In Kingston, Jamaica, where Sterling’s Latanya Berry lived until seventh grade, there was “netball.”
It’s like basketball but not quite. There’s a rim but no backboard, a ball but no dribbling.
Every time players catch a pass, it’s as if they’ve lost their dribble. They’re not allowed to move. So, as teammates maneuver around, a player can either pass or take a shot at that ominous-looking floating cylinder.
The game takes skill but very little physicality. Players aren’t banging in the lane or boxing each other out. The footwork isn’t as forceful.
And this, Berry said, is what’s missing from netball. It’s also what she loves most about basketball.
A 6-foot-3 senior forward , Berry is one of New Jersey’s premier post players. She recently signed a letter of intent to play Division I basketball at Manhattan College.
She is poised to score her 1,000th point this season and also on the verge of becoming the first girls’ basketball player in Sterling history to grab 1,000 rebounds.
Ironically, much of this success is owed to the skills she developed in just the last few years — precisely those skills that do not translate between basketball and the sport she was dedicated to as a child.
“One thing I love is going against girls my own size. I think I actually play better,” Berry said. “When I played netball, basically my job was to stand under the net and shoot it. But one thing I like about basketball is that footwork that you need. I actually like playing physical.”
Berry said her move to a new country was as smooth as her move to a new sport. She came to America with her mother and siblings to live with her stepfather, who helped introduce her to basketball.
Since then, the country and the sport have been great fits.
Berry even claims to enjoy the cold weather.
“My mom doesn’t really like the cold all that much,” she said. “But, I don’t know why, I just don’t mind it even though I do miss the beaches in Jamaica.”
On the court, what stands out most about Berry is just how smooth her footwork is. Her movements seem natural. Even the physical part of her game looks effortless.
Berry did, undoubtedly, naturally take to basketball.
But Knights coach Kylie Marchese points to her work ethic as a probably the biggest driver of her success.
Berry, who plays AAU ball for the Philadelphia Belles, said she fell in love with basketball, and she’s proud of her fast rise.
“She elevates everybody else’s level of play.” Marchese said. “She’s aggressive, and she loves to play defense as much as she loves to play offense.
“She’s just an unselfish player. And she leads by example. Everyone sees what she does on the court, and they follow that.”
On a young Sterling team, Berry and fellow senior post player Marlee Syer are the leaders, each serving as a steadying presence.
Marchese said Berry isn’t the “rah-rah” type, but her leadership is undeniable.
Changes in countries and changes in sports haven’t rattled her. Games don’t seem to shake her much, either, and Berry excels at keeping her team on track.
When she talked about her goals for this season, Berry talked about winning the South Jersey Group 2 and Colonial Conference titles.
But, even as she talked about big dreams and big goals, she was even-keeled and confident, looking forward to the next challenge and whatever might come her way.
“I want to win it all,” she said. “I think we can do it.”