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Prep Basketball: Salisbury boys preview

By Ronnie Gallagher
rgallagher@salisburypost.com
Jason Causby remembers his Salisbury boys basketball team coming within an eyelash of beating Starmount in the sectional final last season ó and how few fans were even aware of it because of the Salisbury girls’ success.
“We were one or two baskets from winning,” Causby said. “The community didn’t realize how close we were to the regionals.”
This year, the Hornets have the talent to make a regional appearance a reality. Causby returns eight players from a 19-11 team that won the Sam Moir Christmas Classic and the CCC tournament.
“If I use one word to describe this group, it’s confidence,” Causby said. “It’s an air of confidence I’m excited about.”
It all starts with Brandon Abel, a 6-foot-51/2 forward. The senior is a four-year starter who was the CCC Player of the Year last season. He averaged 14 points per game overall and 16 per conference outing.
“He has lifted a lot and has bulked up,” Causby said. “He could play all spots.”
Abel has improved his mid-range jumper and is the top returning rebounder. He averaged 8.0 boards last season.
“We need to find more ways to keep him involved,” Causby said.
That falls into the hands of senior point guard Thaddeus Williams. Causby pulled him up to start as a sophomore, and this will be his third year in the lineup. He must score ó and distribute ó for Salisbury to be successful.
Williams has earned attention from Division II schools.
“He had a great summer,” Causby said. “I’m excited for him. He is doing a great job penetrating and getting to the rim. He is as complete of a point guard as I’ve had.”
Sophomore Darien Rankin should move into the starting lineup.
“He’s the third guy we’ll really lean on,” Causby said. “Physically, he has really matured. He’s ready to have a breakout year.”
Rankin, a 6-1 small forwad, had big expectations coming out of middle school but had a difficult time finding his role as a freshman. This past summer, he attended the Bob Gibbons camp and is already rated as a mid-major prospect.
“He’s so explosive,” Causby said.
Two other sophomores ó 5-11 Romar Morris and 6-7 Alex Weant ó could crack the starting lineup.
Causby has been preaching defense, and Morris is his man.
“He’s a one-man press,” Causby said with a smile. “He’s an exciting guy to watch. He’s our best defender.”
Weant was on the varsity as a freshman but saw limited time. Expect those minutes to increase.
“He’s fundamentally sound,” Causby said. “He has a good basketball IQ. His coordination is coming around. He has a good, 15-foot face-up jumper, but I’d like to see him be more of an inside presence.”
The best shooter on the team is Jahaan Hailey, a 6-2 junior who played jayvee last season.
“He has an opportunity to start,” Causby said.
John Knox, a 5-9 point guard, saw time on varsity last season as a freshman. As is the case in football, Knox can quarterback the Hornets. He is Williams’ backup but could play shooting guard and be on the floor at the same time.
“John may not be the most athletic kid at Salisbury, but he’s the best athlete,” Causby said. “He shoots well, has a good IQ and will not do anything out of character.”
Dominique Phillips, a junior, is Salisbury’s high-energy guy.
“He’s 5-10, but he plays 6-4,” Causby said. “He has a knack for the basketball. He can defend a lot of people. He’s a game-changer.”
Tyler Lingard is a 6-5 senior who has the potential to start. He’s in the top seven.
“He can provide stability inside,” Causby said. “He can score in the paint.”
After sitting out last season, 6-4 Randy Almeida is back for his senior season.
“He’s very fundamental,” Causby said. “He’s a fun guy to coach. He’ll bang around. I just have to see how rusty he is.”
Phil Do is a 6-2 junior coming off the jayvees.
“He can play guard or forward and rebounds extremely well,” Causby said.
Forrest Wilkens is a 6-2 sophomore. He shoots the ball extremely well and reminds Causby a lot of former Salisbury standout Jacob Phifer with his wing span.
Dujoun Jones is the team’s only freshman at this time. The 6-footer is a gifted athlete, according to the coach.
“I compare him to Romar,” Causby said. “He’s a defender and a slasher.”
This is Causby’s fifth year as head coach, and he has grown right along with the players.
“I’ve learned you never know all you need to know,” he said with a smile. “I look back on those first teams and wish I could coach them now. Each year that passes, you learn more about kids.”
Causby says those things because he now has two children of his own.
“Being a father helps me deal with the teams,” he said. “You want to make it more of a family affair.”
Salisbury has had its moments under Causby, but there was always a West Rowan or East Rowan moving further in the playoffs. And, of course, he was overshadowed by the Salisbury girls.
But this could be the season for which he’s waited. Several of these players helped Salisbury win the Christmas tournament for the first time in 10 years and advance past the second round for the first time since 1994.
“This is the team that could get us over the hump,” Causby said.
It’s time for the community to realize that.

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