LANDIS — Qwantarius Rhyne didn’t get any easier to spell in the offseason, but fortunately for the South Rowan boys, he also didn’t get any easier to guard.
Rhyne, an athletic junior, and Shawn Spry, a crafty senior, should give South one of the area’s better backcourts. They were the leading scorers for coach Bryan Withers in 2012-13, combining for almost 26 points a game, and any time your top two scorers return, there’s reason for optimism.
South graduated Josh Medlin, who quietly turned in an 800-point career, but the Raiders also have their number 4 and 5 scorers back in T’Vadis Graham-Wesley (7.4 ppg.) and post man Lavon Hill (4.5 ppg.).
South is coming off an 11-14 season that was something of letdown because the Raiders were 8-6 in early January and appeared bound for the state playoffs.
On the other hand, South was awfully young, so 11-14 wasn’t that bad. There were some ugly losses (East, North Iredell twice) but also some good wins (A.L. Brown, West Rowan).
“It’s never ideal to be as young as we were last year, and we’re still young this season,” Withers said. “We’ve still got a lot of questions.”
Withers believes South’s new league — the SPC — will be better top to bottom than the NPC was, so while South figures to be better than last season on the floor, there are no guarantees that improvement will show up in the standings.
“It looks like there are going to be a lot of games between even teams,” Withers said. “It’s just going to depend on who’s playing well that night.”
South has been starved for good news in boys basketball. The most recent conference championship banner was hung in 1989. The last Christmas tournament title was in 1995. South has lost more than it’s won in 14 of the last 16 seasons, and the two winners in that stretch were 14-13 and 13-12.
South hasn’t finished above fourth in its conference since 1996 and hasn’t won a playoff game since 1976.
That’s a lot of negative history to battle, especially for a school with less than 1,000 students that is now in a league with 1,400-student Cox Mill and Hickory Ridge, who are relative giants.
Still, when Spry and Rhyne are two of your students, you have a fighting chance.
“Q — that’s what we call Qwantarius — has grown some and his game has improved,” Withers said. “There were times last season when he really looked good and there were other times when he looked like a sophomore. If he’s consistent, then he takes us to another level.”
Rhyne (11.4 ppg.) scored 26 in the win against A.L. Brown and had 24 in a one-point loss to Carson. Spry (13.2 ppg.) had games of 20, 22 and 23 points.
“Spry can really shoot the ball and people always are surprised at how well he goes to the basket,” Withers said.
Spry gets to the basket and often finishes because he can change direction on his dribble in a heartbeat.
Eric Goldston (2.4 ppg.) doesn’t have much flash and doesn’t score a lot, but he’ll be a factor.
“He gives us some savvy,” Withers said. “He’s competitive and he’s one of the glue guys for our team.”
Tireek Wilder, a newcomer, is appropriately enough, a wild card in the backcourt, and he could see some time as a 3-man as well.
“He’s 6-1 or 6-2, long, athletic and very talented,” Withers said. “He dunks easily. There are times in practice when he can score on ‘Q’ and there are times when he can shut down Shawn.”
Christian Holbrook (3.2 ppg.) played on the varsity as a freshman last season. There were the expected growing pains, but he made progress, and he should be a serious factor this time.
“He was so young, there were bound to be ups and downs,” Withers said. “But he’s already one of our best defenders, and he can play multiple positions.”
Hill is about 6-5 and is athletic on top of that. He returned from a heart issue to debut in the Christmas tournament last season and he showed flashes. He scored 10 against East Rowan.
“He could be a go-to man for us and a leader,” Withers said. “He’s really improved.”
Graham-Wesley, who won South’s defensive award last season, is a skywalker, a quick jumper who bounces off the floor so suddenly that he’s an undersized shot-blocker. He’s a defender first and a rebounder second, but he’ll also get his points. He was in double figures eight times last season.
“His offense has come a long way,” Withers said.
Alec Stewart, JV MVP last season, figures to be a post backup, but he’ll get important minutes.
“We like what he can do,” Withers said. “He’ll surprise people.”
Sophomores Tyler Rary and Colson Childers are impportant for the future, and they’ll contribute this season.
“Rary has a great understanding of our offense and will be a good point guard,” Withers said. “Childers is a scorer. He can shoot.”
Withers also expects Travis Littlejohn, Eric Finger and Derrick Blackwell, a trio of football players, to join the team. They’ll add athleticism and muscle.
On paper, South is considerably better than it was a year ago. But so are Carson, West and East. On top of that, most of the Cabarrus teams in the SPC — Concord and Northwest Cabarrus, in particular — look stout.
“There are a lot of unknowns,” Withers said. “I do think we have a chance to compete.”
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