High school basketball: Withers is Rowan County Coach of the Year

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 27, 2022

By Mike London

SALISBURY  — Salisbury’s boys went 20-5, won a pair of championships and may have won a third if they’d been able to play the title game of the Dale’s Sporting Goods Sam Moir Christmas Classic.

“It was a season that had its ups and downs,” Salisbury head coach Bryan Withers said. “As a coach, you always believe your guys can play better, but we usually did play well. There were some disappointments — I really thought we could have won our third-round game at North Surry — but all in all, it was a great season.”

Withers is the Post’s Rowan County Coach of the Year for boys basketball. This is the third time he’s been honored. He shared the 2017-18 award with Carson’s Brian Perry and the 2019-20 award with North Rowan’s Jason Causby.

This time it’s just Withers, because of Salisbury’s Central Carolina Conference regular season co-championship and the program’s first conference tourney title since 2012.

Withers is 149-91 in 10 seasons as a head coach in Rowan County. That includes a 27-45 record in three seasons at South Rowan with teams that usually were underdogs. At Salisbury, where the talent pool is pretty solid year in and year out, Withers’ teams have won 73 percent of the time.

When Withers accepted the coaching reins at Salisbury, he was coming home. A state champion and a Rowan County Player of the Year in 1987, he played college ball at UNC Wilmington.

The highlight for Withers and the Hornets in 2021-22? Going 7-1 against the formidable Central Carolina Conference trio of Thomasville, North Rowan and Lexington. Those were good, athletic  teams.

There also were playoff victories against Reidsville and Trinity.

There were obstacles to overcome. While the Hornets had good athletes, they were mostly young and they were mostly guards.

Coming into the season, Salisbury had lost forwards Nate Brown and Joe Witherspoon — they combined for 21 points per game — and the early graduation of  Georgia football recruit and premium shot-blocker Jalon Walker was a game-changer for SHS basketball.

“The loss of Jalon was huge, for his leadership, for his defense, for his rebounding,” Withers said. “We could go after steals when we had Jalon back there. If someone got beat, Jalon was going to block the shot or change the shot. We didn’t give up easy buckets with Jalon. Without the luxury of having Jalon in the paint, we had to play more solid on defense. There was an adjustment period.”

Salisbury had the county’s two top scorers in sophomore Juke Harris and senior Cameron Stout. They provided a ton of points in different ways. Stout was an exceptional shooter. Harris was at his best, attacking and getting to the foul line. He shot an enormous amount of free throws and cashed in on 71 percent. He put a lot of pressure on defenses, got teams in foul trouble.

“We definitely had two very talented alpha males,” Withers said. “But the great challenge of coaching is getting guys to play together, and there were nights when we really got it, when we all blended, and we looked great.”

Withers got a lot of guys to buy in — Mike Geter as a ball-handler and playmaker; Deuce Walker as a defender, Dashawn Brown as a tempo-changing energizer.

A lot of other Hornets had a game or two where they could honestly say they made the difference.

While the Hornets were getting 43 points per night from Harris and Stout, they also were getting almost 30 from the committee that Withers put around them.

Salisbury averaged 72.32 points per game, making this the highest-scoring Salisbury team since the 1993-94 season and the fourth-highest in school history.

The Hornets also posted solid defensive numbers. On an average night, they won by 19 points.

“This is a good group of guys, an enjoyable group to coach,” Withers said. “Another big part of our success was our assistant coaches. They brought a lot of knowledge to the table and they had a calming influence on me and this team.


“We’ve got a good group of guys at Salisbury right now, a lot of athletes. We’ve got a lot coming back next season (a roster headed by Brown, Walker, Stout and Witherspoon). Maybe next year we’ll find that blend and get over the hump.”