Sometimes, it takes a basketball star not shooting to become better. Sometimes, it means not always looking to dominate a game. Sometimes, it just takes trusting teammates.
For New Haven senior VJ Beachem, this last one was integral. The Notre Dame commit has always had the talent, being a top 100 national recruit shows he can play. He could always score and take control of a game, but that isn't what has made him a better player this season.
Instead, it was learning to have confidence in his teammates. Instead of making that contested drive and looking to find his own shot, he has started to look toward his teammates.
“That's one of the biggest things VJ learned this year is he trusts his teammates and that's made him a hell of a player,” said New Haven head coach Al Gooden said. “I hope he still takes that aggressive standpoint but he passes it more, he gives it up to his teammates now and he's the biggest leader for our team now.”
Beachem's development into a team player instead of just its star has helped the Bulldogs achieve new heights. New Haven (17-5) won its first sectional title in 17 years and is going for its first regional title this weekend as it plays Northrop (19-7) in the semifinals of the IHSAA 4A Regional at Marion at 10 a.m. Saturday. The other semifinal has No. 1 Carmel (21-2) playing No. 8 Kokomo (22-2) with the championship scheduled for 8 p.m. that evening.
“I think if we would have had this team last year and guys had their games at where they are now, I still didn't trust them then, so we wouldn't be in the position we are now,” Beachem said. “So, now, I'm trusting my teammates and it's really opened up the game more for them and myself.”
The maturation of New Haven's star player has coincided with the development of its entire team. While opponents may key on Beachem, the Bulldogs have multiple players who are capable of scoring in double digits during any game.
In New Haven's last two sectional games, it had four players in double digits both games. This comes from a multitude of different styles, too, beyond Beachem's all-around style.
There's Steve McElvene inside, a double-double waiting to happen who can score with post moves and from offensive rebounds. Then Jabar Ray, who's long-range shooting produced 20 and 24-point outputs in sectional play. And guard Monte Stevenson may be small but makes up for it with speed and a knack of finding his way through the lane and scoring with some odd contortion of his body on a layup.
Add a few other scorers like Jordan Hogue and Lacy Curry and New Haven can score in a multitude of ways and styles.
It's all come together at the right time, too. New Haven began the year 4-4, including a 71-66 loss to Northrop on Dec. 21. Since then, the Bulldogs have won 13 of 14 games.
“We have matured since then (the 4-4 start),” Stevenson said. “That showed us what we needed to work on and we've been working on that ever since … getting on top of playing defense and playing as a team has been a big thing for us, so I feel we've become a better team.”
New Haven and Beachem just hope it's progressed and come together enough to come out with a different result against Northrop and the Scott twins. For Beachem, this wouldn't just extend his career at least one more game. It would also give him bragging rights over the Northrop duo he has been on the same court with for so many games throughout their AAU and high school careers.
“I definitely say it's a lot on the line,” Beachem said. “We know somebody's career is going to end Saturday. Hopefully it's not mine.”