Rowan Boys Coach of the Year: Carson’s Brian Perry
By Mike London
SALISBURY — People probably are tired of hearing how good a basketball league the 10-team South Piedmont Conference was in 2015-16, but it was as awesome as the hype.
The SPC included the state’s top-rated player in the Class of 2017 (Robinson’s Lavar Batts Jr.) and the state’s top-rated player in the Class of 2018 (Concord’s Rechon Black). When Phenom Hoop Report releases 2019 rankings, Cox Mill’s Wendell Moore, already offered by UNC, might top that list.
Robinson and Concord were ranked among 3A’s elite all season, while Cox Mill made appearances in the top 10. Hickory Ridge was so good it gave Robinson and Concord fits. Central Cabarrus and Northwest Cabarrus were well above average 3A squads.
Cox Mill eliminated Northwest Cabarrus from the state playoffs in the second round, while Robinson knocked out Hickory Ridge in the second round and Cox Mill in the fourth round on its way to the 3A state championship.
“I’ve never seen any league like the SPC was this season,” Carson coach Brian Perry said. “So many talented individuals and so many high-caliber teams. We do feel pretty good about our season. We finished in the upper half of the league. That was a good accomplishment.”
Perry may be the first coach in history to be honored for a 13-13 season and a fifth-place team, but many agreed that he and his team did a commendable job. His fellow coaches voted him SPC Coach of the Year and the Salisbury Post is recognizing him as Rowan County Coach of the Year.
It’s the first county coaching accolade for Perry, which means it’s also the first for the Carson boys program. Carson has been in business 10 seasons, and Perry has been around since opening day.
Perry was a star player at East Rowan, earning first team all-county honors in 1990 and 1991. He played for Catawba and gained experience on a high school bench as one of Mike Gurley’s West Rowan assistants before being hired at Carson.
Carson is currently riding an 11-game winning streak in county games since losing to North Rowan in the 2014 Sam Moir Christmas Classic. Carson would’ve been an underdog if it had played North Rowan this season and if there had been a meeting with Salisbury it would’ve been a tossup, but Carson won all the county games on its schedule. The Cougars were 8-0 against West, East and South Rowan.
Perry’s career coaching record is 114-144, but that includes lean years — 3-21, 6-18, 12-15 — when the program was getting started. Perry’s lifetime record may never overcome those early years, but he hung in there. He’s 93-90 over the last seven seasons.
“When all your kids are new kids, it’s tough, but it’s different now,” Perry said. “Now we’ve got older kids who know what we want and they help bring the younger guys along.”
In the preseason, Perry was cautious. His two top scorers from 2014-15 — Marquez McCain and Jonathan Rucker were gone — and he knew from summer camps how difficult the league was going to be.
The season got off to a racehorse start — an 89-81 shootout win against visiting Davie, a pretty good 4A squad with a lot of veterans.
But the first two games against the Cabarrus SPC schools brought a reality check. There was an 80-46 beating by Central Cabarrus and a 73-35 wipeout against Robinson.
The turning point came in Game 6. West Rowan visited China Grove, and that was the night senior Ryan Bearden made his season debut. The Rowan County Defensive Player of the Year in football, Bearden had been banged up and worn out when basketball started. But Perry allowed him time to recover mentally and physically, and Bearden was all-in from the time he reported for duty.
His physical presence transformed Carson defensively. He blocked shots and he was the Cougars’ strongest rebounder. Carson beat West, 71-69, that night, with Bearden nullifying West’s imposing post player Caleb Mauldin and Cameron Prugh raining six 3-pointers.
Hairston played varsity as a freshman, but White, Williams and Prugh went from competing at the jayvee level to competing against athletes like Batts, Black and Moore.
Bearden, junior Brenden Westbrook and four sophomores — Prugh, Jamarius Hairston, Owen White and Jailen Williams — would form the core for the Cougars.
Carson lost some players along the way, and the Cougars were 9-9 heading into the rematch with West Rowan in Mount Ulla. This time, Mauldin poured in 30, but the Cougars got 73 from Hairston, Williams, Westbrook and White and won, 83-80.
Williams, the brother of former Carson star Tre Williams, came on strong late. Slightly built, but fearless, he averaged 11.4 points over his last nine games. He led the Cougars with 17 points when they beat Northwest Cabarrus, 75-74, to sweep the season series.
The shining moment for Carson came on Senior Night when the Cougars surprised Cox Mill, 71-60. Cox Mill had beaten the Cougars by 19 in the first meeting. Hairston led the charge with 27 points. Williams had 19.
“We had a bunch of sophomores who competed even better than I thought they could,” Perry said. “And our staff deserves a lot of credit for making those kids better. Gene Doby and Darius Moose are loyal, hard-working guys.”
The NCHSAA’s dismissal of North Rowan and Salisbury left Carson as the only Rowan boys team participating in the state playoffs. The Cougars’ season ended the same way it had begun — with a shootout. The Cougars lost, 88-82, at Gastonia Ashbrook, but they put five in double figures and had a chance to win until the final seconds.
Hairston is a first team all-county player, while Westbrook’s long-armed defense gave him a small edge over White for a spot on the second team. White, Prugh, Williams and Bearden are honorable mention for all-county.
With five of the top six eligible to return, along with the coach’s nephew, Cole Perry, who got valuable varsity experience as a freshman, Carson could be a factor in next season’s SPC race. The league will still be stout, but it can’t be as loaded as it was this year. All six Cabarrus teams will graduate talented seniors.
“I think expectations will be pretty good for us when you look at what teams’ have coming back,” Perry said. “We’ve got a deep and solid group. We could have brighter days ahead.”
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