Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 20, 2013

SPENCER — There aren’t many teams that can have legitimate dunk contests in high school.
The season is three weeks away for the county’s premier boys team for the last few years, but their athleticism and showcasing is in mid-season form. The last two regular seasons have practically been an alley-oop for North Rowan but change is on the horizon.
North has jumped up a classification after a 99-19 record in a short 1A-stint. That 100th win would have been sweet not only for obvious reasons, but it probably would have meant the Cavs won state. Winston-Salem Prep edged North 72-70 in double overtime in the west regional, one some were calling a de facto state championship game.
After winning it all in 2011, North has come close a couple times since. The good news is there’s another solid chance this year. In concert with the football team’s unbeaten regular season, the Cavalier train is rolling in Spencer. It’s an issue basketball coach Andrew Mitchell hasn’t had to deal with much, but he doesn’t mind it.
“It’s a good problem to have really,” Mitchell said. “We’re in a good cycle right now. It’s a good time to be a Cavalier.”
Some Yadkin Valley Conference games were over after the opening tip as the Cavs went 16-0 in league play, winning 19 straight games after the Moir Tournament and posting a school-record 116 points in a win at South Davidson. The first couple rounds in the playoffs provided moderate challenges but the Cavs beat Monroe in a thriller to advance to the regional.
This year’s edition is bit different as leading scorer Oshon West is gone as are dependable guys like T.J. Bates and Malik Ford. Still, the Cavs are deep enough to overwhelm some teams and beat most good teams, not unlike the last few years.
“I see a lot of similarities,” Mitchell said when comparing recent squads. “I think it’ll be an exciting year. This team has bonded as friends and family better than others. That’s what sets this team apart.”
This year’s backcourt will be led by Michael Bowman and Michael Connor, seniors who were freshmen on the championship team. Bowman is a big guard with range and Connor can get to the basket in just a couple steps from seemingly anywhere.
“Both of those guys have assumed a leadership role,” Mitchell said. “They’re the main guys working hard to assure no one else is slacking off. That’s why they’re two of the better guards in the state.”
Point guard Jalen Sanders is only a sophomore, but could be the leading scorer when all is said and done. Sanders came of age in his freshman season, averaging double-digit points in 30 games and showcased senior-level poise shooting and handling the ball. Sanders is likely to run the point after adding some bulk in the offseason.
“Since the spring, a lot of these guys have come to individual workouts and all the meetings,” Mitchell said. “It’s easier to bring the young guys like Jalen along when you have that type of leadership out of the upperclassmen.”
Kenyon Tatum was just another guy on a ridiculously talented Davie County team last year. For his senior year at North, he’ll be counted on in the post for jumping ability and size (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) even though he’s not a natural center. Tatum’s currently a defensive back on the gridiron but has a decent jump shot among other strengths. Oh, and Tatum unofficially won the dunk contest, giving teammates and onlookers a preview of what could come. 4A Davie beat North in the Moir championship last year in one of the few times the Cavs were outmatched. Tatum will join the team once football ends.
“He’s probably the best leaper on the team,” said Mitchell after watching Tatum throw a few down before practice. “The only time I’ve really seen him play is during P.E. He goes pretty hard.”
Sophomore Josh Handy could see some starts in the early going after thriving in spots last year.
6-8 returnee Dalton Nelson is the tallest Cav on the roster and will be the center to start the year. His brother Brandon graduated, leaving somewhat of a lack of a size for North.
While constructing the schedule, Mitchell factored in a deep playoff run by the football team. North doesn’t begin until Dec. 3 at Mooresville. The next day the Cavs travel to West Rowan and will host Bull City Prep on Dec. 7. North will seek to avenge last season’s defeat in a home-and-home with W-S Prep on Jan. 4 and Jan. 18. Central Carolina Conference play begins Jan. 24 at Thomasville. Central Davidson, now departed for the 3A ranks, won the league last year. North won it consecutive years in 2000 and 2001.
“I like Salisbury’s team,” said Mitchell while glancing around the conference. “Lexington and Thomasville have new coaches and I expect them to be good. I don’t know much about East Davidson but it should be a competitive conference.”
Mitchell hopes that Jareke Chambers and Kasaun Coney will join the squad once football is done. The speedy pair could make the Cavs a nightmare to deal with defensively. Coney played on the jayvee team a couple years back
“We like to press and do full-court defense anyway,” Mitchell said. “But you just can’t outrun everybody. When it comes down to slowing it down and thinking a little bit, we’ll be able to do that as well.”
Alexis Archie played last season and is expected to return when he’s done quarterbacking at Eagle Stadium.
“Alexis can play five positions,” Mitchell said. “He can defend and shoot too.”
Shareef Walker provides backcourt depth as well as Alex Billingsley
North has faced Monroe each of the last three seasons in the playoffs. The Redhawks moved up to 2A as well
As if they needed them, the Cavs carry a couple good freshmen who could benefit from watching even if they don’t see the floor often. Joseph Scott was a good player at North Middle last year and Henderson Lentz can light it up. Alonzo Sirleaf and Paris Hillie are also youngsters looking to catch on and contribute.