2012-13 Prep Basketball: West Rowan boys preview
By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA – Even in mid-November, West Rowan coach Mike Gurley’s Hall of Fame sense of humor is in midseason form.
Gurley explains that assistant coach Willie Ellis will be sharing media-handling duties this season.
“Willie’s gonna talk after the wins, and I’m gonna talk after the losses,” Gurley said. “That means I’ll still get to do most of the talking.”
Gurley is only half-kidding. West is likely to take some lumps, at least early. The non-conference schedule is brutal – Salisbury, North Rowan, Davie, Lake Norman, Concord, Mooresville – and Gurley’s roster isn’t exactly filled with household names.
“We’re starting over,” Gurley said. “No ifs and buts about it. We have to be patient. We’ll have to be persistently patient. We have so many players new to this level that I realize it’s not going to click right away. I do believe it will click at some point.”
Guard Keshun Sherrill (1,907 career points), one of the best in county history, was the engine that made the Falcons go for a long time. His basketball sense and guts aren’t replaceable. Nor are his 21 points per game replaceable. Also missing is leaper Jarvis Morgan, who provided 10 points and 10 rebounds per game.
“We go into this season with a lot of questions marks, but all those questions can be answered by hard work,” Gurley said. “I do like our kids and I do think our work ethic is above average.”
Gurley usually enters a season with a realistic wins total in mind – whether it’s 22, 20, 18 or 15. He jokes that this year he just wants to win one.
Still, it would be a mistake to count the Falcons out.
They lack size and experience, but they do have some rugged, defense-first athletes – and they do have Gurley and Ellis.
In Gurley’s 15 seasons in Mount Ulla, West has won two state titles and played in seven regionals.
West has won the conference regular season title 10 times in those 15 years. The Falcons also have finished second twice and third twice. There was just one down season, 6-18 and seventh place in 2004, although this may be Gurley’s most challenging year since that season.
“We’re going to try to build a foundation this year, and only three of these kids are seniors,” Gurley said. “We want to get this program back to where I want it to be, the players want it to be, and the community wants it to be.”
Juniors Seth Martin (4.9 points per game), Najee Tucker (3.8) and Daisean Reddick (3.1) are the returnees with track records.
Martin has been a spot player – a designated shooter with almost unlimited range. He’s been cast in the limited role of zone-buster, but he has scored 211 points for West’s varsity the past two seasons. Martin changes a game and stretches a defense just by reporting to the scorer’s table.
“He’s really worked hard on his offensive skill set, and he can do more things now,” Gurley said. “He’s got some ‘B’ moves to go along with the 3-point shot.”
Tucker is a potential all-county player. While he’s not known as a shooter, he should be an effective scorer in transition and around the rim. A football cornerback, he’s aggressive, long and athletic.
“Najee has got a lot of spring, and he’s very coachable,” Gurley said. “He does whatever you ask to the very best of his ability.”
Reddick, a 1,000-yard rusher in football season, probably will be the best athlete West puts on the floor. He’ll make some jump shots, but like Tucker, he’ll get most of his points just by sprinting, leaping and hustling.
“He’s a super-athletic guy and he has toughness,” Gurley said. “Drop Daisean off a 10-story building and he’ll still get up and walk away – or crawl away.”
There are two thick, weight-room bodies on the roster in Jack Gallagher (tight end) and Chris Hassard (right guard).
Gallagher, a senior, can bang inside and has 3-point range.
“Jack’s been in the program four years, and he’s just one of those guys you love to be around,” Gurley said. “He just wants to win. He’ll make this team better every day by working in practice, and he’ll make some open 3s for us.”
Hassard will be counted on to rip the ball off the glass, defend the post and eat some space in the lane.
“Chris is a big body, and he’s a smart, big body,” Gurley said. “He’s like a Stanford offensive lineman.”
Demetrius Davidson has returned to the program, and his height will be important. At 6-foot-3, he’s one of the tallest Falcons.
“He can be productive if he stays active,” Gurley said.
The key ballhandlers are expected to be Broderick Avery and Celexus Long.
Avery was a contributor on West’s 2010-11 squad, but he played last season at North Hills.
Long is a sophomore with considerable potential, and he’s already made a few varsity appearances.
“Broderick brings us toughness,” Gurley said. “Celexus has good offensive skills. He just needs experience.”
Darius Gabriel will factor into the backcourt mix because of his defensive ability.”He’s tenacious,” Gurley said. “He’s like a gnat. He’ll get low and defend. There’s always a role for a kid like that.”
Also brimming with tenacity is Zeke Blackwood. A strong safety in football, Blackwood brings a chiseled toughness to the hardwood. His defense could be a factor.
Almir Hodzic will have a role as a shooter.
“He’s got a green light if he’s open,” Gurley said.
Gurley elected not to keep any freshmen on the opening-day roster, although he’ll have some talented kids on his jayvee team.
Devon Morrison, Dearius Phillips, Hezekiah Banks, M.J. Rayner, Cedric Wilson and Dillon Linker are potential callups during the season.
“It’s a big transition for a middle school kid to play varsity basketball right away,” Gurley said. “But we’ve got some good, young kids. Banks is 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, and he’s the biggest guy we’ve had in the program since K.J. Sherrill. There’s a lot of body there, just not a lot of experience.”
Gurley has coached 330 victories at West, and he won another 102, not to mention a 2A state title, when he was a youthful coach at Lexington.
No one doubts he’ll somehow manage to squeeze a respectable number of wins out of this starting-over season.
“Hopefully, the community will come out and support these kids because they are gonna play hard,” Gurley said. “I still don’t think it’s going to be easy for teams when they come to Mount Ulla. I think we can be in the equation in the NPC. I think we’ll have a vote in the outcome.”
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