When Bernard Sullivan decided to transfer from 3,000-student North Mecklenburg to tiny Davidson Day School last summer, he knew he was in for a change.
He just didn’t realize that the biggest change would be within himself.
The 6-foot-8 Sullivan arrived at Davidson Day, which has 117 high school students, and immediately endeared himself to his new classmates – and especially his basketball teammates – with his laidback demeanor. Despite his immense talents and physical stature, he was hesitant to use his booming baritone voice to address the team during critical moments.
But as Sullivan grew more comfortable in his new environment, he transformed. And that made a dramatic difference for the Patriots, who lost two standout players – Keith Belfield and Phillip Anglade – to injuries this season.
Sullivan took on more of a leadership role with the Patriots, both vocally and physically, guiding them to a 27-10 record and the quarterfinals of the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 1A tournament while earning Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group’s 2010-11 Lake Norman-Area Boys Basketball Player of the Year award.
The Clemson University signee averaged team-bests of 15.6 points and 7.4 rebounds, but some of his strongest contributions came during breaks in the action.
“He’s such a big kid, but at heart, I think he’s a pretty quiet, unassuming kid,” Patriots coach Ron Johnson said. “When Phillip and Keith went down, I think it kind of forced (Sullivan) to speak up a little bit more as the experienced senior. I saw him be more assertive. I actually talked to him about that when he made the decision to come over here – one of the things I expected from him was leadership, to be a little more vocal.
“This year, there were times I would address the team and then say, ‘Does anybody else have anything?’ And he’d speak up and say, ‘Coach, I want to say something.’ There were times I wouldn’t even ask him; he’d just raise his hand and say he wanted to say something. I think that will help him as he moves on to Clemson.”
But Sullivan said the move to Davidson Day benefited him in other ways, especially academically and socially.
“It was a big adjustment,” he said. “I went from about 3,000 students (at North Meck) to 100 on one hallway. It’s a private school, and the academics are a lot more challenging. But the transition really helped me a lot and helped prepare me for college as well. Davidson Day was a big difference for me, but it was a good difference.
Asked if he’s learned anything about himself during his brief Davidson Day tenure, Sullivan paused for a moment and smiled.
“I guess it’s just that, no matter where you go, you’ve got to be you,” he said. “Private school and public school are a lot different, but I just tried to stay who I am and continue to do what I’ve been doing, not letting anything change me. So I guess I just learned about integrity.
“And that’s something I can take with me anywhere I go from now on.”