Gallagher column: Return to Rowan is all memories and nostalgia for Vanderslice
SPENCER — Recently, Mark Vanderslice walked into the North Rowan gym, all the while walking into his past.
“Memories and nostalgia,” Vanderslice said. “It was the first time in 15 years. It looked so big when I was in high school.”
Vanderslice had played in that facility as a Salisbury Hornet and West Rowan Falcon during his prep days, a long, lanky basketball thinker. He was seldom the leading scorer but always the guy who made the pass when it was needed or the big defensive play at the right time. Coaches always referred to his instincts and smarts, a future coach in the making.
And that’s why Vanderslice was back in Spencer on Wednesday. The coach of Louisburg Junior College was there for the signing of his latest recruit, Oshon West.
“It’s a pleasure to come back to Rowan County,” he said.
Not that Vanderslice had ever lost touch. How could he? His mother, Katherine, is still a teacher at North. And his prep coaches Sam Gealy and Bobby Shipwash are always in the back of his mind. Those were two pretty darn good basketball minds to learn from.
Shipwash drove and drove his 1997 West team, making seniors Vanderslice, Clint Mauldin and Matt Welborn his whipping boys. At one time, the Falcons were 17-6. Then, they ran off seven straight victories to end the year.
“We didn’t win the regular season, we didn’t win the Christmas tournament and we didn’t win the conference tournament,” Vanderslice mused. “But we won the state championship.”
How did they do it?
“Strictly heart, chemistry and defense,” he said. “We had a lot of good players, not a lot of great players.”
It all culminated with a 79-67 win over Wallace-Rose Hill in the 2A title game in Chapel Hill. A freshman named Scooter Sherrill scored 25 points that night and burst onto the national scene.
“Scooter was a great player-to-be,” Vanderslice remembered, “but at that time, he was still finding his way.”
With a laugh, he added, “Fortunately, Scooter was a freshman and I was a senior playing the same position. So I got playing time. One more year and I’d be a watcher, not a player.”
The 6-foot-4 Vanderslice went to a prep school and then played for Eddie Biedenbach at UNC-Asheville. He has spent the last 11 years as a college coach, eight at the Division I level at Toldeo. While there, the Rockets won their first Mid-American Conference title in 27 years and went to the NIT.
He came back to North Carolina in 2010 to take the Louisburg head job. His first year, he was 32-3.
He has won with the same tactics Shipwash used at West.
“I’ve taken a lot from my high school days, especially the defensive mindset Shipwash included,” Vanderslice said.
Vanderslice is pleased the basketball in the county is still as exciting as ever. He is pleased his latest recruit, West, has been coached by Andrew Mitchell.
“I’ve been in practices where all the coach did was roll out the ball,” Vanderslice said. “It doesn’t happen here. Coach Mitchell does an unbelievable job. That’s why I’m so lucky to get Oshon. He is so coachable and he has been coached.”
Coached up just like Vanderslice was in those magical memories of 1997.