By Daniel Shirley
Most head coaches can only wish to have one “coach on the floor."
Belmont’s Rick Byrd has two in Drew Hanlen and Kerron Johnson. The two Bruins guards, Hanlen a senior and Johnson a junior, have been key to Belmont’s success in recent seasons, and this year is no different.
Both were named to the Atlantic Sun All-Conference First Team along with teammate Ian Clark, as the Bruins rolled to a 24-7 regular-season record. Belmont added another win Wednesday, beating Jacksonville 76-62 on Wednesday in the 2012 General Shale Brick A-Sun Basketball Championship.
“We both have grown our games to complement each other,” Hanlen said. “We have developed a great friendship and a relationship on the court to the point where we know where each other is going to be on the court at all times.”
That familiarity and knowledge of each other’s game come from many games playing together and hours spent going head-to-head in practice.
“Drew and I have such a unique relationship,” Johnson said. “From two years of battling for that position, we have grown into great friends. We can read each other and play off each other. We’re competitive, but we enjoy playing together, and we listen to each other and talk about what’s going on out there on the court. We understand what each other is going through and what we’re facing running the team.”
Johnson had 19 points Wednesday to lead the Bruins, while Hanlen, who is second in the nation in 3-point shooting, had seven. He hit 2-of-3 from three-point range and added seven rebounds. Johnson added five rebounds and five assists.
Hanlen is on pace to finish as Belmont's NCAA-era leader in assists and games played. Johnson ranks among the conference’s leaders in six statistical categories. They both attributed their strong play to Byrd and his system.
“I’m one of the coaches on the floor out there, Kerron and I both are,” Hanlen said. “We relay messages from the bench to the other players, the offenses and how we can expose the defenses. (Coach Byrd) definitely has a lot of trust in us both. That has grown over the years. If teams are playing us a certain way, he’s totally fine with us calling our own number and calling someone else’s number that we can take advantage what the other team is doing.
“It’s great because we all know our roles, and we all have the green light to do our roles. Obviously, he doesn’t want a 20-percent shooter jacking up threes, but if we can prove to him that we’re capable, then he’ll give us the green light. As a player, that’s the ultimate freedom. You play better because of it, and you’re not worried about little mistakes here and there, and you’re not looking over at the bench.”
Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon. Follow complete coverage of the Atlantic Sun tournament at www.macon.com/mercer and follow Daniel at DM_Shirley for live updates throughout the tournament.