Ben Craig and Brian Bartlett celebrate a career achievement, Mathew Brown could be next
Owen High's 1,000-point club welcomed its newest member Feb. 3 when junior Ben Craig buried a deep 3-pointer early in the first half on Senior Night.
Craig was about 26 feet away from the basket when he pulled up for the shot. He had a confident smile when he released the ball over the outstretched arm of a Polk High defender.
The crowd erupted as it would a week later when Craig’s teammate, senior Brian Bartlett, scored his 1,000th career point when Owen hosted Madison in the opening round of the Western Highlands Conference tournament on Feb. 10.
The last Warhorse to achieve 1,000 points was Michael Pomeroy, a 2014 graduate who now plays guard for the Warren Wilson Owls. It was Pomeroy who introduced Anthony Barringer, the current head coach of the Owls, to Warhorse head coach Chuck Robinson.
Barringer wanted to find a way to help Robinson so he began working with a group of players at Owen Middle School, which included Craig.
“I started working with Ben (Craig) in the summer between his seventh and eighth grade years,” said Barringer, who won a national championship as a player at Warren Wilson.
Barringer saw potential in Craig immediately, in spite of the “weird mechanics” he initially witnessed in his shot.
“We worked on his jump shot and ball-handling ability,” Barringer said. “Going in coach Robinson had already told me Ben would have a chance to play point guard, so we focused on turning him into a scoring guard, who could also play point.”
That process was not an easy one, according to Barringer, who said he worked out with Craig as often as three times a day getting him ready. Barringer said he learned that all Craig wanted to do was “be the best at what he does.”
Craig logged considerable playing time as a freshman. He was also the Warhorses’ second-leading scorer in his sophomore season when he also averaged 5.5 assists and 1.6 steals per contest.
“Looking back at it now, the foundation that he built his freshman year really helped him get to where he is now,” Barringer said. “The biggest thing with Ben has always been his confidence.”
“Really his confidence just starting getting where it needed to be coming into this season,” said Barringer, who believes Craig's best is yet to come.
"You won't find a kid who works as hard as Ben," Barringer said. "Once you see him play you're like 'whoa.' In my opinion he's the best all-around player in this area, period."
Craig's dedication is what allows him to calmly take a shot like the one that netted him his 1,000th point.
"One thing I’ve been working on this year is having the confidence that every shot will go in," Craig said. "Not that that’s possible, but if you’re questioning your shot before you shoot it its not going to turn out the way you want it to. When I shot it I knew it was going in."
Craig made the decision to truly focus on the sport after watching the Southern Conference Tournament in Asheville while he was in middle school. He texted Barringer and told him he wanted to eventually play college basketball and was willing to do whatever it took.
"My work ethic I can control," he said. "I can't control my height or athleticism, but I can make sure nobody is going to outwork me."
Reaching the 1,000 point mark as a junior is remarkable, according to Robinson, who points out that scoring is just one aspect of Craig’s game.
“He’s definitely got the green light to shoot the ball,” Robinson said. “But the first thing he asks after every game is not how many points he scored, it’s how many assists he had.”
There's a simple reason for that, according to Craig.
"I have some of the best teammates in the state," he said. "It's important to me to get them the ball so they can showcase their talents."
Craig is again among the team leaders in assists this season, even as his scoring average is up nearly 7 points per game. His determination to keep his teammates involved in the offense is one of the things that makes this group of players special, according to Robinson.
“The seniors were thrilled to see Ben have his moment on Senior Night,” Robinson said. “These guys really love each other. I say all the time they’re more like a family than a team.”
That chemistry on and off the court helped Owen finish the regular season with a 19-4 record. Senior Brian Bartlett only needed 7 points in the Warhorses’ conference tournament game Feb. 10 to join Craig and Pomeroy in the 1,000-point club.
“Brian is a team guy too,” Robinson said of his senior forward. “He wants to score, and he wants to see everybody else score too.”
If the team continues to play well through the conference tournament and state playoffs, another Owen senior could score 1,000 points too. Matthew Brown finished the regular season a little over 80 points away from the mark. The center averaged 21.5 points per game through the final five games of the regular season.
“Those three guys are averaging around 60 points per game between the three of them this season,” Robinson said. “It sure would be awesome to see all three of them score 1,000 for us.”
Craig thinks Owen will be around in the state playoffs long enough to make that happen.
"We have some big goals for this postseason and we're going to do everything we can to achieve them," he said.