High School Basketball

Middleton brothers help shepherd No. 1-ranked Whale Branch

Michael, Simeon lead Warriors despite smaller roles as Seventh-day Adventist Church members

sfastenau@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 28, 2013 

Brothers Michael, left, and Simeon Middleton are key players in their first season with the top-ranked Whale Branch High School boys basketball team.


The clock showed two seconds and the score tied at 68.

Simeon Middleton might as well have been in his backyard on Lady's Island, channeling his favorite player, Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade. The backyard games were two-on-two, three-on-three, however many players decided to show up to play on the concrete slab within two football fields of Beaufort High School, where Middleton and his brother, Michael, expected they would play one day.

But the Middletons are Warriors now. And the clock in the Whale Branch Early College High School gymnasium last week worked against them.

Simeon drove right, pulled up on the baseline and buried a jumper from the right side as the buzzer sounded. His teammates mobbed him.

Close your eyes, and you might envision the crowd's roar. But the gym was silent, the stands retracted near the walls.

The shot fell at the end of practice, with the Warriors simulating a late-game situation. No referee's whistle and no shrill crowd. Until recently, that's the only way Simeon and Michael knew the game.

Simeon, a junior, first played organized basketball in ninth grade, on the Whale Branch junior varsity team. Michael, a sophomore who had played one season at Lady's Island Middle School, joined his brother this past season. They led the Warriors junior varsity to a 17-1 record.

Varsity coach Linc Lyles knew he would have something special this season.

Simeon, a 5-foot-11 guard, leads the team in scoring, averaging 13.5 points per game. Michael, a 6-foot-2 forward, averages 9.7 points and five rebounds.

Simeon likes to get up and down the floor, could dunk in the eighth grade with some effort and now regularly throws down during games. Michael can shoot from the outside and, when a defender respects his shot, can drive the basket with ease.

Added to the Warriors' returning players, including explosive Dee Delaney and a solid post presence in Jay Abney, Whale Branch became the top-ranked team in Class 1-A.

"We're capable of getting a ring this year," Michael said.

The Warriors' returning players have welcomed the newcomers and adjusted to not having the Middletons on Friday nights. Their family attends Beaufort Seventh-day Adventist Church, where Simeon and Michael also went to middle school. The religious denomination recognizes Sabbath from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday.

Lyles worked the schedule the best he could to allow Simeon and Michael to play as many games as possible, and there have been few conflicts. The boys missed Friday's home game with Branchville, a Whale Branch blowout, and will miss this Friday's game at Bethune-Bowman.

"I have a lot of confidence they'll still win," Simeon said. "We're a deep team."

Text messages with the team's scorekeeper allow Simeon and Michael to know how their teammates are doing on Friday nights. Otherwise, they just wait to play the next game.

The team is supportive.

"They're likeable kids, so the kids respect them," Lyles said. "If they say something, it's done."

The clock in the Whale Branch gym rolled down under a minute Saturday, with the score tied at 57. Michael held the ball at the top of the key.

The Warriors' motion offense allows for some improvised moments, and with the floor spread out, Michael drove. He laid the ball in and drew the foul.

Michael had scored what would be the winning basket against Bluffton. The stands were pulled out. A real crowd cheered.

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