It’s a Thursday night at the family home of Atascadero High point guard Robbie Berwick.
Spotlights illuminate the cement basketball court.
The slab is perched above a hilly front yard with two horses munching on grass.
The 6-foot-4 junior, lathered in sweat, dribbling two basketballs at once furiously, knees bent, zigzagging forward, sideways, backward, with his head up.
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He passes one ball with his left hand to teammate and friend Jared Stuedemann, and then grabs the other with both hands and shoots a jumper. Swish.
Berwick then fetches the ball, dribbles around two chairs, twice behind his back, and throws down a two-handed dunk.
The hours of practice, seven days per week, morning or night, whenever he can find time, on his own or with teammates, are what most people don’t see from Berwick, The Tribune’s County Player of the Year.
It’s the 31 points against Arroyo Grande, the triple-double versus Hoover, and the game-winning 3-pointer to down Righetti that get the recognition.
Berwick’s performances, both at the high school level and with his AAU team based in the Los Angeles area, have sparked interest from numerous college programs including Gonzaga, Florida State, USC, Cal Poly, UC Santa Barbara and Stanford.
College basketball programs have sent Berwick more than 400 letters — so many he doesn’t open them all. He puts them in shoe boxes.
Those he opens include a letter from a Gonzaga assistant coach that said: “Robbie — It’s been great talking with you this past year. Gonzaga is a great place that has had success with players like you. I hope you enjoy the information on Gonzaga. Keep in touch.”
He’ll make some unofficial visits to colleges this summer and then start to narrow his list of best college fits, adding that a university that will provide a good education is important to him.
STRONG JUNIOR SEASON
Berwick averaged 18 points, seven assists, five rebounds and two steals this past season.
He still has another season and high school goals to achieve, serving as the catalyst of a high-octane, fast-paced Greyhounds offense that averaged 68 points per game while sharing the league title with Righetti.
“Our offense starts with Robbie,” Atascadero coach Matt Knudson said. “He’s the one who drives it. Robbie gets everyone else going.”
In Atascadero’s first of two critical games down the stretch for a chance at a league title, Berwick recorded 21 points, six assists and six rebounds in a win against St. Joseph.
Then, two days later, he logged 29 points, five assists and four rebounds against Righetti, burying the game-winner at the buzzer.
“That was an adrenaline rush,” Berwick said. “Getting hoisted up by the crowd was probably one of the best feelings of my life.”
But Berwick emphasizes that his team’s cohesiveness and unselfishness play critical roles in his personal success.
“Our league co-title was huge for me, the community, and the team,” Berwick said. “Anytime you get individual accolades, it has a lot to do with the team’s success. If we’d gone 3-9 in the PAC 7, I’m not a winner since the team didn’t win and perform.”
But after the season got off to a rocky start and a disappointing 0-5 mark, Berwick acknowledges that players were bickering.
Knudson, in his first year as head coach, was trying to implement a new offensive and defensive system, and it wasn’t operating smoothly.
Also, some of the players, including Berwick, were just coming off of a long football season that ended in the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division semifinals and they weren’t in sync with basketball yet.
“We had arguments, but at the end of the day we were playing video games together like best friends because we’re a big, tight unit,” Berwick said. “Some of my teammates bring the best out in me because they come to practice wanting to bite, fight and scratch me to win.”
Not only did Berwick grow up playing basketball with many of his teammates, he had the influence of three older siblings who all were basketball players at Atascadero High.
His brother, J.D. Berwick, now 26, was an all-county first team selection who went head-to-head in PAC 7 games with former Paso Robles star Derrick Jasper, who went on to play at
Kentucky and UNLV. Berwick’s older sisters, Shannon and Natalie, also were standout players for the Greyhounds.
“Whatever games or tournaments my brother was in, I was right by his side,” Robbie Berwick said. “I lived basketball because of him. He came down for the home game against St. Joseph this year. I missed four or five shots in a row in the first half. I looked over at him on the sideline and he said to shake it off like (Allen) Iverson. I had 17 points in the third and fourth quarter. He just motivated me.”
After struggling early in the season, Atascadero won nine games in a row to end the season before losing to Leuzinger in the Division 3AA quarterfinals with Stuedemann, the team’s second-leading scorer, out with an ankle injury.
Stuedemann, also a junior this season, averaged 13 points and six rebounds for his team and was a deadly perimeter shooter fed by Berwick’s dribble penetration.
“Rob’s the best around,” Stuedemann said after one of their recent late-night practices. “There’s nobody else around this area who’s a better all-around player. He knows how to get everybody involved.”
Reaping the benefits of local stardom, Berwick said young kids sometimes will ask for his autograph or mothers will want their young son to be in a picture with them. He always obliges.
But he admits that at times his athletic prowess has come with some criticism. That occurred as a sophomore starting quarterback when some in the community thought he didn’t deserve the role. The deep playoff run this year has changed some minds and he learned to play through controversy.
“That was tough for me, but that was one of the learning experiences and I started to become a man,” Berwick said. “Now, it’s easier for me when I have bad games because I went through so much with all that.”
That includes the first basketball game against St. Joseph where he said Knights fans and players ridiculed him.
“A player told me during that game, with about a minute to go and they had the game won, ‘How about that, Berwick? You’re awful,’ ” Berwick said. “I went to my team and told them ‘Guys, don’t blow up. We’ll get them next game.’ ”
The word spread about the trash talking and the Atascadero student fans came wearing white shirts in unison in the cramped gym and went nuts in the 68-59 victory helping the Greyhounds on their way to a perfect season at home and a share of the PAC 7 title.
BIG FUTURE PLANS
Looking to the future, Berwick envisions big things. As a senior, he wants another league title and a CIF-Southern Section championship.
In college, he hopes to play in front of a raucous crowd on a Saturday morning game televised on CBS, calling it “probably the funnest thing I’ll ever do.”
Berwick’s biggest dream of all is one that he’s not afraid to say out loud.
“I’ve always had a dream, people can laugh at me, but I want to play in the NBA, Christmas morning, in front of my family courtside,” Berwick said. “People can say what they want, but sometimes dreams are accomplished and I truly believe I can accomplish that dream. To be able to buy my mom a car on her birthday, that would feel amazing.”
In the meantime, he’ll continue pounding, dribbling, shooting and dunking balls on the concrete slab and see how high his game can go.
THE TRIBUNE BOYS BASKETBALL ALL-COUNTY TEAMS
PLAYER OF THE YEAR — Robbie Berwick, Atascadero, Jr.
Matt Willkomm, Arroyo Grande, Sr.; Jared Stuedemann, Atascadero, Jr.; Quinton Adlesh, Mission Prep, Soph.; Andy Garretson, Templeton, Sr.; Andy Rowley, Mission Prep, Sr.
Connor Woolpert, Mission Prep, Sr.; Joe Johnson, Atascadero, Jr.; Josh Wilson-Murry, Paso Robles, Jr.; Brennan Rivera, Arroyo Grande, Sr.; David Thoresen, San Luis Obispo, Sr.
Andrew Midyett, Arroyo Grande, Jr.; Brady Youngquist, Atascadero, Sr.; Luke Munds, Morro Bay, Sr.; Will Mehring, Templeton, Jr.; Hector Rangel, Shandon, Sr.; Kaileb Mendez, Nipomo, Sr.; Elijah Lampley, Morro Bay, Jr.; DeSean Scott, Arroyo Grande, Sr.
COUNTY PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
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