New Castle News

April 12, 2012

Hall of Fame Inductee: Darren Berkley

Joe Simon
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — (This is the fourth in a series of feature stories on the 2012 inductees into the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame).

Believe it or not, getting cut might have been the best thing for Darren Berkley.

Yes, the Darren Berkley who starred at Union High in the late 1980s and later went on to play professional basketball overseas, was cut in sixth grade. A short, unathletic 12-year-old, Berkley just didn’t have enough skills to earn his way onto a team that boasted a talented group of guys.

“I loved the game so much, and some of my friends were playing, so I asked to be the team manager,” Berkley said. “I was a good shooter, but I was really underdeveloped. I could always shoot it, but I wasn’t aggressive, and we had some good players at Union at that time.

“So, getting cut was a turning point. I loved the game and I was motivated. I really dedicated myself to playing.”

The hard work paid off. Berkley honed his passing skills and quickness to complement his shooting. And he was almost automatic at the free-throw line.

He made the basketball team in seventh grade, started in eighth grade and was a varsity point guard by the time he was a sophomore. He really came into his own a senior, though.

Berkley helped lead Union to an undefeated regular season (24-0). He averaged 19.3 points per game as the Scotties finished as WPIAL runners-up in 1989. It was quite the season for Berkley. He scored 579 of his 937 career points as a senior. He finished as Union’s all-time leader in consecutive free throws made and 3-pointers made. He also earned first-team all-section honors and was part of the Class A-AA all-star team.

He went to star at Houghton College in New York afterward and then played professionally in Mongolia and later with the Washington Generals.

Berkley can add something else to his resume now. The 41-year-old will be inducted into the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame on April 29 at The New Englander.

It’s an honor that surprised Berkley.

“I was kind of late bloomer,” Berkley said. “I had a good senior year, but I was kind of in the shadows, playing with (Don) Nogay and all the talent we had at Union.

“I look at some of the hall of fame members, and they’re people I grew up watching or playing against, and I never really put myself on that level. I’m just really appreciative. It’s special.”

Surrounded by talented players such as  Don Nogay, Union’s all-time leading scorer, and Steve Shaffer, a 1,000-point scorer, Berkley was the maestro who brought the offense together.

The Scotties’ coach during that run, Mike Covelli, said Berkley worked to become the player he was by staying after practice to shoot and refine his dribbling.

“He was a heck of a shooter and great ball-handler,” Covelli said. “He could really figure out things that some of the other kids couldn’t and that was part of what made him a great ball player.”

Covelli was a big reason Berkley developed into such a successful player — and coach. Berkley said he lacked confidence and didn’t focus on the Xs and Os of the game until Covelli alerted him that he had plenty of potential.

“I just got so much better and started to gain confidence, and coach Covelli, I remember in seventh grade, he gave me a ride to this Ellwood City camp, and he said to me, ‘As hard as you work, you can earn a scholarship,’ ” Berkley said. “And I just believed what he said. It really spoke to me.

“I developed some confidence. I had the skill — I was always quick and could shoot it — I just didn’t have the strength.”

He put it all together at Houghton and the years shortly after college. He finished fifth on the Highlanders’ all-time scoring list. He played professionally in Mongolia in 1994 and his team won a championship that season. But being in Mongolia and not knowing the language was a difficult situation to deal with, so he decided not to play again the following season.

Berkley, now 41, met his wife, Miriam, not long after he returned. The couple has two daughters, Hannah, 14, and Myah, 10. Berkley’s been teaching middle school and high school health for the past 12 years at Fredericksburg Christian School in Fredericksburg, Va.

He started off coaching the junior high team in 1997, but within two years he was leading the Eagles’ high school program. Berkley guided Fredericksburg to the first two conference titles in school history, and they recorded a school-record 31 wins last year against just two losses. The Eagles were led by star guard Seth Allen, a 6-foot-2 swingman who’s committed to playing basketball at the University of Maryland.

Berkley said he combined the relationship-building savvy he enjoyed with Covelli and the scheming he learned from his coach at Houghton to help mold his own style.

“I had a great experience with coach Covelli — he was a great guy,” he said. “I didn’t worry about Xs and Os too much in high school, I just loved the game. And my coach at Hougton, he was really good at Xs and Os, but he didn’t really build strong relationships.”

Berkley has a found a happy medium with his own style. Incidentally, he didn’t mention if it included cutting short, unathletic seventh-graders.

TOMORROW: John Sarandrea