- Michael Carter
Davidson-Davie CC's Coach Matt Ridge - The Ridge On Top Of The Storm
Matt Ridge is running up the sideline toward mid-court, waving his hands frantically, yelling to his Davidson-Davie Community College players to push the ball up court faster and not lose intensity. The frown on Ridge’s forehead looks to be that of a coach whose team is down by 14 points, except they are not. They are up by 14 points. 14-0. Five minutes into the game. Five minutes into the 2022-23 season.
The energy, emotion and enthusiasm for the game that Ridge displays for a full 40 minutes on the sidelines have helped transport a tiny, rural North Carolina community college into one of the powers in NJCAA Division II.
Ridge is in his 16th season at the helm of the DDCC Storm and is the only coach the school has ever known. Since starting the program in 2007, Ridge has never come close to a losing season and has amassed an overall record of 405-80.
His teams have won 13 conference championships and advanced to the NJCAA National Tournament seven times, appearing in the championship game each of the last two seasons. His teams have won 30 games in a season five times. Only once, in 2018-19, did a Storm team fail to win 20 games. They won 19.
Ridge’s 2022-23 Storm team is picking up where last season’s 33-3 team left off. They are currently 11-0 on the season and ranked #1 in the NJCAA Division II Men’s basketball poll. The Storm are outscoring their opponents by 22.9 points per game - earning a ranking of #24 in College Basketball Times' Domination Rankings of all levels college hoops teams. (They are just 3 below UConn's D1 Men's team.)
The 2022-23 squad returned six players from the NJCAA runner-up squad, but only one of those six started last season. However, Ridge rewards players who come to practice and compete hard.
“They were working while they were waiting, which is what we talk about a lot,” Ridge said. “That’s not always easy when you go to a junior college because kids go JUCO so they can get recruited by a four-year (college). I’m so proud of these six for accepting the challenge of becoming the best players they can be.
“I tell my players every year, ‘you may think the grass is going to be greener someplace else, but when you get there, you still have to mow it,’” Ridge said.
Ridge has had remarkable success developing players. Over 20 Storm players have received full scholarships to four-year schools. In the 2022-23 season, Ridge has former players at all three levels of the NCAA.
Ridge’s players must buy into his team concept. Despite coaching seven All-Americans in his first 15 years, Stars do not define Ridge’s teams. If a player wants impressive stats to attract a scholarship from a four-year school, DDCC is not the place for them.
His current team has six players averaging double figures, despite no player averaging over 25 minutes a game. In fact, 12 players average at least 11 minutes a game.
Jahlen King leads the team in scoring 16.7 points per game, followed by Chase Mebane at 14.4 and Jaheim Taylor at 12.2. Jonathan Foust and Aaron Ross are at 11.7 ppg, and Elan Muniz is at 10.6. Jarvis Tillman, the lone returning starter from last year, only averages 1.5 ppg, but he is leading the team in rebounding and block shots and is second on the team in assists.
“That’s near and dear to my heart, having a balanced team,” Ridge said. “You’re usually a lot harder to stop when you can’t just focus on one or two guys.”
A family atmosphere is also part of what Ridge considers integral to the success of the DDCC program.
“I take players to church with my wife and daughters,” Ridge said. “I think it’s important for players to see me in a different role than just a coach. I want them to see me in a role as a daddy and a husband.
“We have the team over to my house, where we cook meals for them,” Ridge said. “I think that’s really important in terms of getting your kids to have the relationship with you that will allow you to coach them hard but also lets them know that I love them and really care about them.”
That relationship with Ridge, as well as unfinished business, was the catalyst for Ross to return to DDCC this season for the third year of eligibility due to COVID, despite having a scholarship offer from an NCAA Division II school.
“Winning the National Championship is one of the reasons I came back.” Ross said, “It was a hard decision, but in my heart, I felt that coach Ridge could help me get to the where I wanted to be, which is (NCAA) D1, the highest level.
The family atmosphere also led one of Ridge’s former players back to DDCC.
David Tripp played for Ridge from 2015-2017. He is now one of Ridge’s assistant coaches.
“David Tripp relates to the players well,” Ridge said. “He’s been in their shoes. He knows what it’s like to be a student-athlete at the college.”
Tripp excelled on the basketball court at DDCC and received a full scholarship to Bluefield College to continue playing basketball. He also played at Milligan College, where he earned an MBA. But Tripp always stayed close to the campus and the team, often hosting tours for recruits.
“It was a no-brainer to bring him back when he said he was interested in coaching,” Ridge said of Tripp. “He’s been a huge asset to the program, not only in recruiting, but if I ever get on a player, he’s good at pulling them aside and relating to them and letting them know I just want to help them get better, not only on the court but as a person.
“His perspective has been good for our guys to hear.”
“My experience as a player for coach Ridge was good but mentally challenging,” Tripp said. “In the beginning, it was hard learning to play for his culture and under his system because he demands so much from his players. He never handed me anything. I had to earn it.”
Tripp calls Ridge a basketball “nerd.”
“He is so intelligent when it comes to basketball,” Tripp said. “His IQ level is so high. At that time, my IQ level didn’t match his culture style, and I struggled in the beginning, but me sticking with him my first year – when I came back for my second year – I did mountains and leaps better than what I thought I would do or anybody else thought I would do.
“I never expected to get a full ride coming out of DDCC, especially given my struggles my first year there,” Tripp said, “but I’m definitely glad I stayed. What coach Ridge taught me stayed with me, and I used it for the rest of my basketball career.”
While Ridge credits much of the program’s accomplishments to the talent of the players he has recruited over the years, much of the success is also rooted in Ridge’s coaching philosophy. Only Ridge’s philosophy is not rooted in the Xs and Os of basketball but in what basketball taught him from a early age.
“Ever since I was knee-high, I’ve loved the game of basketball,” Ridge said. “It’s been a huge part of my entire life.”
Ridge played for a state championship at Ledford High School (in Davidson County) under legendary coach Robert Kent, who Ridge considers his most significant influence.
“Coach Kent meant a lot to me and my teammates,” Ridge said. “What he taught us, not just as players, but how to live your life, was his platform to mold us into good fathers, husbands, and Christians.”
Ridge seeks to install those same off-the-court values into his players.
“I’m as competitive as anyone you’ll ever meet,” Ridge said, “but for me, it’s much bigger than basketball – it’s about teaching these young men to be dependable and accountable.
“My overall coaching philosophy is to help young men develop the habits to be successful outside of basketball competition, whether it be academically, socially, or in their future as a businessman or a future husband, and certainly, as a future father,” Ridge said.
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