North basketball: Senior reserves did their part

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 14, 2011

By Mike London
RALEIGH — Four North Rowan players accompanied winning coach Andrew Mitchell into the interview area after the Cavaliers toppled towering Pender County 64-57 for the 1A state championship on Saturday.
The athletes were no longer wearing uniforms or numbers, but senior Samuel Starks’ million-watt smile and senior Javon Hargrave’s imposing bulk were immediately recognizable to everyone with a pen.
Media folks who hadn’t covered North before had no idea who the other two guys plopping into chairs at the front of the room were. There were some puzzled looks. Where were Pierre Givens and Malik Ford? Who are these guys?
They were North’s other two seniors — Amani Bates and Jarvis Witherspoon.
Bates had played three minutes and hadn’t scored, although he’d contributed a steal and a rebound.
Witherspoon hadn’t shed his warmups. Yet they were grinning like they’d just scored 20 apiece, and that offered some insights into what made this North Rowan team so special.
Down 19 points against the best swingman they’d ever seen and the first 6-foot-10 man they’d ever faced, the Cavaliers roared back on Saturday. Only a special team could’ve done it. Only a together team, 1 through 12, could’ve done it.
“These two guys on my right,” said Mitchell, proudly pointing at Starks and Hargrave, “are two of the best in the state, in my opinion. But we’re not here, we’re not champions, without these two guys on my left.”
The guys on his left were Bates and Witherspoon.
“They sacrificed for this team whether they played or not,” Mitchell explained. “They never complained once. They accepted their roles. I can’t tell you how many times these two made a difference.”
Mitchell mostly had an eight-man rotation, but he employed a group that included ninth and 10th men, Daniel Chambers and Bates, for a long stretch late in the first quarter and early in the second. Things weren’t going well at all, but Mitchell was patient, even when most of us were starting to worry it might get out of hand.
Bates and Chambers did their jobs, and all the starters got a chance to settle down and catch their breath. Once Mitchell started sending the starters back into the fray, they were playing harder, tougher, stronger and better, and the stage-fright was long gone.
For Bates, being a basketball backup was a different sort of experience. In football, he was frequently a hero, scoring 12 TDs in the fall for the conference champs and earning all-county honors.
Like Witherspoon, Bates is a decent basketball player. They just weren’t going to get a lot of minutes on this talented squad.
Bates scored 52 points this season, including eight against Chatham Central.
Witherspoon, who created happy cries of “Spoooon!” from North fans every time he scored, contributed 29 points. He had eight against East Montgomery and hit a free throw in the regional romp against Murphy.
Their big contribution wasn’t in the scorebook. It was keeping everyone together and pushing forward through the tough times — such as OT setbacks to West Rowan, Salisbury and Albemarle and that 20-point YVC loss at West Montgomery.
History will remember Bates and “Spoon” as subs, but Mitchell will always remember them as champions.