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Local basketball: Team FLY does it for love of youth

SALISBURY — Nearly 15 years have passed since Reggie Dean McConneaughey Jr. played nose guard for the South Rowan football team.

In the past 27 seasons, the 2000 defense was the toughest South Rowan put on the field. That’s the South Rowan team that beat everyone in Rowan County, beat Davie, beat Mooresville, and tied for first in the 4A Central Piedmont Conference.

McConneaughey is proud he was part of that team. He’s proud he played with athletes such as Keith Garrett, Toré Girty and the late Ricky Childers.

The son of a minister, McConneaughey learned a lot from football. He learned that while the nose guard has a critical job, the ends get the sacks, the linebackers get the tackles, and the defensive backs get the picks. He learned to forget glory and take pride in team success.

The hardest lesson came at the end of that season. While the 2000 South Rowan squad was one of the school’s best, it didn’t make the playoffs.

If that sounds crazy, this was before the modern version of the playoffs. The CPC got two playoff berths in 2000, and when they conducted a drawing, South Rowan was the unlucky  tri-champ that was left out .

Rick Vanhoy was South Rowan’s head coach then. He’s the guy who had to explain to his team that while they were conference champions,  their season was over. .

Years later, McConneaughey’s passion is coaching and the lessons of 2000 — unselfishness, sacrifice and handling adversity — are his foundation.

Surprisingly, for a guy whose body still has the shape of a nose guard, the sport he loves most is basketball.

He answers to “Coach Dean.” That’s his middle name, and, well … Coach Dean has a nice ring to it.

McConneaughey was part of the successful Carolina Phenoms organization last year, coaching a group of eighth-graders that, among other things, placed second in the 68-team USBA Nationals in Myrtle Beach.

This season, McConneaughey is piloting a 15-and-under squad (9th-graders) known as Team F.L.Y.

Once an annoying insect or a zipper, fly means the same thing as cool, but Team F.L.Y. has a double meaning.

“F.L.Y. —  that stands For Love of Youth,” McConneaughey said.

McConneaughey’s coaching style is positive. When guys hustle, they’re praised. When guys are lazy, they get a firm push in the right direction.

McConneaghey has assembled a cast of Rowan County all-stars to be his assistants. There’s Tristan Rankin, who starred at North Rowan and St. Paul’s. There’s Terris Sifford, who starred at West Rowan, played at Greensboro College and Winston-Salem State, and competed for several seasons overseas. There’s also Darren Ramsey, a dentist who was part of two 3A state championship teams at West Rowan before continuing his career at Johnson C. Smith.

McConneaughey has put together a team he’s enthusiastic about. Besides players from Rowan County public schools, he has attracted needed height from schools such as North Hills Christian, Rockwell Christian and West Davidson.

The three F.L.Y. players most familiar to Rowan County basketball fans are East Rowan guard Isaac Baker, West Rowan guard Martavio Rankin and Carson forward Jamarius Hairston. Those three impacted varsity programs as freshmen starters.

Others such as North Rowan’s Xavier Haley and Carson’s Elijah Moss, A.J. Banks and Cameron Prugh were jayvee standouts who may blossom into household names next season.

“We’ve got kids who had offers to play for big AAU programs, kids who could’ve gone anywhere,”  McConneaughey said. “We’re excited about keeping them together in Rowan County.”

The team practices twice a week.

A tuneup tournament is set for April 10-12. After that, there’s a challenging schedule that will take Team F.L.Y. to high-profile showcase events such as the 22nd annual  Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions in Atlanta on May 1-3.

‘The competition we’ll be up against is going to be stiff,” McConneaughey said. “But we’ve got talented kids. If we keep working hard, we’ll be up to the challenge.”

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