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2009-2010 Basketball: East Rowan boys preview

By Bret Strelow
bstrelow@salisburypost.com
GRANITE QUARRY ó Jim Lankford is coaching again for the first time since 2003, when he was a college assistant and recruiting coordinator for East Tennessee State’s women’s program.
A Granite Quarry resident who is not an East Rowan faculty member, Lankford will direct East’s boys program this season.
“Coming in fresh, their slate is clean with me, mine is clean with them,” Lankford said. “That’s been a really unique way to get to know them. I didn’t expect it to be as smooth as it’s been; I thought it would be a lot more difficult.
“Everybody is on equal footing to prove themselves. I’ve enjoyed just being back on the court with kids and teaching the game of basketball. That’s what I enjoy more than anything, just teaching little nuances of the game.”
The Mustangs, who went 7-16 in Greg McKenzie’s fifth and final season as their coach, will rely on senior leaders such as Brian Grohman, Phillip Ajayi and Riley Weber.
The majority of Lankford’s coaching experience is with female teams, but that’s allowed him to use humor as a teaching tool during his brief time at East.
“The floor is the same, the ball is just a little bigger,” Lankford said. “The same concepts still work and still apply.
“I always tease the guys and have fun with them. As we’re working on some of the skill development, I told them early on, ‘You know what you guys are going to hear if you’re running a drill and I’m not pleased with it?’ They looked at me like, ‘What?’ You know, you’ll have to hear, ‘I’ve had girls that can do this better than you guys.’ It’s been a joke back and forth, and they take it in stride.”
The departure of a large senior class leaves East with a relatively inexperienced roster. Grohman, Weber, Ajayi and Cole Honeycutt, now a sophomore, contributed to the varsity team last year.
Grohman was East’s second-leading scorer last season at 8.2 points per game. A skilled post player, he missed six contests with a knee injury.
“He’s had a really strong preseason for us,” Lankford said. “He’s probably one of our bright spots as we look back on our scrimmages. There’s a lot of things to improve on, but I was really pleased with how hard he played. He’s kind of a blue-collar guy who will score points on the inside, get rebounds, play defense, do all the dirty work.”
East’s run to the second round of the 3A football playoffs delayed the transition to hoops for Ajayi and Weber.
Ajayi is a point guard who averaged 6.5 points per game last season. He had 19 points in an early loss to Northwest Cabarrus.
Weber excels on the wing playing as a small forward. He averaged 5.2 points last year and reached double figures in a league win against Carson.
“I look forward to those guys, No. 1, they will provide leadership,” Lankford said. “No. 2, they have much more of a physical presence being football players. They’re used to being a little more aggressive, a little more physical in the game. That’s something we can really use.”
Several players are competing for time at the “4” and “2” spots.
One of the frontrunners to contribute inside is junior Rashawn Joshua, who recently suffered a knee injury. Lankford received good news Tuesday that Joshua should only miss a few weeks.
Honeycutt, who appeared in 23 games as a freshman, can play shooting guard or point guard. He followed a 13-point performance against Northwest Cabarrus with a career high of 21 points in a 63-59 win against Statesville last season.
“He’s very heady,” Lankford said. “He understands the game and has a real high basketball IQ. He’s very skilled; one of the more skilled perimeter players we have.”
Junior O’Brien Wilson and a pair of siblings are new to the program.
Wilson is an athletic shooting guard, and sophomore Hakeem Gittens could spell Ajayi at the point. Omar Gittens is a big-bodied forward who can bang down low.
“Having two brothers, it’s kind of neat,” Lankford said. “They’re two really good kids.”
Ethan Curlee and Darrice Sells are two of the team’s top outside shooters, but the Mustangs probably won’t be as perimeter-oriented as they have been in recent seasons. Avery Rogers, Ryan Driver and Steven Watkins are also in the mix for Lankford.
“The last several years East was very blessed with having three to four kids to put on the floor at one time that all could fill it up from the perimeter,” he said. “I don’t think we have as many like that, so we have to be balanced and score inside and score from the perimeter.”

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