Prep Basketball Preview: North Rowan girls
By Bret Strelow
SPENCER ó Tony Hillian and Mike White have made a subtle switch.
They’ll stick together while trying to help North Rowan’s girls bounce back from a disappointing season.
North shared a CCC regular season championship, captured one CCC tournament title and enjoyed three 20-win campaigns in White’s seven years as head coach. An injury to Quon Cuthbertson hurt the Cavaliers’ cause as the team struggled to a 2-21 record last season.
Hillian, who was White’s assistant last year, is now the head coach. White will help out Hillian.
“I think he’s moving up in a new direction, moving on to another level,” Hillian said of White. “He wanted somebody that really knows what’s going on and that’s got a good insight with the ladies, someone that will do a good job. I think I’m the person for that job.
“It’s going to be interesting to see him sitting and me standing. He’s going to be coaching from the bench just like I did, but he said, ‘Now I want to see you sweat a little bit.’ ”
Hillian lists coaches like White, Bob Hundley, Andrew Mitchell and Sam Gealy among his coaching influences.
Hillian, a 1993 Salisbury High graduate, didn’t play basketball for the Hornets. Gealy was the boys coach at that time, and Hillian served as a team manager.
“I’m not afraid; I’m up to the challenge,” Hillian said. “Everybody doesn’t get this opportunity. To have not played basketball, I’ve surrounded myself around a lot of great coaches. I’ve learned the game.”
Hillian gained experience through exposure to local players as the Dunbar Center activities director. He’s coached at the AAU level for 14 years and worked with the Junior Hornets and Junior Bobcats programs.
Hillian attended Livingstone women’s basketball practices to learn from Mitchell, his cousin. Mitchell is now the head girls coach at Salisbury.
“I got involved in coaching because I know I’m a motivator,” Hillian said. “Motivating students and motivating athletes is part of the job, and then you have to teach them basketball. I learned to do that myself.”
Hillian actually acted as head coach for one game last season when White had to miss North’s contest at West Davidson. The Cavs led early in the third quarter of a 51-41 loss that dropped them to 0-8 in conference play.
Cuthbertson, a center, suffered a season-ending knee injury in North’s fourth CCC game, and the Cavs finished with 14 consecutive setbacks.
Cuthbertson averaged 11.9 points in 14 appearances and enters her senior season with 357 career points.
“She’s going to be a big factor,” Hillian said. “She has to be able to finish at the basket this year and be a leader on the court. We are looking for great things from her because she is a senior.
“She had the knee injury last year and is still a little hesitant sometimes to put pressure on that knee, but during practice she’s working it out pretty good.”
Hillian will count on several other upperclassmen, including senior point guard Abril Ellis, junior guard Symphony Roberts and senior forward Crystal Heaggins.
Sophomore forward Mariah Gregory also started in a recent scrimmage.
“We can’t depend on one player,” Hillian said. “There are five people out there, and everybody has to be able to do their job. With five on the court at a time, it’s going to take five to win that basketball game.
“Coming in and out, subbing, they have to bring what they’ve got to the game. Everybody has a piece, whether it’s boxing out, free-throw shooting, defense, steals. We can’t depend on Daquondra to do all the work.”
Guards Cree Turner and DeShea Torrence were also regular contributors last season, and Hillian has high hopes for freshmen Teaunna Cuthbertson and Tiffany Brown in the backcourt. Brown’s older sister, Shemieka, was a recent North standout.
The roster also features senior Victoria Rhinehart.
“The confidence level, you have to win basketball games in practice,” Hillian said. “That’s where you work hard, and what you do in practice is what you’re going to do in the games. If you’re loafing in practice, you’ll loaf in the games.
“We have been working very hard so far.”