Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 20, 2013

CHINA GROVE — Carson boys coach Brian Perry was greeted by just eight juniors and seniors when basketball tryouts began.
“Eight,” Perry said. “Can you imagine that.”
Perry attributes the low turnout to Carson not having a middle-school feeder school to call its own. Carson gets a lot of good athletes from Southeast and China Grove, but it doesn’t get all of the athletes from anywhere. There’s no school where everyone in the school hopes to grow up to be a Cougar someday.
Still, while Carson won’t have quantity, it will have quality. With four returning starters, Perry’s Cougars should be good again.
They actually were better than many realized in 2012-13, surviving a 2-5 start to finish 17-11. They were the second-best team in the North Piedmont Conference after Statesville (tied for second in the regular season, tournament runner-up) and they could claim to be the second-best team in Rowan County after North. Carson was 4-0 against East, 3-0 against Salisbury, 2-0 against South, 2-1 against West and 0-0 against North. That’s not to say the Cougars could’ve beaten North — just saying they were 11-1 against everyone else.
West-Carson games almost are Southeast Middle School reunions now, so that’s become the county’s hottest rivalry. The three meetings last season were tense 63-60, 65-63 and 74-70 affairs.
Carson’s primary personnel losses from those memorable battles with West were Rameiq Howard and D.J. Love. The Cougars will miss Howard’s muscle and Love’s energy. Those were important components during a stretch last season when the Cougars played really good ball and won 10 out of 12.
“Not having those two does leave a void,” Perry said. “D.J. was that guy who got us going last year when we turned things around.”
With the numbers he has, Perry is fortunate that Carson has D-I athletes in other sports who are still looking to enjoy their senior basketball seasons.
Baseball’s Colton Laws (East Carolina), who might be 6-foot-8 now, and football’s Myquon Stout (Appalachian State) will provide most of Carson’s inside work.
“Different kids are different about playing more than one spot, but I know those two guys like to compete,” Perry said. “Colton’s ability to play inside or outside gives us some matchup flexibility. Colton was all-county and Myquon was all-county in my book. He was tremendous for us down the stretch.”
Laws gets points on 3-pointers as well as layups. He averaged a team-best 14.7 points per game that included a 35-point outburst against Mount Pleasant. He has 728 career points.
Stout averaged 4.0 points a game, but he had three double-figure outings down the stretch, including 13 in the NPC tournament semifinal win against West Rowan.
“Myquon battles inside and he’ll take multiple charges every night,” Perry said. “He’s a great person.”
Carson isn’t playing any games until December. That’s wise since Stout, Tre Williams, Andrew Hower, Darren Isom and Jonathan Rucker all were starters on the football field and have to adjust to the hardwood.
Williams, a thickly built but surprisingly quick point guard, is one of the county’s top returners and could be a player of the year candidate. He netted 14.1 points per game last season and won some games with buzzer-beaters. The senior has 782 career points.
“He’s a leader, he’s strong, he’s a good ballhandler and he’s a scorer,” Perry said.
Marquez McCain (6.9 ppg.) and Jacob Raper (7.6) are very different players, but they’re in the same boat. Both had their moments last season but both have the skills to do more and to do it more often.
McCain’s ceiling is probably as high as anyone in the county because the junior is a sensational athlete.
“He’s a key for us,” Perry said. “We’re starting to see things from him that we know are there, and we’re hoping he’ll just turn it loose this season.”
Raper is a zone-buster mostly, but the junior also is a good ballhandler who can take some heat off Williams. When teams play zone against Carson, he’s a critical guy because he can go crazy from 25 feet. A varsity player since he was a freshman, he had 20 points to beat East last season and 21 against West.
“He had a tremendous summer,” Perry said. “He can shoot it, and he’s so crafty with the ball.”
Hower averaged only 2.7 points per game last season, but he has size and speed and is such a good track athlete in the jumps that the Cougars are expecting an increased contribution.
Rucker is a newcomer, a transfer from Northwest Cabarrus. He is Williams’ step-brother and definitely will be in his rotation.
“He’s a good player,” Perry said. “He brings an awful lot of energy to practice and a genuine love for the game. There aren’t many dull moments when he’s around.”
Isom has only made cameo appearances on the varsity, but he’s another big, fast, strong guy.
“He could be important for us,” Perry said. “He’s one of the best athletes in the school. He can run, he can rebound, and he can defend.”
The other four players who could make varsity appearances for the Cougars are sophomore Bryson Collins and freshmen Armoni Hogue, Malon Herron and Brenden Westbrook.
“They’ll probably practice with the varsity, but the plan is to get them playing time in the jayvee games,” Perry said.
As long as the Cougars stay healthy, they should be fine, but that doesn’t mean their record will be as good as it was last season. There won’t be any trips to North Iredell and West Iredell. The Cougars will compete in the South Piedmont this season, where Concord is the defending regular-season champion and Cox Mill is the defending tournament champ.
“I believe we’re going into the best 3A league in the state,” Perry said. “Everywhere we went this summer, a team from the SPC was the best team there.”