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Gallagher column: 1986 reunion inspired North Rowan

GREENSBORO — It was Friday, Feb. 4 when we realized North Rowan had a boys basketball team that could go all the way to the state championship game.
The Cavs’ 90-40 pummeling of East Montgomery that night was just part of a Cavalier celebration. At halftime, some famous names from 1986 entered the gym to be honored for their state title: guys named Kitley and Kesler the most noticeable faces.
The old guys got to sit in the bleachers and watch new guys like 6-foot-7 sophomore Malik Ford score 18 points and throw down three consecutive wham-bam-jam slams. The new guys looked just as confident as the old guys used to.
The feel in that gym was electric.
Should’ve been in Fleming Gym on Saturday. The North fans made it more so.
“They’re the best fans in the world,” North coach Andrew Mitchell said after the Cavs beat Winston-Salem Prep 92-85 in two overtimes. “I’m amazed. Every game it seems like we get more and more as we roll.
North even brought a pep band to Greensboro.
“Our band was a big boost,” Mitchell said.
With a smile, he added, “It’s a great time right now.”
A great time to wear green.

Ford remembers when Mitchell was introduced last spring as the new coach. He didn’t know what to expect.
He does now. He expects to win for the seniors when North travels to Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh on Saturday to face Pender County for the 1A crown.
“We’ve got to send them out with a ring,” Ford said. “They work hard.”

One of those seniors, Javon Hargrave, met his match on Saturday in Winston-Salem Prep’s 6-4 D.J. Bishop — and he still came out on top a winner.
One of the best matchups of the day, Bishop was just as bulky as Hargrave. He scored 14 points in the second half and finished with 17. Hargrave had 19 points and eight rebounds.
“He was about the same strength as me,” Hargrave said. “It wasn’t as easy to push him out of the lane like I do most dudes.”
Bishop was very complimentary of Hargrave afterward, saying, “He was the toughest I’ve played against this year.”
Hargrave said there was a reason he played so well when the pressure was on.
“I want to go out my senior year with a bang.”

Winston-Salem Prep coach Andre Gould was classy in defeat, noting that he expected this matchup in the Western final.
“Believe me, they kept their eye on us all year and we kept our eye on them,” he said.
You could tell Gould was glad to be a part of such a well-played game.
“It’s the Carolinas and Dukes of basketball right now,” Gould said. “Some people act like Winston-Salem Prep and North Rowan can’t play this game.”
But the two heavyweights proved otherwise and produced the most entertaining game of all regional finals. 1A basketball is thriving.
“It’s a lot tougher than I heard when I came in,” said Mitchell, who coached Salisbury’s girls the previous two seasons.

While the big men were getting a lot of attention, Mitchell knows his guard play may have won this game.
Jerran Foster came out hot, scorching North’s zone so Mitchell switched to man-to-man. He put fresh Cav after fresh Cav on Foster, who scored 22 points, but missed a couple of big buckets late, including a layup after a steal.
“We knew he could shoot,” Mitchell said. “We kept running five or six bodies at him so in the fourth quarter, he wouldn’t have the legs to make those shots. We felt comfortable that at some point, he’d wear down.”

Speaking of those guards, Mitchell said, “We have six of the best, to me, guards in the state.”
Actually, it’s seven. When Sam Starks, Jordan Kimber, Pierre Givens, T.J. Bates, Amani Bates, Michael Connor and Michael Bowman attack, they leave defenders scratching their heads.
“They don’t want to give up inside stuff to (Hargrave), who, in my opinion, could possibly be player of the year in the state.”

Speaking of Amani Bates, he only played seven minutes, but came up with one of the biggest steals of the game in the second overtime.
“He begged to get in the game so he could make a difference,” Mitchell smiled. “He went in and produced. I love players who actually do something when they get in there.”

The player of the game was sophomore T.J. Bates, who scored 22 points and created havoc on defense.
“You just have to let T.J. go,” Mitchell said. “He’ll make one or two mistakes that makes you want to kill him. But he’ll come back and do four or five good things that makes you want to give him a hug.”

After Saturday’s win, Mitchell was already talking about everyone else.
“Hopefully, we’ll share the paper with the Salisbury girls, the Livingstone men in the CIAA championship game and Catawba (his alma mater) in the semifinals of (the SAC) tournament,” he said. “What a great day for Rowan County.”
The county went 2-2 with the high schools winning and colleges losing close decisions.

Mitchell was asked about preparation for Pender County.
He said he’ll give the Cavaliers today off, then go to the weight room on Tuesday. On Wednesday, they’ll start preparing for Patriots.

The Cavs get to play in Reynolds Coliseum, the house that David Thompson built.
Ford is bubbling with excitement.
“I can’t even imagine how its going to feel when we step onto the court,” he said.
Imagine it, Malik. We’ve been imagining it since Feb. 4.

Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or rgallagher@salisburypost.com.

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