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Throwback Basketball: North Mecklenburg 82, Salisbury 72

By David Shaw
CHINA GROVE — Leonard Owens still treats the court as his canvas, making the most difficult shots with utmost creativity.
Unfortunately, the left-hander and his Salisbury teammates didn’t make enough of them in Saturday’s 80-72 loss to North Mecklenburg in Scooter Sherrill’s Alumni Throwback tournament.
“This game had a 20-point turnaround,” Owens said at Carson High School, where he netted 19 points and a bloody nose. “We just got complacent. We took too many jump shots and gave up too many layups.”
Owens, a 1998 SHS grad who played collegiately for UTEP and professionally in Germany and Mexico, helped Salisbury build a nine-point first-half lead. Much of that evaporated when he went to the dressing room after taking an elbow on a play near mid-court. “It was just a little blood,” he said afterward. “Obviously, they came to play — and we didn’t push back enough.”
North Meck came with only five players, including former pro Titus Ivory (Penn State) and current pro Jamie Skeen (Wake Forest, VCU). Each scored 16 points in the second half, when NM cracked the game open.
“With only five, the plan was to make sure we don’t out-do ourselves in the first half, then go all out in the second,” the 6-foot-8 Skeen said after scoring a game-high 28 points and grabbing at least a dozen rebounds. “And use our timeouts wisely so we could get breathers.”
Skeen, who led VCU to the 2010 Final Four, has a year of pro experience under his belt and is currently being recruited by clubs in Japan, Greece and Germany. He recently returned from Las Vegas, where he played sparingly in the NBA summer league alongside Leon Powe, a teammate who won a title with Boston a few years ago.
North Meck’s lineup also featured Ivory — best-remembered for the outer-worldly game he had against North Carolina in the 2001 Sweet 16. He contributed 21 points, four assists and four steals in Penn State’s 84-72 win over the Joseph Forte/Brendan Haywood/Julius Peppers Tar Heels who had spent much of that winter ranked No. 1 in the country. Now 34, he went on to enjoy a 10-year pro career in Europe.
“I just recently retired,” Ivory said after yesterday’s 22-point effort. “I utilized basketball to get a free education, travel the world and provide for my family and three children. The game’s been wonderful to me, a real blessing.”
Salisbury had four scorers in double figures, including 13 by Shamari Spears. His short jumper from inside the lane gave his team a 28-19 lead midway through the first half.
“We were trying to wear them out,” he said. “But they were a tough, solid group of five. The best team won today.”
Spears enjoyed his first tournament game and returning to Salisbury. He attended SHS for two years before transferring to Blair Academy in New Jersey. Then came a couple years at Boston College and two more at UNC-Charlotte. Most recently he’s played professionally in the Philippines and London. He’s currently negotiating with a team in the France ‘B’ League and another in Serbia.
“It’s great that I still have the opportunity to do what I love to do every day,” Spears said while flashing his with his signature smile. “And I’m getting paid to do it. I love my job.”
So does Owens. He’s a 6-foot-7 advertising sales rep for the El Paso Times in Texas. He also owns and manages Street Cred Sports, a clothing line with a growing reputation.
“The best thing about this tournament was just getting to see everybody again,” he said. “I’m good friends with Scooter and Carlos (Dixon) and some of the other guys. We’ve all gone different ways, but there’s no place like home.”
Spears agreed.
“Just getting to see people,” he said. “That made it all worth it. We’re all men now, but we’ve got memories going back to when we were 13 and 14-years old. That’s the best part.”

NOTES: North Meck advanced to last night’s semifinal against Carson. Salisbury met West Rowan in a loser’s bracket match. … Robert Harris (13) and Bradley Taylor (12) reached double figures for Salisbury. Other Salisbury players included Reginald Moss, Steve Blanton, Brian Dalton, Levar Hamilton and Randall Jones.


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