2012-13 Prep Basketball: North Rowan boys preview
By Ryan Bisesi
SPENCER - The 1A level has been good to North Rowan. Since 2009, the team has experienced a state title, a 72-15 record, and morphed into a program to be feared in the region. Entering their last year in the classification, the Cavaliers are talented, deep and the defending Yadkin Valley Conference champions. Last season, they overwhelmed teams with depth without carrying a star player. Leading scorer Pierre Givens was the closest thing to that as he averaged 11.2 points a game while running the show at point guard while helping the Cavs to a 25-4 mark before suffering a tough loss in the third round of the playoffs to Monroe. This year's starting lineup boasts three seniors and two juniors. Givens and Jordan Kimber are gone, but the Cavs insist they're still nine deep giving Andrew Mitchell a flurry of options. "I don't think that we're as deep as we were last year," Mitchell said. "But I think we can still play nine, 10 players a night." The Cavs may not have a bona fide 25-point-per-game star, but they still shine pretty brightly. It was 20 months ago the Cavs won their first state crown in 25 years. Now Mitchell's most proud of the fact that eight of his players made honor roll. Senior T.J. Bates will start at point guard in his third year on varsity. Mitchell says Bates is bright and aware enough to pick up on things. Bates only played in two games last year due to knee issues. He is taking it easy in practices with freshman Jalen Sanders running the point in scrimmages. "He corrects us sometimes as coaches on the plays," Mitchell said. "He's the type of leader we need for this team." Mike Connor, who wowed fans as a sophomore last year, comes back stronger after playing wide receiver on the football team. Connor is the leading returning scorer at 9.3 PPG. Connor checks in at 6-3 and 175 pounds. "He's definitely stronger and he's shooting lights out right now," Mitchell said. "If he can stay focused and stay in a defensive frame of mind, he'll help us. You can put Mike on just about anybody on the court." Michael Bowman, a junior, averaged 6.4 PPG last year and is set to return as a swingman. Like Connor, he's been in the program for three years and can defend at a variety of positions. "Nobody works as hard as those two guys," Mitchell said. Senior forward Oshon West is a preseason candidate for Rowan County Player of the Year. West has scored 579 points in two seasons at North and is entertaining interest from colleges. "When it comes to being able to play inside or outside he can do it all," Mitchell said. "He may be the most talented player in the county. I've just got to get him thinking a little more on defense." Malik Ford, 6-7, is another holdover from the 2011 championship squad and had a solid summer working out. Ford was fourth on the team in scoring last year with 247 points in 29 games. Jared Ellis and Alexis Archie come off the bench. Shareef Walker, Michael Bost and Alex Billingsley will provide depth. Brothers Dalton Nelson (6-8) and Brandon Nelson (6-4) are East Rowan transfers who can provide size. "One thing you can't teach is height," Mitchell said. "Once those guys become comfortable, I think you'll see good things from them." Sanders leads an exciting freshmen group after an impressive season on the gridiron. "In our scrimmages, Jalen looks as good as anybody out there," Mitchell said. "He can run the team. As a freshman point guard, he doesn't get rattled." Mitchell says the team's defensive play will be the key. "The teams that win championships are the teams that play defense and rebound," Mitchell said. "That's our main focus. We want to play defense, limit our opponents to one shot and get three or four shots on the offensive glass." South Davidson, which dealt the Cavs their only YVC loss last year, lost transfers Austin Hatfield and Taylor Hatfield. Austin was last year's YVC Player of the Year. Bill Kesler, a staple of the program, returns as an assistant, as does Timothy Bates North begins the season at the Charlotte Hoops Challenge this weekend against Peachtree Ridge (Ga.) and 2A power Cuthbertson. The Cavs will open the year hosting West Rowan Nov. 30 and begin YVC play against Albemarle Dec. 4. They'll play Salisbury twice at Goodman Gym at Catawba.