Prep basketball Preview: East Rowan boys
By Bret Strelow
GRANITE QUARRY ó Empty-nest syndrome has given way to excitement for East Rowan boys coach Greg McKenzie.
The Mustangs, with one experienced player back from the team that won the NPC tournament title, will have a new look in McKenzie’s fifth season.
McKenzie arrived at East along with his son Kenan and Justin Vanderford, both four-year varsity players. Trey Holmes and Shawn Eagle were also seniors as the Mustangs went 23-5 to cap a terrific run.
East has gone 88-25 since McKenzie took over as coach before the start of the 2005-06 season.
“It is the hardest opening of a season since I’ve been a head coach,” he said. “We’re obviously going to miss Justin, Kenan, Trey and Shawn. I think it’s also the fact Kenan’s not here, for me personally as a coach and a dad. I just had this weird feeling, and I think it’s because Kenan has been by my side for his whole life and for four years here.
“One of my friends said I was going through postpartum depression. It’s funny because my wife went through it when we dropped him off at college, and I had no problem. With basketball starting, that had to be what it was. I was kind of in a funk, but I’m a lot better now, and I’m excited.”
East’s roster includes seven seniors, but 6-foot-3 forward Daniel Plummer is the only one who was a regular contributor last season.
The Mustangs averaged a school record 71.0 points per game last season, and only 7.9 of those are back.
“There’s no doubt we’re not going to score as much, which means we can’t let our opponent score as much,” McKenzie said. “I don’t see us scoring 80 points ó I don’t see us scoring 80 points if there was nobody on defense. I think we’ll be in the 50s scoring points and have a lot of guys scoring between six or eight.
“We have the potential to be a good rebounding team, and I’m excited about that because we haven’t been a good rebounding team.”
Plummer, one of five East players listed at 6-2 or taller, averaged 4.7 points in 27 games last season. Jordan Moore, Caleb Allen, Jesse Slater and Will Mancil accounted for the remaining 3.2.
Plummer had a career-high 15 points in a win against West Iredell and scored 14 in a first-round playoff victory against St. Stephens.
“We’re expecting big things from Daniel, and he had a great preseason,” McKenzie said. “We expect him to do all the things he did last year, which is give us great effort, hustle, rebound and score around the basket. Offensively we need a little bit more from him this year, and he’s capable of scoring more.”
Allen, Brian Grohman and Michael Morton are the other players who bring size to the post, and Demond Torrence is out for the first time as a senior.
Allen is a strong rebounder, and McKenzie used the phrase “a coach’s dream” to describe the way Grohman hustles and listens to instruction.
McKenzie ranks the 5-11 Moore as the team’s best rebounder. He can go up in traffic, absorb contact and come down with the ball.”He’s really athletic and really strong,” McKenzie said. “He takes it to the basket really well and scores around the basket.
“Jordan is our most physical player.”
Sophomore Chris McKenzie ó Greg’s son ó is a perimeter threat at 6-3.
His jump shot resembles his older brother’s, and McKenzie was one of East’s standouts this summer.
“He sees the court well, but he has to get better with ball-handling,” Greg McKenzie said.
“Unfortunately we don’t have a lot of guys that see the court that well. I think that’s one of the big things where we’ll really improve throughout the year: our guys being able to find the open man better.”
McKenzie will also rely on players such as freshman Cole Honeycutt, junior Riley Webber and junior Phillip Ajayi, as well as Slater and Mancil, to contribute in the backcourt.
Honeycutt’s strengths are shooting and ball-handling. Webber excels as a defender, and Ajayi has shown potential on the offensive end. Slater can knock down open shots, and Mancil has displayed flashes of athleticism.
“It’s fun practicing every day because there’s so much to learn for our guys,” McKenzie said. “That makes it more challenging, but it will be more fun because it will be a lot easier to gauge their improvement throughout the season.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt we’ll be a whole lot better at the end of the year than we are now. I think we’ll be competitive all year, and I’ll be very surprised if we’re not a tough team to beat throughout the season.”