High school basketball: North Rowan boys play for regional title

Published 10:07 pm Friday, March 8, 2019

By Mike London

SPENCER — In late November, with this basketball season just under way,  the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education heard a committee recommendation to close 11 schools.

One of those recommended closings was North Rowan, where enrollment has dipped  to 541 students — roughly half of capacity — at a school that opened in 1958.

Plans to demolish North were tabled after community protests and rallies, but the decline in the student population has been sharp in recent years. There were 697 students at North in 2014-15, a school year in which North Rowan’s boys basketball team made it to the 2A West Regional.

North Rowan competed at the 3A level as recently as the 1992-93 school year.

The Cavaliers competed as a 1A school for the first time in 2009-10, bumped back up to 2A for the next four-year realignment period, then returned to the 1A ranks and the rigorous travel of the Yadkin Valley Conference for the 2017-18 school year.

While their school has down-sized, North fans still take immense pride in a marvelous athletic history that includes an extraordinary number of track and field state championships, as well as state runner-up efforts in football (1992), baseball (2000) and dual team wrestling (2011, 2013).

Fans still talk about the 1985-86 basketball Cavaliers when coach Bob Hundley’s North Rowan boys marched to the 2A state title at the brand new Dean Smith Center with a lineup that included 1985 player of the year Jimmy Kesler, 1986 player of the year Antione “Ice Sifford, who would shine on a national champion at N.C. Central, and 6-foot-10 Ralph Kitley, who would play at Wake Forest. That North team went 29-2, losing by one point to South Meck in an early-season tournament and again by a single point to conference rival Thomasville.

Through all the classification changes, the constant for North Rowan athletics in the last decade has been boys basketball. The Cavaliers have become the county’s most consistent threat to make playoff noise.

Which brings us to the current Cavaliers, who are 28-2 and can match the won/lost record of the school’s immortal 1985-86 club with a win Saturday night in the West Regional final. North Rowan takes on Bishop McGuinness, a private school in Kernersville, at 6 p.m. Kernersville is about 10 miles east of Winston-Salem.

The game will be played at Catawba Valley Community College’s Tarlton Complex in Hickory. Tickets at the door will cost $10.

It’s not shocking that North has made it this far under first-year coach Jason Causby, who constructed strong clubs during his 10 seasons at Salisbury. North has been a presence in the state 1A media poll most of the season. The Cavaliers start four seniors who have been playing together a very long time. They haven’t been sneaking up on anyone. They’ve won 21 in a row since losing on back-to-back nights in the Moir Christmas tournament at Catawba.

North’s season turned around on Jan. 4, when the Cavaliers had to make a comeback to win at West Montgomery. The next night they blew out Salisbury at Catawba to avenge a Christmas tournament loss. They also have avenged their Christmas tournament setback to North Stanly, beating the Comets three times.

North’s scorers are 6-foot-5 forward Dayjuwon Cooke, a slasher/rebounder, and 6-4 forward Brevin Goodlett, who can shoot the 3-ball as well as hit the boards.

Since being limited to nine points on opening night, Goodlett has scored in double figures in every game. He’s led North’s scoring parade 17 times, including a 33-point outburst against Albemarle early in the season. Goodlett also has tied for scoring honors twice with Cooke.

Cooke has been the solo scoring leader in 10 games, including the last three during the playoff run. Cooke had a 38-point eruption against Uwharrie Charter in a YVC home game. He’s scored nine points twice and has been in double figures in all of his other 28 outings.

While none of the Cavaliers have signed yet, Cooke and Goodlett are college prospects, as is 6-3 point guard Derrick Page.

Page has only led the Cavaliers in scoring once (the loss to North Stanly) and he’s scored in double figures only eight times. But he’s played his floor-general role perfectly and he and Causby are confident he can score when needed. In North’s double-overtime win against Community School of Davidson, Page came through with 12 points and delivered two vital 3-pointers.

The fourth senior starter is 6-3 Quintous Smith Jr., a physical college football prospect who has chipped in with 26 points in North’s four playoff games.

The non-senior starter is Kendrell Goodes, a 6-5 sophomore who is primarily a shot-blocker and defender at this stage of his career, but his future is big. He scored 15 in the YVC tournament championship game against South Stanly and had 10 in Tuesday’s win against Community School of Davidson.

Cavs who could impact the game off the bench are seasoned guard David Broaddus, who has knocked down 3-pointers, sophomore guard Zay Davis, one of the team’s quickest and bounciest athletes, and Denerio Robinson Jr., a long 6-5 junior forward, who may be a factor if any of the front-court guys get in foul trouble.

Seeded third, North had to win a difficult road game at No. 2 seed Community School of Davidson to get to this point. The first three playoff games were on North’s home floor where the Cavaliers went undefeated this season.

Just about everyone believed perennial bully Winston-Salem Prep, the top seed in the 1A West bracket and the defending state champ, would be waiting for the Cavaliers in the regional. North Rowan has quite a bit of history with the Winston-Salem Prep Phoenix, including a double-overtime regional victory in 2011 on the way to the 1A state title and a double-overtime regional loss in 2013.

But the ninth-seeded Bishop McGuinness Villains (22-8) knocked off Winston-Salem Prep in a stunning third-round result, 56-53. McGuinness hadn’t beaten Winston-Salem Prep since 2009 when the Villains took a third-round game and went on to win the program’s only state title.

McGuinness then was able to come back down to earth from that euphoric victory and was able to survive North Stanly, 66-63, on its home floor in a regional semifinal.

McGuinness plays in the same Northwestern Conference as Winston-Salem Prep and had lost to the Phoenix three times this season before finally beating them.

Two of the Villains’ losses were to Florida schools. The other setbacks were to 3A Eastern Guilford on a neutral floor in the Headliners Classic in November and road games at East Surry and Mount Airy.

McGuinness won’t be as strong or as tall as North Rowan, but any team that can beat Winston-Salem Prep has to be good. McGuinness has long players who can shoot and they run a precise system that limits turnovers.

McGuinness has balanced scoring, but the guys who frequently get it done for the Villains are Cameron Caroway (6-6 senior guard), Andrew Budzinski (6-3 junior forward) and Mac McAlhaney (5-10 senior guard). Budzinski scored 16 against North Stanly, while Caroway had 15.

North should be able to control the boards —  if the Cavaliers can crash without getting into foul trouble.

North has been an exceptional program in the playoffs in this decade, going 24-7. North was involved in regional play in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015. The 2016 Cavaliers (20-2) also likely would’ve at least made the regional, but that season ended prematurely.

North quickly exited the playoffs in the first round in 2017 and was ousted in the second round last season before returning to prominence with the current run.

Now the Cavaliers are one win away from heading to the Dean Smith Center on March 16 at 2:30 p.m. to play for a state title.

The top two seeds remain alive in the 1A East bracket — Henderson Collegiate (30-2) and Washington County (26-1).


NOTES: Bishop McGuinness’ unusual nickname — the Villains – comes from the school’s previous name Villa Marie Anna Academy. … While the Bishop McGuinness won their lone state title in 2009, the school’s girls program won nine straight state championships from 2006-14.

Saturday’s schedule for Catawba Valley Community College:

 Noon – 2A boys
#2 Forest Hills vs #1 East Lincoln

2 p.m. – 4A girls  
#4 Butler vs #2 West Forsyth

4 p.m. – 3A girls  
#4 Cuthbertson vs #2 Freedom

6 p.m. – 1A boys  
#9 Bishop McGuinness vs #3 North Rowan