Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 20, 2013

MT. ULLA — West Rowan coach Mike Gurley is entering his 17th season at West Rowan a pretty content guy.
Sure, a few things are different then when he started. There’s not as many blowups on the sideline as there was 342 wins ago.
The hair is gone, but it was really never there to begin with. The state championship years are now over a decade old but Gurley approaches the season with a palpable vigor and zeal that’s he’s carried throughout his time at West. Just ask him one general question about his team and he’ll have you compelled for the next several minutes. Daisean Reddick is a ‘nuclear power plant.’ Chris Hassard ‘will smile at you and play hard all night.’
One thing Gurley can say about all of them is that they’re persistent.
Last season West took some early lumps, starting 1-8 with lopsided losses against North Rowan, Salisbury and Davie County. Once the grind of the early schedule was complete, Gurley rallied his troops to salvage something out of a seemingly lost season. The Falcons regrouped in conference play, winning 10 of their last 14 games to make the playoffs. West fell 85-82 in the first round of the playoffs to Marvin Ridge. That experience helped West then and Gurley hopes it pays off going forward. Going into this year, their strength is experience on the floor and on the sideline. Long, Seth Martin, Reddick, Devin Parks, Najee Tucker and Hassard all started at least 10 games last year.
“We got some kids that know how to play together,” Gurley said. “With some new additions, we’re going to be deeper. We’re not tall, but we’re not going to have a pity-party about it. We’re trying to highlight what we do have, good ball-handlers, good shooters, cerebral players.”
Long was the leading scorer last season, averaging 13 points a game in 26 appearances in his varsity debut. After some early inconsistency, Long put it together in the Moir Classic, netting seven three-pointers for a career-best 28 points against South Rowan. Later in the season, he hit the game-winning three-pointer at East Rowan.
“He’s going to be a marked man going into this year,” Gurley said of the all-county member.
The sleek, sure-handed junior is one of six players to return that got major playing time last season. What the Falcons lack in size they account for in speed.
“We’re trying to highlight what we do have,” Gurley said. “Our strength is to get the ball and go.”
West tied for second place in the North Piedmont Conference, a league it no longer resides in. The revised South Piedmont Conference now includes four Rowan schools, including West. Concord won the SPC last year but is without longtime coach Scott Brewer, who resigned.
“We could finish at any spot in the conference,” Gurley said. “There will be no off nights.”
Tucker, a Charlotte football signee, has played as an undersized power forward for much of the last two seasons. Tucker scored in double figures 14 times last year, averaging 9.1 points a game. Tucker is one of the better athletes on the team.
Martin, a senior and another all-county returnee, has put on some muscle. Martin is a long-bomber with good range and has improved his skill set.
“I’m not the biggest fan of the pull-up three-pointer on the fast break,” Gurley said. “When you’ve got Seth and Celexus though, you’ve got to grin and bear it.”
Hassard is the burly offensive lineman that can spot up in the post and grab rebounds. Junior Greg Joseph is cut in a similar mold as a natural power forward and goes hard each game.
Sophomore Dearius Phillips had good nights last year as a freshman, scoring 17 in a win against West Iredell.
“Dearius is starting to get that consistent effort going,” Gurley said. “He can cover a lot of ground really fast.”
Javon Quarles and Kortez Weeks are freshman that may be important parts of the team in a year or two. For now, they’ll provide sparks off the bench. Sophomore Jacquez Strickland played on the Carson jayvee team last year and could be brought in to change tempo.
Junior Tomas Valle can add some size when facing a team with height. Andrew Martin has won Gurley over after displaying heart in practice.
The Falcons open the season Nov. 25 with a home duel with Davie County. West faces Salisbury the next day on the road. Lake Norman and North Rowan are on back-to-back days in early December.
Conference play begins Dec. 6 against Northwest Cabarrus.