Robbie Berwick’s will to win was not born overnight, although there were plenty of chilly winter nights in Atascadero that helped cultivate his competitiveness.
He and his three siblings would spend hours on the homemade half-court their father built next to their home, playing 2-on-2 basketball games long after natural light and the feeling in their hands had escaped them.
“It’d get so cold in the winters, and we’d go warm our hands by the fire and just run right back out in the cold,” Berwick recalled. “It’d be 25 degrees, and we’d play until 3 in the morning.”
Robbie was the youngest of the four by at least two years — his brother, JD, and sisters Natalie and Shannon, all played varsity basketball — but never backed down from the challenge.
Winning sometimes garnered small prizes, but bragging rights were what all four wanted more than anything.
“We’d get so competitive and fired up,” Berwick said. “I mean, you’re talking tears and so much emotion. Whoever lost would hear about it for a week.”
That drive persisted once he started playing organized sports and thrived on the court of Ewing Gymnasium, where Berwick wrapped up a prolific four-year career on the Atascadero High boys basketball team that culminated in his second undefeated league title and his second time as The Tribune County Player of the Year.
“I love being driven to being the best at something,” said Berwick, who scored 1,736 points, dished 500 assists and grabbed 496 rebounds in his four years. “Basketball has always been my love. I love the way the ball goes through the net. I love the way the crowds erupt when you make a big-time play.”
Berwick never shied away from the big moment, but teammates also said the 6-foot-4 Florida State signee never let himself get bigger than the team.
“He’s a great teammate,” said fellow senior Joe Johnson, who first played with Berwick on a travel team in second grade. “He makes everyone feel like they’re part of the family. I just loved playing with him.
“He’s a competitor who wants to win. A lot of people see that as him being kind of cocky, but that’s just confidence in himself that he’s going to go out there and win.”
A two-horse race
While Berwick separated himself from the pack for last year’s County Player of the Year award, Mission Prep’s Quinton Adlesh made sure the race for this year’s honor was anything but a walk in the park.
Starting from when the two teams faced off in the third game of the season, both point guards poured in consistent quality performances for a pair of 20-win teams.
Berwick showed no signs of senioritis in his final year on the high school court, averaging 19.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game.
Adlesh, a 6-foot junior, continued to improve upon a breakout sophomore campaign by posting totals of 22.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists, leading the Royals to the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division 4AA semifinals. He holds an offer from Cal Poly and is likely to receive more after another summer on the AAU circuit gives recruiters a chance to see his unlimited range and masterful ball-handling skills.
In the head-to-head matchup — although neither drew the other as a defensive assignment — Berwick scored a game-high 27 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter. But it was Adlesh and his 21-point, 10-rebound performance that helped the Royals get the better of the Greyhounds, 74-65, at the Arroyo Grande Optimist Tournament on Dec. 13.
Not counting the game against each other, Mission Prep and Atascadero went 15-0 against other San Luis Obispo County teams, winning by an average of 23 points.
Paso Robles coach Matt Drake, who faced both teams, said Adlesh is “the most fundamentally sound player on the Central Coast,” while Berwick’s ability to use his 6-4 frame in a myriad of ways kept opposing coaches flummoxed.
“Robbie has the ability to score whenever he wants,” Arroyo Grande coach Ryan Glanville said. “He can get to the rim and he developed a nice 3-point shot during his time in high school.”
Berwick’s supreme court vision and dexterity allowed him to seek out open shooters from any spot on the court, using the penetrate-and-pass offense installed by coach Matt Knudson to enter the lane to score or kick the ball out to a shooter.
Some of Berwick’s best highlights didn’t end with him scoring, but rather a no-look, behind-the-back left-handed feed through traffic to a teammate with a wide-open shot.
“He was at his best — and Atascadero was at its best — when he was distributing,” Glanville said.
And there’s little doubt Atascadero was at its best once league play began.
PAC 7 dominance
The Greyhounds swept the PAC 7, winning 10 of 12 games by 13 points or more and six by at least 20.
It was the second time in Berwick’s career Atascadero went undefeated in league, with the first coming when he was the lone freshman starter on a team of experienced upperclassmen such as Troy Norris and Hayden Mislavsky.
This time around, Berwick and longtime cohorts Johnson, Jared Stuedemann, Connor Kim and Kevin Woodard were the ones leading the way.
The starting five took care of business from the start night in and night out, building substantial leads before halftime. There were even times — like the 39-point win over third-place Righetti or the 87-35 drubbing at St. Joseph — when Berwick and other starters sat the fourth quarter.
But there was no doubt who held the ball when the Greyhounds needed a bucket most.
Berwick scored a career-high 35 points against second-place Arroyo Grande, pulling Atascadero back from a six-point deficit after one quarter to a five-point halftime lead and an eventual 78-65 victory.
He made three 3s in the game, but did most of his damage in the paint, getting to the free-throw line 10 times and grabbing 12 rebounds.
He ended his high school career averaging 15.9 points, 4.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds.
In the 110 games he appeared in, Atascadero won 84.
“When we end a big game, I want another big game,” Berwick said. “Just the most amazing feeling in the world is being out on the court with your best friends playing in a big-time game. You’ll never forget it.”
Playing through pain
The worst statistical performance of Berwick’s senior season tells just as much about his basketball legacy at Atascadero as any game he played for the Greyhounds.
In a Feb. 12 contest at Righetti, Berwick scored just six points — the lowest total since his freshman year — on 2-of-15 shooting.
But any one category does not fully capture Berwick’s impact, and this year’s penultimate PAC 7 showdown with last year’s co-champions was a prime example.
Atascadero led by nine in the third quarter, when Berwick bit on a pump fake by Righetti’s Cam Walker, jumping into the air to block a shot that was coming a second later than anticipated. As Berwick started to land, the 6-foot-7 Walker lifted off, and the top of his head smashed into Berwick’s mouth.
Berwick felt an initial sting of pain, but he thought all was more or less in order as he tried to shrug it off and head toward the other end of the floor.
But then he felt three of his front teeth pushed back and angled down his throat.
And then he saw blood, flowing from a gash in his mouth and out onto the court.
Dr. Matthew Kim, father to Atascadero guards Connor and Taylor Kim and an emergency-room dentist at Sierra Vista Medical Center, was in the stands and could tell right away the injury was more than just a routine bloody nose or cut.
“You can see when people get into this weird panic mode, where you know there’s something wrong, but it’s your mouth so you can’t see it,” he said. “Visceral nerve perception steps in, and you start turning around in a circle not knowing what to do.”
A Righetti trainer helped Berwick to the bench, where he was met by Dr. Kim, who diagnosed Berwick with a broken alveolar bone — a bone on the upper jaw between the nose and mouth that houses tooth sockets.
The bone needed to be reset to stem the bleeding and save the teeth contained in the three-piece segment.
Rather than take the time to transport Berwick to a hospital and risk losing teeth, Dr. Kim flicked his wrist and popped the bone into place with an audible snap.
During the entire process, all Berwick concerned himself with was getting back onto the court to ensure the Greyhounds pulled a game away from a 12-0 PAC 7 season.
“The athletic trainer kept telling me to relax,” he said. “I was more freaking out because I didn’t want to lose an undefeated league championship.
“She said I wouldn’t go back in until the bleeding stopped, so I just said, ‘Where’s the Vaseline?’ ”
After the bleeding subsided and Berwick was given a mouthpiece to hold his teeth in place — “I don’t even know whose it was” — he re-entered the game to help close out a 55-42 victory.
“He’s just extremely tough and competitive,” Knudson said. “He doesn’t like to lose.”
Turning the page
Ever since the core of this year’s senior class came together as a second-grade travel team called the A-Town Dogs, Berwick and Company envisioned winning a CIF-Southern Section championship and going to the state playoffs in their final year.
Those dreams fell two points short, 230 miles away on a court in Anaheim in the Division 3AA quarterfinals.
“My mind started spinning,” Berwick recalled of the 47-45 loss to Servite. “Everything was just in slow-mo. The ball hitting the court, the buzzer going off and all the Servite fans rushing the court.
“That probably was the toughest loss I’ve ever had to deal with. We wanted to win (a section title) for the people in our community that supported us.”
Berwick is bound for Florida State and ACC basketball after graduation, where he’ll play with better players inside bigger venues, and he still holds onto lifelong NBA aspirations.
But he knows there’d be no journey without a starting point.
“I would rather lose in the CIF (Southern Section) playoffs with Atascadero than go win a CIF title with Mater Dei or St. John Bosco,” Berwick said. “Just because of how great this community has been to me and this team, there’s just nothing like it.”
Berwick is more than ready for the challenges that lie ahead, and playing for a team that faces the likes of Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse annually, there will be plenty of obstacles every day in practice and come game time.
Succeed or otherwise, the youngest Berwick still has no plans of backing down.
“I’m a guy that can do a little bit of everything, but I love big moments,” he said. “I love pressure situations. I love winning in big-time games, and I’ll be the one to fail in a big-time game. That’s just the kind of kid I am.”
COUNTY PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Robbie Berwick, Atascadero, Senior
ALL-COUNTY FIRST TEAM
Quinton Adlesh, Mission Prep, Junior; Joe Johnson, Atascadero, Senior; Andrew Midyett, Arroyo Grande, Senior; Jared Stuedemann, Atascadero, Senior; Cobe Williams, Arroyo Grande, Junior
ALL-COUNTY SECOND TEAM
Jaylon Davis, Paso Robles, Senior; Brandon Jones, Mission Prep, Junior; Kerney Lane, Mission Prep, Sophomore; Will Mehring, Templeton, Senior; Carson Wack, Arroyo Grande, Senior; Kevin Woodard, Atascadero, Senior
ALL-COUNTY HONORABLE MENTION
Cicero Goddard, Shandon, Senior; Matt Jardini, Templeton, Senior; Connor Kim, Atascadero, Senior; Solomon Ruddell, Morro Bay, Sophomore; Anthony Spencer, Paso Robles, Senior; Kyle Stewart, Mission Prep, Freshman
SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY BOYS BASKETBALL PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
2014 Robbie Berwick Atascadero Senior
2013 Robbie Berwick Atascadero Junior
2012 Brent VanderVeen Arroyo Grande Senior
2011 Troy Norris Atascadero Senior
2010 Troy Norris Atascadero Junior
2009 Julian Demalleville San Luis Obispo Senior
2008 Dylan Royer Morro Bay Senior
2007 Dominique Saunders Nipomo Senior
2006 Derrick Jasper Paso Robles Senior
2005 Derrick Jasper Paso Robles Junior
2004 Mecklen Davis Atascadero Senior
2003 Mecklen Davis Atascadero Junior
2002 Carlton Wilder Paso Robles Senior
2001 Phillip Johnson Arroyo Grande Senior
2000 Phillip Johnson Arroyo Grande Junior
1999 Jonathan Bentley Atascadero Senior
1998 Ray Robins Paso Robles Senior
1997 Ray Robins Paso Robles Junior
1996 Gary Gillman Morro Bay Senior
1995 Ross Ketcham Mission Prep Senior
1994 Jabbar Clark Paso Robles Senior
1993 Jeremiah Cathey Paso Robles Senior
1992 Dwain Davis Atascadero Senior
1991 Jared Lintner Arroyo Grande Senior
1990 Tim Kubinski San Luis Obispo Senior
1989 Tim Kubinski San Luis Obispo Junior
1988 Beni Fernandez Paso Robles Junior
1987 James Morgan Paso Robles Senior
Ed Mitchell Atascadero Senior
1986 Pete DelVaglio San Luis Obispo Senior
1985 Lonzo Davis Paso Robles Senior
Chris Hoerntlein Arroyo Grande Senior
1984 Adam Grosz San Luis Obispo Senior
1983 Aaron Paulsen Arroyo Grande Senior
Bruce Baker Arroyo Grande Senior
1982 Eric Hansen San Luis Obispo Senior
1981 John Graham Morro Bay Senior