High school basketball: East boys try to move on without Tee, Vee

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 16, 2023


By Mike London

Sixth in a series of reports on local basketball teams …

GRANITE QUARRY — East Rowan boys basketball coach Andrew Porter is upbeat about the upcoming basketball season, but the Mustangs will be underdogs in almost every game.

East won only six times last season — with half of those victories coming against South Rowan — and the Mustangs no longer have Tee Harris and Dylan Valley to light up scoreboards. Harris, who also was the leading rebounder, and Valley, East’s first 1,000-point scorer in 15 years, poured in 38.5 points between them for a team that averaged 63.5.

Harris went off for 34 points when East beat North Rowan for its best victory of the season. Valley led the other marquee win — a one-point victory against Carson.

The South Piedmont Conference was going to provide a serious challenge for rebuilding East even before Robinson was added. Now it’s a nine-team league with a grueling, 16-game conference schedule.

Porter is optimistic that the Mustangs can handle what’s in front of them and points out the cupboard isn’t completely bare. Jonathan Wembolua, a 6-foot-4 post, and quick guard Tijon Everhart are returning regulars. Porter will build this team around their talents.

“They’ve played a lot of basketball for us, and they’re good players,” Porter said. “This is my fourth year, and we’ve got some guys that have been with me for four years.”

Wembolua posted modest averages last season — 7.5 points and 5.1 rebounds — but he had three-minute sprees, eye-popping flashes of brilliance, in which he was dynamic. He can dunk in a lot of different ways. Harris cast a pretty long shadow, and Wembolua only emerged from it occasionally, but if he finds consistency, he’s got All-Rowan County talent.

Everhart averaged 4.8 points and 2.2 assists and will the 5-foot-10 guard will be counted on to double those averages. He’s a solid athlete who is coming off the football field where he was the leading rusher for the Mustangs, threw passes and caught passes. He’s not going to rain 3-pointers as Valley did, but he has the quickness to get to the rim and to the foul line.

Beyond those two, East doesn’t have anyone with much varsity experience, although seniors Billy Chesney and Jaquare Jones did get minutes off the bench last season. Chesney is 6 feet tall, but he may be asked to play forward a lot. Jones is a 5-foot-7 buzz saw.

“He is really quick,” Porter said. “He’s very strong on the defensive end.”

East has two more seniors joining the team in Daelyn Gibson and Drake Jones.

Jones is a transfer from Rockwell Christian where he averaged 6.1 points per game.

“He can stroke it — a fantastic shooter,” Porter said. “He’s going to help us a lot.”

The rest of the squad will be moving up from the jayvee team. The jayvees were 4-17, but they usually competed well against the other Rowan squads.

That group includes Will Klingler, PJ Butler, Jaden Reid, Brady McIntyre and Avery Arnez.

Butler, a point guard, had a growth spurt and sprouted four inches in the last year.

McIntyre, a notable golfer for the Mustangs, is a 6-foot-1 forward who can shoot.

“We’re going to have a young team,” Porter said. “But I think we’ll compete well and I think we’ll be better defensively than we’ve been. We can force turnovers and score with our defense.”

Defense took a vacation, at times, during the 2022-23 season. In late December and early January, East lost 90-88 to North Rowan and 90-89 to West Stanly back-to-back.

Porter pointed out one more advantage to having a team with no established stars.

“Teams knew who to prepare for last season,” he said. “We’ll be harder to scout this time. Our points can come from just about anywhere.”

East opens at home on Friday against Uwharrie Charter.



Coach: Andrew Porter (4th season, 16-42)

2022-23: 6-16 overall, 3-11 3A South Piedmont Conference (7th)

Playoffs: Did not make playoffs

Top returners: Jonathan Wembolua, Tijon Everhart

Key addition: Transfer Drake Jones

League: 3A SPC (Robinson, Carson, South Rowan, West Rowan, Lake Norman Charter, NW Cabarrus, Central Cabarrus, Concord)