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Prep Basketball: 2A championship: Salisbury vs. Graham preview

By Mike London
mlondon@salisburypost.com
Dr. Clyde Young is retired from dentistry but not from trumpet-blowing.
He’ll put on a shiny gold jacket and play his heart out this afternoon as Salisbury’s girls take on Graham in Chapel Hill’s Dean Smith Center in the 2A state championship game.
Tipoff is at noon.
Young, the world’s most experienced Cameron Crazy, has never played a single note in the Dean Dome, but this is a special occasion, and Young’s affection for Salisbury’s basketball team is as strong as his reverence for Coach K, Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson.
It’s also a special day for Salisbury coach Andrew Mitchell, a veteran of 13 years at Livingstone and other college stops and a somewhat more reserved Duke fan than Young.
Mitchell will guide his 28-3 Hornets against a hungry Graham team that is 29-3 and has lost in the 2A state-championship game each of the last two seasons. Graham was wiped out 85-62 in the 2007 title game by Cetera DeGraffenreid and Smoky Mountain, then lost to East Davidson 62-59 in the 2008 championship matchup. The loss to Smoky Mountain came in the Smith Center. Graham still has four veterans who played in that game.
Mitchell’s heard from just about every member of Hornet Nation this week, including Salisbury’s most famous athletic alumni ó Sacramento Kings guard Bobby Jackson.
“I’ve heard from people I haven’t heard from in a long time,” Mitchell said at a press conference earlier this week. “Many of my former players from Livingstone called. I talked to Bobby the other day, and he was pretty excited. We talked about keeping the team focused and playing hard. Bobby wished us luck, and if we do the same thing he does ó go out and play with passion ó I think we’ll be in good shape.”
Passion, hustle and energy finally got Salisbury over the East Davidson hump last Saturday. Salisbury shot 7-for-42 but willed itself back into the state-title game for the third time during a seven-year stretch during which the Hornets are 7-for-7 on reaching the Western Regional as one of 2A’s Elite Eight.
Over the past six seasons, SHS is 167-15. It was Shayla Fields and Sade Jordan. Then it was Ashley Watkins, Saybah Sammy and Kwameshia Hicks. Now it’s Shi-Heria Shipp, De’Rya Wylie and Bubbles Phifer. The beat goes on.
If the Hornets are going to climb to 168-15 and win that second state title, they’ll have to find a way to keep cool and stay focused in a unique environment for teenage girls ó a daunting 21,000-seat arena that has Michael Jordan’s Carolina blue jersey hanging in the rafters.
Mitchell understands a big part of what happens today will be moving past a draining, emotional 26-24 win against East Davidson, which was ranked No. 1, undefeated and had handed the Hornets all three of their losses.
“It was a great day against East Davidson and the bus ride back home everybody was excited, but we also knew we had one more game,” Mitchell said. “The thing we talked about was the fear of being too high, forgetting that we’re not state champions. We had a couple hard days of practice to assure them we’re still playing basketball. Everybody’s back down to reality now.”
Graham is good, obviously.
The Red Devils lost in December to 4A Greensboro Grimsley 65-64 and dropped back-to-backs in early February to Pittsboro Northwood (48-43) and 3A Greensboro Dudley (68-65). Dudley is playing for the 3A championship.
Coach Kyle Ward guides an up-tempo team that is on the small side but is very athletic. He has exceptional players in 5-foot-2 Beth Miller, 5-5 Kiki Allen and 5-11 Courdne Miles.
Miller (No. 24) has great career numbers ó 1,500 points, 750 assists and 375 steals. She averages 15.5 points a game and has 267 assists and 115 steals this season.
“I would be willing to say Miller is probably the best basketball player, guys or girls, to ever come through Graham High,” Ward said. “She owns all the school assists and steals records, and I’d be willing to say they’ll never be broken. I feel about her the way Roy Williams does about Tyler Hansbrough. She battles, gets after it.”
Allen (No. 21) can shoot. She’s made 59 3-pointers this season and hit four 3s in last year’s title game.
Miles (No. 34) is a 5-11 post player who signed with Carson-Newman. She’s a 1,000-point scorer and a tough defender.
“Graham is experienced and they’ve been in this situation a lot,” Mitchell said. “They have good guard play, and in high school, if you have that, you’ll be successful. They like to run and press so it’s the kind of game we like to play in. I don’t think it will be 26-24.”
Mitchell has been part of a CIAA tournament championship at Livingstone and a 16-under boys AAU state title with the Salisbury Kings. He has a chance today for another special moment in a rewarding year. He inherited and has developed special talent.
Shipp, a tall point guard who was regional MVP, and reserve Kia Rice are seniors who played in the Hornets’ overtime loss to Farmville Central in the 2006 championship game. Wylie didn’t play in the championship game but was a reserve on that team.
“Shipp is believing in herself a lot more,” Mitchell said. “She’s been a leader and a blessing, and I don’t know if I’ve ever coached a player with her type of ability. Right now her mindset is where she needs to be in terms of leading us to a state title.”
Bubbles Phifer, Salisbury’s top outside threat, shot 2-for-24 in the regional, but the junior has 993 career points, and Mitchell is confident she’ll make shots today.
“Bubbles could miss 50 straight shots, and she’s still going to bounce back and do well,” Mitchell said. “That’s the shooter’s confidence you have to have. She’s capable of exploding.”
Wylie will battle inside, as always, and the humble sophomore twins, Ashia and Ayanna Holmes, are smart, tough and high-energy.
Rice doesn’t score a lot, but look for her to contribute today.
“Kia’s a true leader, one of our brightest students and one of our best defensive players,” Mitchell said. “When we’re looking for a defensive sub, most of the time she’s the first one that comes to mind. She’s fast and anticipates well. She’s a really special athlete for us.”
Like Dr. Young, the Hornets will play their hearts out.
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Bret Strelow contributed to this story.

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