SALISBURY — Spend a few minutes with the anointed leaders of Salisbury’s boys basketball squad and something becomes crystal clear. These guys know the definition of the word team.
“We know who we are,” coach Jason Causby pointed out. “And we don’t want to talk about next year. As we progress through this year we’re definitely going to get better. That’s what real teams do. We’ve got talented individual players who have a lot of potential. But we’ve also got quality players and that makes me more excited than anything.”
Causby’s job is to spin all that talent, potential, quality and excitement into gold. He’s added a couple of top-notch assistants in former Elon player Curtis Rich and SHS graduate Chris Cline, both familiar names from years past. Taking the floor will be a group still smarting from last year’s disappointment — 9-18 overall, 5-5 in the CCC and a first-round exit from the state playoffs. You don’t need a degree from Harvard to know a much-needed about-face starts with Causby.
“You can already see the difference,” senior Jon Mark Petty explained. “We’re responding more to him this year. We’ve taken his direction.”
It’s a good first step for the Hornets, a team that lacks headliners yet hopes to make headlines. Pencil in North Rowan as the lead float in the conference parade, but leave a light on for Salisbury. “That’s what we’re aiming for,” said Nick Brown, another key senior. “Of course our goal is to go all the way. But we’ve got leadership, we play defense and we’ve had some intense practices.”
That sounds promising, but with a young team recovering from a down season, will it be enough? “I don’t know,” Causby said. “There are a lot uncertainties. We want to maximize each day because you’re not guaranteed tomorrow. We don’t want to be sitting here next year trying to get over that hump. We want to get there this season.”
They begin with a curious mix — four seniors, one junior, five sophomores and a freshman. Brown, a starting guard, provides the foundation. He appeared in all but one game last winter and made a lasting impression. “Nick is our rock,” Causby indicated. “He’s very steady. When we struggling last year we stuck him in the starting lineup and won something like five-out-of-six (games) and finished tied for second. You need players like that.”
Joining Brown in the SHS backcourt will be senior Jeryon Davis, a workaholic with energy who should provide a spark off the benth. Point guard Corban Usry is a sophomore who stuck with the varsity last season and saw considerable action. He can thread the 3-pointer from anywhere. “Pound for pound, he’s our best basketball player,” said Causby. “He’s definitely our best scorer, but he has to mature in a hurry. We’re just sitting back and watching him. When he does it, it’ll make my job a lot easier.”
So will the expected improvement of soph Kreshon Alexander, a combo guard/forward. “He’s a good change of pace,” noted Causby. “He’s a thicker, tenacious player with the ball in his hands and on defense. He needs to be a jack-of-all-trades.”
Forward M.J. Rayner is Salisbury’s lone junior and he’s a good one. “Reminds me of Dominique Phillips,” Causby said. “Long and rangy. He always gets the most out of his body.”
Then there’s D.J. Alexander, Kreshon’s cousin. At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, the sophomore wing scored 203 points and averaged 7.5 per game a season ago. His best performance came when he tossed in a career-high 18 points in Salisbury’s season-ending loss.
“He’s just got a great basketball body,” said Causby. “He runs well, carries his weight well and is a polished inside post-player. When he was in middle school he was so much bigger than everyone else, so they just stuck him in the block. Now he’s one of our better shooters.”
Big John Canipe is another widebody in the Salisbury frontcourt. A 6-4 senior, he missed last season with a knee injury after making a strong impression as a sophomore two years ago. “You just don’t know what to expect,” his coach said. “But we think he’ll be fine. He was our best defender his sophomore year. Last year we gained a ton of experience for our freshmen, but we didn’t have John.”
No one has a bigger upside than 6-6 sophomore Wes Fazia. A returning letterman, the 215-pound center spent the summer drilling with local legend and former pro Marvin Dixon at the YMCA. “He already had a nice offensive game,” said Causby. “Now he’s added weight and muscle.”
That could spell trouble for SHS opponents, but Fazia makes a good point when he talks about discipline. “This year is so much harder than last year,” he revealed. “We’ve come in with a different attitude, different mentality. We want it more. The defense wants it more. We’re practicing harder and working harder.”
The rest of the roster is filled with Petty, sophomore K.J. Wilson and 6-7 freshman Tre Oats. Petty, a 6-4 forward with shooting touch, was gold off the bench last year when he appeared in 25 games and averaged 4.0 per contest. A third-year varsity player who caught a pair of touchdown passes for Salisbury’s football team this fall, he’s arrived basketball-ready. “He’s not the prettiest to watch, but he’s effective,” Causby said. “When he plays well our team is good.”
Wilson stands 6-5 1/2 and plays even bigger. “He’s a load inside,” Causby said about Salisbury’s post. “He makes us a little more rugged inside and will clean up the glass.”
Oats has made the commute from Knox Middle School despite just blending in with teammates last year. Long and lanky without being frail, he’s made Causby a true believer. “If you walk into our gym and look around, he’s got the best basketball body on our team,” he said. “He’s got a great second jump. On any miss he can get back up quicker than anybody.”
It all bodes well for the Hornets, who will try to play defense first — and second, and third. “Our most successful teams were that way,” Causby said. “This one too. I’m hoping by mid-January we’re right where we need to be.”
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