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Prep basketball: Carson boys preview

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

Last season (13-13, 9-9 SPC, 5th)
Returning players: 7
Returning starters: 4
Coach: Brian Perry (11th season, 114-144)

The bar is set high for boys basketball in the South Piedmont Conference.
So high that Carson returns its top five scorers and still isn’t a lock to hold its ground, much less move up in the league standings.
“It is different when you’re playing against some of the best guys in the state, some of the best in the country,” coach Brian Perry said. “In 90 percent of the leagues in this state if you brought back what we’re bringing back, expectations would definitely be up there. We’re aiming as high as we possibly can, but we also realize that we’ll have to be at the top of our game just to stay in the top half of the SPC. The 3A state champ (Robinson) came out of this league last season. A lot of good players are back and some more have been added.”
Carson placed fifth in the SPC last season — pushing its way into the top half of a 10-team league — and did it while starting four sophomores. That was an achievement that made Perry the Rowan County Coach of the Year.
Those five scorers — forwards Jamarius Hairston (13.7 points per game), Brenden Westbrook (10.8) and Owen White (9/6) and guards Jailen Williams (8.5) and Cameron Prugh (8.8) — accounted for about 75 percent of Carson’s school-record 68.5 points per game last season. Westbrook is a senior, but the other four are juniors, so this is still a young team.
The biggest loss from last season was Ryan Bearden, a physical presence who fought inside against taller people, altered shots and rebounded.
“We’ve got to find a way to still get those rebounds without Bearden,” Perry said.
Carson won’t have a traditional big man, but the 6-foot-4 Hairston, the 6-3 Westbrook and the 6-3 White are all long, athletic guys, in addition to having good height.
The 5-8 Williams and 5-10 Prugh aren’t tall, but they’re quick, and they’ll chase down their share of rebounds.
“With all those guys being a year older, I hope we’re going to be a little tougher and a little better defensively,” Perry said. “In this league, you’ve got to find ways to stop people.”
Offensively, Carson should be explosive.
“We’re going to have some trouble matching up with the big teams, but we hope those bigger teams are also going to have difficulty matching up with us,” Perry said. “We should be able to spread people out, and we’ve got the best shooting team we’ve had here. I think we’ll be unselfish. If everyone makes that extra pass, we’ll get good shots, and any of those five guys is capable of having a very big game on a given night.”
Also back in uniform are 5-9 junior guard A.J. Banks and 6-foot sophomore guard Cole Perry, the coach’s nephew. Both had some good moments last season and both can shoot. Perry has grown several inches since last season when he was a varsity freshman. Banks has exceptionally long arms that help him play bigger than his height.
The biggest addition from last season’s jayvees will likely be Cole Sifford, a 5-6 guard with some quickness and a lot of leadership qualities.
“He’s a gritty guy, a good defender,” Coach Perry said.
Blake Daniels, a football defensive lineman will get some minutes, and the hope is that he can provide some of the toughness — the banging and screening — that Bearden offered last season.
Carson won’t be deep and has to avoid injuries and foul issues. Perry plans to use only nine full-time varsity players. Cole Hales, yet another guard, and 6-4 Luke Barringer will practice with the varsity, but the plan is for them to gain experience in jayvee games.
Carson started late, as Westbrook, White, Sifford and Daniels were important parts of a football team that made the state playoffs. Carson did manage to open the hoops season with an overtime SPC win against Central Cabarrus, but it was a struggle.
“The guys learned last year that we’ve got to play at a high level to compete in conference games and beating Cox Mill (one of the league’s best teams) on last year’s Senior Night boosted our confidence,” Perry said. “We’re excited. We’ll see what we can do.”

Players to watch:
Jamarius Hairston, 6-4 Jr. forward — He’s a little unorthodox, but he can score every way there is. A key player as a freshman and Carson’s leading scorer as a sophomore, he’s headed for a 1,000-point career. He was first team all-county last season.

Brenden Westbrook, 6-3 Sr. forward — One of the county’s finest year-round athletes, the track and football star brings a wide range of talents to the floor. He can make 3-pointers or throw down dunks. He was second team all-county last season.
“He came straight off the football field and amazed us with how high he was jumping,” Perry said. “Just so athletic.”

Owen White, 6-3 Jr. forward — The ace pitcher/shortstop and starting quarterback is pretty good at this stuff, too. He had the team’s best shooting percentage on 3-pointers last season and he’s a good rebounder.

Jailen Williams, 5-8 Jr. guard — The younger brother of Tre Williams, one of the best players in school history.
“He’s going to be a key guy,” Perry said. “He’s a good ballhander, he’s improved his shot and he’s an aggressive driver.”

Cameron Prugh, 5-10 Jr. guard — Prugh is known mostly for 3-point bombs, but the baseball standout is a better athlete than people realize. He startled Perry with a recent dunk.
“He can shoot it, but he’s also quick enough to get by you,” Perry said.

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