I never held anything back or used it as an excuse because I didn't play. I just always wanted to work harder than the guys who have done it for a long time."
The work ethic Gregory put in translated to success on the hardwood in his senior season as he averaged 20 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks for Lancaster High School, leading them to the 2012 State Championship. The performance helped earn the forward a scholarship offer to play at Mount St. Mary's, a Division I school which competes in the Northeast Conference.
Gregory sat out of the 2012-13 season while redshirting, but later decided to leave the program, leading him to Richard Bland.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
However, the success was not immediate as his early struggles led him to being a sixth-man off the bench to provide breathers for the Statesmen's other big men. Yet, as Gregory has found himself into the starting role and seen more minutes, his production has improved, raising his confidence levels to his high school days.
Over his last four games, Gregory is averaging 14.5 points and 15 rebounds per game, showcasing the talent which helped his high school team to a state title.
"He's getting more touches, more minutes and he's getting more comfortable in the offense," Richard Bland head coach Chuck Moore said of his forward. "Earlier in the season, he wasn't entirely comfortable of when to get the ball and where to go, so now he is and he's producing."
But production is not the only place where Gregory's impact is felt.
It's also seen in the quiet leadership he possesses on the court. The 6-foot-8 forward never once is demonstrative on the court after a basket and remains even-keeled when adversity starts to seep in.
Gregory's high-motor helps stem tides and change momentum when the Statesmen need it, much like his back-to-back rejections during Sunday's game which helped fuel an 8-2 run.
"The guys tell me a lot that my presence is felt when I'm the court," Gregory said. "Just bringing energy, making hustle plays, anyway I can help the team is how it falls into place."
And that's exactly what has happened over the course of the last few games.
Gregory has not just filled Ugba's void, but solidified the position, creating a match-up nightmare for opponents when combined with Mealy's physicality in the paint. Against Potomac State College, Gregory and Mealy combined for 39 points and 28 rebounds, essentially dominating the interior by themselves.
It's the type of mind-set Gregory has entered every game with, knowing how important his success is to the team.
"Just going into every game, especially lately in Avery's absence, I've had to step up," Gregory said bluntly. "I've had these talks with coach and we're pretty much on the same page on the performance I have to give in order for us to be successful."
As Richard Bland takes a seven-game win-streak into their next game, Gregory knows the type of effort he needs to give in order to make it eight-straight while continuing to use his athletic ability to swing momentum in his team's favor.