TIFTON — The Berrien Rebels will have a new face as leader of their boys basketball team, one very familiar to Tift County followers.
Tift County assistant coach Dallas Neloms has been named head coach at Berrien, replacing Aric Mawdesley. This is Neloms’ first ever head coaching role.
“It’s been a longtime dream,” he said of getting a chance to be in charge of a program. It was “time to venture out,” he said and begin building his brand.
His first stop is one close to home.
Neloms has been tasked with rebuilding Berrien. He has a strong base to work with: a young team, a state tournament appearance in 2019 and Ja’Marquis Johnson, an all-world athlete who is receiving interest from Division I programs in football.
Though senior-less in 2018-19, Neloms might not have the whole gang back. Two players have reportedly transferred to other programs. Even without these players, he has liked what he has seen. Beyond Johnson are players such as Jakevious Clark, Travon Boone, Mason Sykes and Elijah Denson. Sykes is listed at 6’7”. “If we can get him in the gym,” said Neloms, he could be an interesting prospect.
“I’m getting a lot of guys who are energetic,” he said.
Berrien was once a menace to the southern half of the state, winning a state title in 1971, but has had less success in recent years. The Rebels’ last state tournament game win was in 2002 when they were coached by the late Donnie Henderson. Since Henderson, Berrien has been to state three times since, hosting none of the games.
Neloms’ plan for Berrien’s revitalization begins with defense. The Rebels surrendered 58.4 points per game, second worst in the region.
“We just gotta buckle down,” he said, “learn to play defense.”
Tift County’s teams are notoriously stingy in their defensive output. This year’s final four team gave up 47.7 points per game. In 2018-19, Berrien surrendered 58.4 points per game, en route to a 14-14 record.
The Rebels went to state as the No. 3 team out of Region 1-AA after a 3-5 regular season record in the conference. They went to Hephzibah for a first round game in the state tournament, falling 70-53.
The timing might be ideal for Neloms and Berrien in the Region 1-AA race. Berrien’s conference opponents are Brooks County, Early County, Fitzgerald and Thomasville. Neloms said many of those schools were hit hard by graduation.
Fitzgerald might end up a surprise in the region, following a 5-22 season. Like Berrien, they are under a new head coach. The Hurricane also have one of the biggest and most athletic players in 6’8” rising senior Tyrese Powers.
Neloms said he is retaining assistants Rod Smith and Jon Lang. Both are former Berrien players.