Dante Battle doesn’t say much on the court. He doesn’t have to, though.
While his teammates and opponents run up and down the court celebrating and talking trash, Battle keeps to himself.
He’s quiet, just like his game. Battle might congratule a teammate with a pat on the back, but then he’s ushering them down to the defensive end of the court. He’s consistent in that way.
Battle, a senior forward at Rocky Mount High and the 2013-14 Telegram All-Area Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year, lets his game do most of the talking.
“I’m talking back, but I’m not opening my mouth,” Battle said. “I’m just scoring.”
On the court, Battle is surprisingly stoic. He maintains an intense stare, exclusively focusing on the task at hand while the players around him go through spurts of emotion and point surges.
Some players score in small bursts and then go quiet for the rest of the game.
That never has been Battle’s game. He’s efficient, staying hidden on the court but shining brightly in the box score: He averaged a double-double in both his junior and senior seasons.
He doesn’t care about the flare. Growing up, it never mattered.
“An efficient game is the same as a flashy game,” Battle said.” ... I don’t think of being flashy. I want to be a killer. I want to be the man inside. I want to show that I can be that go-to guy when it’s needed.”
Battle, the MVP of the 2012 3-A state championship, averaged 16 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. He was held to single digits just twice all season, finished with 17 double-doubles and shot 51 percent from the field.
Battle finished with 1,391 career points and 897 rebounds in 109 games.
“He’s going to be missed, man,” Gainey said. “He’s a kid who we still haven’t seen all he can do. I’m so excited what he’s going to do at the next level.”
Man isn’t a noun that Gainey used with Battle a lot. As a freshman, Battle jokingly was teased by his older yet smaller teammates.
It made him want to ‘man up.’
Gainey consistently referred to him as a ‘baby’ – a unique form of motivation that worked.
At times, it pushed him to dominate games.
Now, Battle knows he is a man. He believes it. With the work he put in, he’s one of the better big men in the state of North Carolina.
“He’s the silent killer,” Gainey said. “When he wanted to go, ... when he said give me the ball, it was a beautiful thing to see.”
Battle had those moments.
He took control of the 2012 state championship game, finishing with 20 points and 12 rebounds and winning the MVP.
The next year, he outplayed All-American and current North Carolina forward Isaiah Hicks for nearly the entire regional championship game. Hicks exploded in the final minutes and ended the Gryphons’ season.
“We have yet to see the best of Dante Battle,” Gainey said. “... We still haven’t seen his best basketball. I hope playing at the next level we will.”
Battle said he has narrowed his college choices down to Hutchinson Community College (Kan.), Wallace State (Ala.) and Cape Fear Community College. He hopes to play in college alongside teammate Immanuel King.
“I’ve gotta make it for everybody around here,” Battle said. “Even if they don’t know me, I’m still trying to make it for them and put Rocky Mount on the map.”
Hidden among the surges, Battle always has done the majority of his work in the shadows. With his assassin-like game, Battle doesn’t stand out – at least not as much as his 6-foot-5 frame might dictate.
He always has seemed willing to defer to his teammates – vocally and statistically.
“He’s just a sweet kid,” Gainey said. “He wants everybody to shine. ... He didn’t want it to be all about Dante Battle. He wanted it for the team.”
Battle has risen from a scarred past. When he was seven years old, his mother was killed in a car accident. He still keeps a picture of her by his bed.
On occasion, Gainey still thinks he sees Battle, who lives with his grandmother, thinking about his late mother, Tab. No doubt, the event changed his life. But it forced Battle to grow up quickly, a change that climaxed this year.
“I started off as a boy, as a baby, and now, with it being my senior year, I feel like I’ve matured into a man,” Battle said. “... Every year, I felt like I got better. My skill level got better and I competed more and more every year.”
As the Gryphons warmed up for games this season, they took free throws in order of their jersey numbers. After an attempt, they’d jog over the bench where they exchanged high fives and hand shakes with the coaching staff.
Gainey was last. So was Battle, who wore 55.
When Battle reached Gainey, there were no hugs exchanged. Gainey threw a couple phantom punches at Battle’s chest and made the same request.
“‘Hey, man, I need that aggressiveness, but I need more,” Gainey said. “That’s what I said to him every game. I need more. I’ll wait and see.”
Wherever Battle goes, Gainey will keep tabs on him. Gainey watched Battle grow from a ‘baby’ into a man, and he isn’t shy about saying Battle holds a special place in his heart.
“The best is yet to come,” Gainey said. “And it’s coming.”
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org