Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 20, 2013

KANNAPOLIS — The 2012-13 basketball season was the toughest of coach Shelwyn Klutz’s long coaching career.
Klutz had the horses last season, and he knew it. Everywhere the Wonders went, people realized it.
The Wonders had size and speed, five college prospects, plus a Division I football athlete, the sort of horses that usually hang banners.
But while the Wonders hung on some rims in a lot of gyms, they didn’t hang any banners.
Still, it’s not like the Wonders weren’t good and it’s not like anyone ever looked forward to playing them. Their final mark of 19-8 was the third-best Klutz has enjoyed, and this will be his 17th year.
Things sort of fell apart at the end last season with Braxton Waddell’s injury and Tevin Stark’s suspension, but when you look back at it, the Wonders were a couple of buckets from hanging several banners at Bullock Gym and being remembered as one of the school’s greatest teams.
Brown lost twice in the 3A South Piedmont regular season, 57-56 and 68-66 to champion Concord. Then with Waddell and Stark both sidelined, they lost 54-53 in the SPC tournament title game to Cox Mill.
That unexpected setback put them on the first-round playoff road, and North Forsyth shot free throws all night and beat them in overtime. Just like that, it was all over.
“It really was tough because we knew we had a real opportunity with those guys we had last year,” Klutz said. “We also knew that this season would be a complete starting-over process because they were all seniors. Now we’re very inexperienced and now we’re going into a very tough 4A conference at the same time. It’s going to be a challenge for us, to say the least.”
Derrick Copeland was a 1,000-point scorer, a ballhandler, leader and a fine shooter, and his loss will be felt the deepest. Stark, Waddell, Michael Carr and Tydus Parks were high-wire acts, engaging in dunk contests with each other at times last season, and their flair, rebounds and points will be missed.
Keeon Johnson, now catching passes for Virginia, won’t be easy to replace in the muscle department. Johnson wasn’t a scorer, but he looked like he might score 30, so people always gave him some defensive attention.
So who is back besides Klutz and loyal assistant James Allen, the former South Rowan superstar, who has been his assistant all these years?
Klutz only expects to have three guys who were even on the roster last season.
Guard Joekeem Neal has the most impressive credentials because as talented as the Wonders were last season, he still got minutes and scored in double figures three times.
“He’s got the most experience, and he’s got a chance to be a very good player,” Klutz said.
Keshawn Watson was a spot player last season. He’s smart and can shoot from outside.
“He’s got that high basketball I.Q.,” Klutz said. “We’ll need him to make shots.”
Kyrell Williamson, the tough middle linebacker on the football team, contributed last season, including a 13-point outing against Robinson.
“He’s about 6-foot-2, so he’ll be undersized battling inside,” Klutz said. “He’s physical, he’s fundamentally sound, and he can score.”
As far as varsity experience that’s it, although sophomore Greg Joyner spent some time with the varsity early last season before reporting to the jayvees.
“He can defend and score and he can play three positions,” Klutz said. “He’ll be important for us.”
Jaylon Neal, 6-2, and 5-9 Eric Harris will be counted on in the backcourt, as well as 5-9 Jamarlo Grier.
“We’re going to be playing a lot of four-guard lineups,” Klutz said.
Damon Johnson, the sophomore football quarterback, is 6-1 and athletic and likely will be a very good basketball player.
Klutz never knows for sure exactly who’s going to come out for basketball, but with the football season ending earlier than usual, he might get some unexpected guys out for the team.
He’s going to need everyone he can get. As good as Concord was most years, this is going to be a different sort of experience, playing against some schools that have 1,000 more students than Brown has.
Hough can send 6-11 and 6-8 players at the Wonders. West Charlotte has a college-level backcourt.
“And Vance has a tremendous player (Torin Dorn) who has committed to North Carolina,” Kluttz said. “It’s going to be a challenge, no doubt about that, but I think our guys will embrace the challenge the way they always do. Maybe we can compensate for our lack of height by pressing. Maybe we can be extra-patient and shorten games.”
Klutz and Allen will find a way to win some, but unlike last year there may not be an easy victory all season.
Still, after a season that fell short of expectactions, it’s not the worst thing in the world to go into one with nothing to lose. Every win this season will be savored and appreciated.
The Wonders will start finding out what they have against South Rowan on Nov. 21.