Matthew Creech gives his take after recently being hired to start a second stint as head boys basketball coach at Midway High.
SPIVEY’S CORNER — In between whistles and ball bounces, the sounds of laughter and playful trash-talk serenaded the spectator-less Midway High School gym on Tuesday.
Matthew Creech was at the center of it all, once again, sparking memories from four years prior when he last served as the school’s boys basketball coach.
“It’s been a thrill for the past two weeks just to step back and have the experience of beginning to build that relationship with the kids I have now, but also to hear from so many of my former players that want to come back and have a role in the program,” Creech said of assuming the head role from Aaron Lane earlier this month.
“Coach Lane’s doing a great job as our athletic director. He’s still going to have a big hand in our program. ... He branded that statement when he got here: ‘The Raider Way’. And ‘The Raider Way’ is how we’re going to try to run this program moving forward.”
Creech has helped the group as an assistant under Lane the past two seasons, including the 3-10 campaign in the shortened 2020-21 slate.
In his last stint as head man, from 2014-17, Creech never had a losing record. He led Midway to a collective 50-31 mark, including three straight state playoff appearances. The Raiders’ 2015-16 season resulted in two postseason victories before they bowed out to eventual state champion Farmville Central in the third round.
Creech says that what strung those teams together were the same principles that’s helped him preside as pastor for Hickory Grove Baptist Church in his hometown, Clinton.
“This is a tight-knit community – and instilling those same values in our student-athletes where it’s basketball, but it’s bigger than basketball,” he said.
“If we can build that family atmosphere where these kids will play for each other, the winning and all the things we want within the program will take care of itself.”
Tuesday marked the team’s third workout, and Creech says he is just thankful to have the opportunity for offseason development after COVID-19 restrained athletes to their respective driveways last summer.
“Kids haven’t been able to just get out and play in the last year and a half the way we would like to see,” he said, also noting how players are generally lacking knowledge of the game and are struggling with the awareness required to play varsity hoops.
“That’s why we’re spending a lot of time on the court this summer, just getting familiar with concepts, getting familiar with time and score, getting familiar with more than just P.E. basketball.”
Just over a dozen Raider hopefuls were drenched in sweat, engaging in multiple pick-up games, shooting contests and various drills throughout the 1 1/2-hour-long session. Fundamentals were a common thread preached in each sequence, which falls in line with the philosophies of legendary UNC coach Dean Smith.
“That’s a simple, successful brand of basketball that I always want to live by,” Creech said of Smith’s style of playing “hard, smart and successful.”
“Defensively, we will be comfortable making the other teams uncomfortable. ... Offensively, we’ve got some scorers returning, so we’ll space the court and try to make some good things happen with some of our guards we’ve got coming back.”
The Raiders figure to boast a veteran backcourt featuring rising senior wing Wyatt Holland and junior point guard Trey Gregory. Holland’s 9.2 points per game are the most among returners, while Gregory is a proven outside threat that also led the group with 2.5 steals per contest.
The duo will enlist the help of some younger standouts from last year’s conference-winning junior varsity squad as Midway braces to join a new league with opponents from Bladen and Robeson counties, including a St. Pauls squad who went 14-1 this past season.
“We’ve got a real competitive schedule ... but that’s going to be good for us. We’re just trying to take steps this summer to get ready to meet that challenge when it comes in November,” Creech said.
“We’re always going to talk about our standard. Our standard is ourselves. Are we working to get better? ... If we bring our best, that’s always gonna be the standard I measure success by, whether we bring our best night in and night out.”
Donnell Coley can be reached at email@example.com or 910-230-2040.