When Jordan Roper left Irmo last season and took his talents to Clemson, the point guard position became a major concern for coach Tim Whipple.
Roper led the Yellow Jackets to a state championship as a junior and left as one of the most decorated players in school history. But the worry was short-lived as senior Detrek Browning has moved from shooting guard to the point with little disruption in production.
Irmo is undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the Class 4A SCBCA poll, and Browning has played a major role in that success.
“Detrek reinvented himself and he’s been just as effective this year as he was last year in a totally different position,” Whipple said. “Some people may think changing position like that is an easy thing, but anyone that is connected and understands basketball knows that adjustment is huge. It shows a lot of character as an individual to sacrifice to make our team better. He’s excelled at it as a person and basketball player.”
Browning, who is 6-foot-0 and about 170 pounds, never had played the pointand he was not approached until the summer about making the move. There was no hesitation on his part.
He had a good resource in Roper. The two talk several times each week.
“I was quick to do it because I love this team and I was willing to do anything for these guys. I’ve learned a lot,” Browning said. “Jordan helps me out with a lot of little things. We text all the time and when he comes to town on break, we work out in the gym. Watching and learning from him has made my transition easier.”
In the Yellow Jackets’ 16-0 start, Browning is averaging 15 points, five assists and 4.5 steals per game. He twisted his ankle in a victory against Blythewood last Friday night and missed Saturday’s game against Byrnes but was able to return to action Tuesday night against Ridge View, posting 14 points and nine assists.
The biggest adjustment has been handling opponents’ full-court presses but, other than that, it’s been a smooth transition.
“He made a huge sacrifice,” Whipple said. “It’s a big difference being a point guard, especially in our system, from being a shooting guard like he was. He started working on it in the summer and he’s done a tremendous job with it. I can’t image anyone doing a better job than he has.”
To hear Browning talk, you would think he has the point guard position down pat.
“I like handing out assists,” he said. “To me, that’s better than scoring. When I pass to my teammates and I know they are going to score, it’s a great feeling.”
The offensive numbers for Browning have been similar to last season’s but he’s made a huge difference on the defensive end. Irmo struggles in the halfcourt offense at times but, with Browning disrupting passing lanes, the Yellow Jackets have done well in transition.
In a game against Lexington in December, he recorded nine steals and forced the Wildcats into 25 turnovers and never allowed them to find a rhythm offensively. That has been a recurring theme — one opponent has scored more than 60 points against Irmo this season.
“He is one of the best defensive players we’ve ever had here,” Whipple said. “I’m not talking about being an on-ball defender. He gets his hands on passes and anticipates well. He creates situations and disrupts offenses, and that is huge for us because we’ve struggled offensively a lot of times this year.”
Making the switch to point guard has opened more opportunities to play on the collegiate level. Spartanburg Methodist, a junior college, could be an ideal fit as he continues to learn the point guard position. Francis Marion and Newberry also have shown renewed interest.
But all that can wait. Browning wants to wash away the disappointment of last year’s one-point loss to eventual champion Gaffney in the third round of the Class 4A playoffs. Browning and Justin McKie, a South Carolina commitment, have taken on leadership roles on this team.
The Yellow Jackeets face No. 2 ranked Richland Northeast at home on Friday and they understand the first order of business is to win a loaded region before trying to embark on another championship run.
“The mindset is to win region, then focus on the playoffs,” Browning said. “We don’t speak about state yet.”