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Prep Basketball Preview: A.L. Brown boys

By Mike London
mlondon@salisburypost.com
KANNAPOLIS ó In an era in which an increasing number of athletes concentrate on one sport, A.L. Brown is an exception.
Brown’s football and basketball teams are essentially the same guys, and a second-round playoff victory against Marvin Ridge on Friday guaranteed coach Shelwyn Klutz’s basketball squad will be playing catch-up until the first of the year.
The SPC schedule begins Dec. 2, so don’t be shocked if the Wonders dig an early hole in a league in which Concord, Marvin Ridge, Anson (also still alive in the football playoffs) and Sun Valley will field stout teams.
“Concord’s got three starters back, Sun Valley’s got three and Marvin Ridge has everyone back,” Klutz said. “Top to bottom, the league’s going to be better and tougher.”
Still, the football crossover is something Klutz is used to and a scenario he doesn’t mind at all.
Not only was he a standout basketball player on the last Brown team to reach the 3A state championship game in 1983, he was the quarterback on the football team.
He also put in years coaching football, so he’s as eager as anyone for the gridiron green to keep rolling.
“They’ve got a chance to make that run this time, and the basketball coaches want them to go as far as they can just like we always do,” Klutz said. “Those seniors are a great group as far as athletes and as people. We can be pretty good once they can get in basketball shape.”
One thing Klutz never knows for certain is exactly who will report for duty once football finishes.
Several Brown seniors are college football prospects, and they may elect to use the winter months to hit the weights instead of the hardwood.
There are several factors to consider.
On one hand, this basketball season is the last time a tight-knit group of seniors can play a team sport together. That alone is going to get most of them out there.
It’s also true a lot of football recruiting at the Division II level takes place in the winter. Catawba’s staff, for example, loves to watch football prospects on the basketball floor. There’s no better way to make evaluations of pure athletic ability.
The negatives for football guys playing basketball are the possibility of injury and the loss of pounds. It’s hard for high school kids to maintain weight during the football grind, and it’s impossible in basketball.
“Some guys want to get bigger for college football in the offseason,” explained 6-foot-1 tight end Zach Massey, a good shooter who is leaning toward playing hoops. “It’s real hard to do that playing basketball.”
Massey averaged 3.1 points a game last season.
If everyone comes out, Brown will have excellent quickness and decent size.
Outside shooting may be an issue because Jonathan Efird and Jeremy Jones graduated. They were the top two scorers and 3-point threats last season.
Klutz is optimistic 6-2 Spencer Falls, up from the jayvees, and 6-2 Zach Fesperman, who split time between varsity and jayvees, can make their share of jumpers. Jacques Deese, who saw a little varsity time last season, is another possibility.
Demarcus Phifer, a natural basketball player, could break out. He averaged a modest 5.2 points a game last season but was in double figures four of the last seven. He had 14 points in an SPC tournament semifinal victory against Sun Valley.
“He was coming on late last year,” Klutz said. “He has a chance to be a good one.”
Jamill Lott’s to-be-or-not-to-be decision as far as playing will impact the season. Lott has enjoyed a phenomenal senior year as the football team’s quarterback and has received scholarship offers.
He would likely run the show at point guard if available. He averaged 7.2 points a game last season while providing ball-handling, leadership and intense defense.
Veterans that Klutz is counting on to make the transition from Memorial Stadium to Bullock Gym include Billy Simiton, T.J. Johnson, Xavier Watson, Jacob Newman and Vance Chapman.
“Billy will be a four-year varsity player, and T.J. and Newman will be in their third varsity seasons, so we’ve got some experience,” Klutz said.
Simiton, 6-0, is more athlete than basketball player, but he’s a highlight film despite limited shooting range. He had 15-point outings in SPC wins against Hickory Ridge and Parkwood and produced one of the dunks of the century against South Rowan. He averaged 6.5 points a game.
Johnson, 6-0, is another superior athlete, and he averaged 6.4 points per game. His shot comes and goes, but he’s a slasher who drives hard and works the glass.
Watson, a 5-11 guard who averaged 3.4 points a game, plays basketball the same way he does football. He’s a feisty strong safety on the gridiron.
Newman, 6-3, is the leading returning scorer at 9.5 points a game. A football tight end, he’s a smooth scorer, makes free throws and understands when to pass and when to shoot.
“He’s our best inside player,” Klutz said. “He can score, and he’s got to rebound.”
Chapman, 6-2, is the punter on the football team but an imposing-looking athlete. He’s an aggressive, determined rebounder.
Klutz hopes 6-4, 275-pound Aaron Davidson, the football team’s surprisingly agile run-stuffer, will play a significant role.
Davidson, who missed a year due to academics and lost another to injury, is behind but has turned things around. When he steps on the floor, the Wonders change from pretty small to pretty big.
Plus, the gym tilts a little.
“Aaron’s not as good offensively as his brother (former Wonder J.D.), but that’s a big body with the potential to rebound,” Klutz said.
As is usually the case, Brown should match up with most teams athletically, and the senior group has special chemistry. If jumpers fall and the Wonders rebound adequately they’ll be OK.
Brown was 18-8 last season and a solid second in the league to Concord.
The Wonders lost to Concord in the SPC tournament final and to Reagan by two points in the first round of the state playoffs.
Klutz is 150-127 in his career and 130-74 over the last eight seasons.
Brown’s only won two playoff games during his tenure, but it has qualified for the playoffs 11 times in his 12 seasons.
The Wonders have won at least 18 games five of the past seven seasons, and they could do it again.

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