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2011-12 Basketball: The preseason notebook

By Ronnie Gallagher
rgallagher@salisburypost.com
Five questions that need to be answered:
1. Will North Rowan’s boys repeat as state champion?
Coach Andrew Mitchell knows his team is considered a 1A favorite. Not only do the Cavaliers have the important parts back other than Javon Hargrave and Sam Starks, but they have added Tydler Watlington, who played for NPC regular season champion Statesville last season.
The 1A state crown may be the Cavaliers’ to lose.
2. What now for the Salisbury girls?
Chris McNeil lost four Division I signees who helped win the Hornets’ third straight state title. The names may change but the game plan is the same. And he still has Brielle Blaire, a 6-0 sophomore who was the MVP of the latest state championship game.
3. Who is going to be the Moir Christmas Classic MVP?
Salisbury’s Darien Rankin, now a defensive back at the University of North Caorlina, has owned the award the last three seasons. He’s gone now. Who will step up?
4. Who could be the most fun team to watch?
Everyone loves offense so go see the Carson’s girls. This is a team that could score 80 points on any night.
5. Who will have the best student section? Carson, South, East and West dress up and entertain the crowd as much as the players. North packs its gym to cheer on the state champion boys. Salisbury students stand up the entire game behind their team. And who knows? The Hornets may bring the Thunder Dance from the football field to the gym when they know the win is secure.

XMAS GREETINGS: The biggest sporting event in Rowan County will occur Dec. 27-30 in Catawba’s Goodman Gym: the annual Sam Moir Christmas Classic.
People who might not go to a high school gym all season will turn out for this three-day extravaganza, which usually fills the beautiful 2,600-seat facility to the rafters — and fills the lobby.
Catawba athletic director Dennis Davidson has found a way to make money for his athletic program and give back to the schools.
“This is the 40th annual Christmas tournament and we will work to make it another grand event,” Davidson said.
There were whispers that Davidson might add an eighth team to go with the six county schools and Davie County, preferably A.L. Brown. But not yet. Adding another team would mean adding a fourth day to the event.
“There are no changes in the format because we just couldn’t quite pull the trigger on four days instead of three,” Davidson said. “An eighth school will move the tournament to four days, with morning games on the third day. That is another day of moving our college teams off campus and another day of expenses. I realize it would be another day of revenue as well, but when it came down to making the call, we decided to leave the format alone this year. We will continue to consider other options.”

MORE MOIR: This year should be one of the best Moir Classics ever. Salisbury’s boys have won four straight and the Hornet girls seven straight. Both lost a ton of talent.
“Everyone knows we’ve won four in a row,” Salisbury coach Jason Causby said. “The expectations are to knock us off. We’re underdogs to Davie.”

THE BIG FLOOR: The Christmas Classic won’t be the only time prep stars come to Goodman Gymnasium. North and Salisbury play at Catawba Dec. 10 and Dec. 17.
“There should be a great crowd,” Causby said.
Davidson agreed to playing host to the local teams for several reasons.
“Both schools called and asked because they don’t think their gyms can hold the expected crowds,” he said. “Obviously, we’re making some money as well but it fell nicely in our schedule —the Catawba men will tip off the afternoon vs. Limestone at 4 on Dec. 10th and we had nothing on Dec. 17, not even practice.”

PRESEASON BOYS: The preseason all-county team in Rowan County includes all-county returnees in North’s Jordan Kimber and Pierre Givens and West Rowan’s Keshun Sherrill and Jarvis Morgan, along with Salisbury’s Tony Nunn.
Preseason Player of the Year: West’s Sherrill.

PRESEASON GIRLS: The preseason team includes returning all-county players Salisbury’s Brielle Blaire, Carson’s Chloe Monroe, Kelly Dulkoski and Allison Blackwell, West’s Shay Steele and Nene Dixon and North’s Teaunna Cuthbertson.
Preseason Player of the Year: Salisbury’s Blaire.

GLAD HE’S GONE: When it was found out Watlington was at North, some coaches in the NPC were happy he wasn’t around anymore. League favorite Statesville is scary enough without him.

WILY VETERAN: The coach with the most experience?
Davie County’s girls coach Denny Key began his coaching career 41 years ago in 1970.

AND BABY MAKES THREE: East Rowan boys coach Trey Ledbetter is a basketball fanatic who loves coaching at his alma mater.
But hoops isn’t the only thing to get excited about in the Ledbetter household.
Trey and his wife Courtney are expecting their first child around June of next year.
“We are going to have a little dribbler here real soon,” Ledbetter said.

BEST PLAYER YOU DON’T KNOW: South Rowan’s Arielle McConneaughey.
Besides having the county’s hardest last name to spell, this former Raider cheerleader is now taking up a sport where she can produce.
“She’s one of the best female athletes in the school,” said South coach Jarrod Smith, who recruited her in P.E. after watching her stroke the rock. “She was shooting with the guys and she was knocking down jumpers.”

BROMANCE: There was a time when brothers Jarvis and Travis Morgan saw themselves as a dynamic duo at West.
Then, Travis transferred to Charlotte Olympic while Jarvis became an all-county, all-conference performer.
Move over, Jarvis. Travis is back.
The 6-4 leaper is again on Mike Gurley’s Falcon team.
“I talked to Keshun and was kinda missing my friends,” Travis said. “Coach Gurley is a very good coach. I came in with him. I decided to go out with him.”
That’s bad news for county and NPC foes. It’s just another athletic big man on a team that needed more talent inside.

JUMPING JACK: J’Quille Tracey of Salisbury has a 30-inch vertical leap. This year will be the first time the Salisbury junior is under the lights.
“He gets off the floor better than anybody I’ve ever coached.” Causby said.

DIAPER DANDY AWARD: The county’s best freshman could be South Rowan’s Avery Locklear.

HE’S BACK: When the season started on Monday, there was a familiar face invading the East gym: Jim Young.
Young is great at turning around programs, as he did with the Davie boys and East boys. He is now coaching the South Davidson boys.
Mitchell always talks about going up against great coaches like West Rowan’s Gurley and Causby. He now meets another 500-plus-win coach in Young twice in YVC action.

SHE’S BACK: Salisbury girls have a young team and who better to help them become more mature than having the greatest basketball player in Rowan County history as a mentor?
Shayla Fields has been assisting McNeil. She is the county’s all-time leading scorer, boys or girls.

YOU NEVER KNOW: Coaches find players everywhere. John Davis. the 6-5 South boys coach, discovered freshman Robbie Sherrill when he played against him at the South YMCA.
“He introduced himself by hitting me in the ribs,” Davis chuckled. “It hurt. He finished, too. I’m thinking, this kid has potential.”
So much so, that he’s on the varsity.

HOUSTON, IS THAT YOU? A surprise in the county this year could be South Rowan senior Houston Allen.
You may not recognize him at first. He’s grown a little.
“As a freshman he was 5-4,” said Davis, “and just as wide.”
Three years later, Allen stands 6-5 and puts the ball in the basket.
“People are going to know him,” assured Davis.

HEY, SHAY: When you’re a first-year coach, there’s nothing better than walking into a gym and finding a player like the 6-2 Steele waiting for instructions.
That’s made Todd McNeely feel better on his first day of practice after taking over for Erich Epps.
“You’re glad,” he smiled. “She’s long and athletic and we know she’ll be playing on Saturday.”

LOOKALIKE: When the Carson boys came out for picture day, the first question Brian Perry was asked: “Is Darius Moose back?”
No, Moose is still playing at Brevard College. But Remeiq Howard is a dead ringer for Carson’s best player ever.

NICE GESTURE: It was tough for Causby to watch Salisbury from afar last year, but he realized his former players hadn’t forgotten him.
Rankin, the county player of the year, asked him to present the ball after he scored his 1,000th point. Causby was emotional when talking about it
“That was extremely hard,” Causby said.

GOOD GENES: If Salisbury’s girls find their presence inside with 6-0 Ayasia Harris, there’s a reason. She has those good genes. Her father, Robert, is a former player.

STAT TO FORGET: South’s 2010-11 boys lost 12 games by seven points or less.

SPARE TIME: There are a lot of teenagers who have hobbies. For South Rowan, Lauren Register runs 5K races in her spare time.
“She is in amazing shape,” South coach Jarrod Smith said.

And finally …
There could be a couple of American Idols in our midst this season in North’s Daniel Chambers and East Rowan’s Steffi Sides.
There can’t be many basketball players who double as tuba players, but North Rowan has just that in senior Chambers, the music man of the Cavs.
“I started with the trumpet, then the drums and then the tuba,” Chambers said. “I’ve been playing since the seventh grade.”
• East’s Sides will be singing the national anthem before all of the home games this season.

Contributing to the notebook are Sean Rinehart and David Shaw.

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