2011-12 Basketball: North Rowan boys preview
By David Shaw
SPENCER ó We donít know what book the members of North Rowanís boys basketball team were reading last season, but they were all on the same page.
The Cavs spent four months bottling magic, culminating with a season-ending 11-game winning streak and the schoolís first 1A state championship. Itís a story no one saw coming.
ěTo win it all when we werenít expected to, that was the greatest thing about last season,î said second-year coach Andrew Mitchell, Mr. Can-Do-No-Wrong in these parts. ěAt the beginning of the year, no one felt like we could win it. But when I made the switch and came here from Salisbury, I knew we could. I didnít want to seem arrogant and come out and say it, but thatís the only reason I left. I knew the talent pool that was waiting for me here. I knew we had a shot ó if not last year, then this year and the year after.î
Thatís discouraging news for the rest of the YVC and the stateís 1A contenders. North must fill gaping holes left by all-county graduates Sam Starks and Javon Hargrave, but it returns seven lettermen from a squad that went 27-5, captured the conference tournament and caught fire when it mattered most. Could another bestseller be in the offing?
ěIím always building,î said Mitchell, whoís jewelry box now contains three state title rings. ěMy wife is always on me because I love to sit and watch film. Iíll watch five or six hours of film and fall asleep watching it. Thatís what I do. Sometimes thatís what it takes.î
Mitchell ó along with sociologists ó is keenly aware the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. And what heís got here is a team willing to do whatever it takes to defend its turf and shed the bullseye on its back. These are the good-old-days on Whitehead Avenue, and North is fortunate to have Mitchell & Co. starring in them.
ěIím not looking forward to the down days,î he said. ěI know weíre in a good cycle, but it wonít last forever.î
It will last at least another season. The Cavs return enough height, weight and experience to duplicate their 14-2 conference record, then go searching for another magic carpet to ride. Mitchell forsees only one problem ó too much of a good thing. Heís got five point guards.
ěWell,î he qualified, ěfive guys who could play point guard. You get a team like that you can press, you can run, you can do a lot of different things. Itís actually a team strength ó depth at the point guard position.î
Among them is senior Jordan Kimber, an all-county pick who missed six games last season with an assortment of injuries. On doctorís orders he sat out the last three games of Northís football season.
ěHeís healthy and happy,î Mitchell reports. ěHe can penetrate and he can dish. Most important, heís got heart ó that fire that a champion needs.î
Joining him is Pierre Givens, another all-county senior who is searching for his basketball legs after playing football. Givens was MVP of Northís 64-57 championship-game victory over Pender.
ěIf Iím choosing a team, heís the first guy I pick,î Mitchell said. ěHeís got no fear shooting the ball and knocking down 3ís. But he needs to become a better defensive player. Thatís what will make him a scholarship player.î
Junior guard T.J. Bates was MVP of the Midwest Regional after netting a season-high 22 points against Winston-Salem Prep. Mitchell compares him to a former Salisbury girls basketball standout.
ěT.J. handles the ball as well as anyone in the state,î Mitchell said. ěBut Iím looking for him to be a Bubbles Phifer ó a ballhawk who wonít let you cross midcourt. If we can get him to play that role, weíll go a long way.î
Junior center Malik Ford returns after beefing up to 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds. Mitchell indicates heís improved his practice habits and is prepped for a top-shelf season.
ěHeís takes great pride in dunking on people,î the coach said. ěBut look at him. He has to put it in his mind that he can be a great defensive player. Weíd love for him to average 10 rebounds and 12 or 13 points-per-game.î
A couple of canít-miss sophomores will play small forward for North. Thereís Michael Bowman, the 6-3 non-stop workhorse who attended every one of Mitchellís preseason workouts. A part-time starter last year, heís as versatile as a pair of khakis.
ěHe can play any position,î said Mitchell. ěHe can shoot. He can guard. And heís one of our toughest guys in the post.î
So is Mike Connor, the 6-2 forward who Mitchell calls his most-talented player pound-for-pound.
ěIn the regionals we had a problem getting going,î he said. ěThen Connor made two or three bigs shots and we pulled it out. He just gets to the basket with ease against anybody.î
The team sleeper is Daniel Chambers, a 6-5 wide-body who suffered a pair of ankle injuries last winter. Heís a bit of an enigma.
ěHeís an old man in a young manís body,î Mitchell said. ěHe doesnít run fast or jump real high, but he gets rebounds, blocks shots and makes layups. Thatís called leading-by-example.î
Another thoroughbred in Northís point-guard stable is Teresse Barber, a senior with lights-out shooting range.
ěHe could get a lot of minutes on the court if he decides he wants to defend,î Mitchell offered. ěHe can come in and shoot with the best of them.î
Swingman Oshon West, a 6-4 junior, returns after a yearís sabbatical at North Hills Christian School and is expected to be a major contributor.
ěHe reminds me of (ex-NBA star) Larry Johnson,î said Mitchell. ěHeís a man inside. Heís got big hands, a big build and plays aggressively. He loves that guard position, but there arenít many high school players who can defend him in the post.î
North has added a couple of transfers ó 6-4 junior Zack Lemmon from West Rowan and 6-3 senior Tydler Watlington from Statesville. Mitchell also must make roster decisions regarding juniors Eugene Coney, Travis Holshouser, 6-7 Devin Tate, 6-5 Khari Ellis and 6-2 Joe Robinson and 6-2 Raheem Kelly. The Cavs may need anywhere from 12 to 15 seats on their bench.
ěWe still need to work on our team cohesiveness,î Mitchell said. ěWeíve got all these great individuals. But Iíve been in the business a long time and I know you donít win championships playing that way. You have to pull it altogether.î