When Carroll Christian boys basketball coach Randy Peterson learned he had a new player coming in at the start of last season, he jokingly asked for a frontcourt player around 6-foot-6.
Instead, he got a 5-10 point guard named Josh Belcher.
After one full season, which included the Patriots first-ever Maryland Association of Christian Schools state title, and a 6-0 start this year, Peterson wouldn't have it any other way.
Belcher, who came to the Patriots from Ridgewood Baptist in Joliet, Ill., has been a perfect fit in a system that relies on pressure defense and transition.
"He does a lot of different things," Peterson said. "When we need a basket, he scores. When we need an assist, he handles the ball and gets it to the others. And he's not afraid to rebound, either.
"He fits into the system so well because he's so quick. It looks like one of their guys is wide open, and the next thing you see is Josh there with his hands on the ball."
After averaging 15.1 points a game last season as a junior, his scoring numbers are down some this season because the Patriots have so much balance and depth on the bench.
His all-around numbers show his value: 9.4 points, 5.6 steals, 4.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds a game. The Patriots' top scorer, forward John Brunson, is averaging 10.6 points, and their seventh leading scorer is at 6.5 a game.
"We work really well together, and a lot of people can score," Belcher said. "We can bring someone off the bench, and it doesn't throw off our chemistry. It's nice to have guys come off the bench who can get the job done."
It all starts with Belcher at the point.
"I just try to give everybody a chance and try to take over when necessary," he said. "We work the ball around, take good shots and play smart. I have to be the leader and get things started."
Becoming a team leader was just one of the adjustments Belcher had to make when he moved to Westminster last October.
Having played in Illinois since the sixth grade, he was gradually earning the respect of his teammates at Ridgewood Baptist. When he came to Carroll Christian as a junior, the progression had to be quicker.
"You could see his talented skills, but the first practice I remember him being a little nervous and missing a couple of easy shots," Peterson said. "It didn't take long for him to settle in. He works hard in practice and was well-accepted, as soon as he got here. He's our team leader."
Another change was the style of play. His Illinois team played a slower, half-court offense, a total change from the Patriots' run-and-gun ways.
Belcher said that in the Patriots' system, the defense and offense feed off each other.
"The pressure on defense helps the offense out a lot, because it creates turnovers and makes things happen," he said. "But the big thing is hitting our open shots. That helps the flow of the game and gets us pumped up to get the steals on defense."
Belcher is also a standout on the soccer field, having scored 25 goals as a Patriots striker this fall. The move to Westminster also gave him an opportunity to again play baseball. The second baseman/shortstop played as a youngster, but Ridgewood Baptist didn't have a team, so he picked the sport up again last spring for the Patriots.
He's looking at a number of Christian colleges to attend next fall. Tennessee Temple University appears to be at the top of his list, and he'd like to play college soccer.
Right now, though, Belcher's focus is on basketball and helping the Patriots win a second straight state title and advance farther in the region playoffs.
Pub Date: 12/15/96