First Posted: 11/21/2009
The consensus among area boys basketball coaches is that the newly formed Northwest 1A/2A Conference is a relative toss up.
With the addition of Surry Central, North Surry, West Stokes and most importantly Winston Salem Prep, the new conference has one of the most formidable top-to-bottom draws in Western North Carolina, particularly in the 1A shakedown.
Gone are Elkin, East Wilkes, West Wilkes and Alleghany, four bottom tier finishers in the old Northwest 1A year ago and replacing them are three 2A schools and perhaps the best public school team in North Carolina in the fighting Phoenix of Prep.
Prep has already faced off with Oak Hill of Virginia (losing twice) with a star-studded audience of coaches and recruiters in attendance at both games. The Phoenix have a larger and more versatile lineup than any other the conference and perhaps the entire 1A classification, making them the odds on favorite to win. Besides that, area coaches say everything else is a toss up.
You cant look at that schedule and see a day where you can say, Theres a win, East Surry coach Jason Anderson said. You have to come out and earn every one you play. The 1A and 2A are both strong but in the 1A I think you have five of the top 20 teams in the state and somebody might be left home come playoff time.
Sometimes you go outside of the conference and look for tough games to play, but in this conference you dont need any, Surry Central coach Ken Eiswald said. Ive talked to some of the coaches and there is not a night off. Everybody coming in had a winning record except us and its going to be incredibly tough, but its going to be fun to come in and battle night after night.
Top to bottom this will probably be the most balanced conference I have ever been associated with, Mount Airy coach Kevin Spainhour said. You never know until you tip it off and its like I have been trying to tell my team, Yes we are expecting very good things because we always do but youve got to work for it. I think its very easy on paper to look at the teams and say anybody can beat anybody, but as the season goes on you dont know how teams are going to develop. But I think going into a season this conference is by far the most balanced and competitive and its going to be great to watch.
For starters, the new conference boasts the past two 1A state champions in Prep (2008) and Bishop McGuinness (2009).
Last season, McGuinness defeated Cherryville to advance to the 1A finals, a team Mount Airy defeated earlier in the season.
The Granite Bears also gave the Villains one of their two losses on the season in the finals of the conference tournament.
East Surry played close with Bishop twice, losing by 12 and six points respectively, but the Cardinals were swept by Surry Central, who was in turn swept by North Surry, a team Mount Airy split with and the Cardinals defeated in their lone meeting.
West Stokes is a definite wild card in the 2009 preseason because of a major collapse a year ago. The Wildcats swept new conference foes North Surry, East Surry and North Stokes while starting the season 14-1. However, West faltered late, losing 10 of its final 12 games to close the season.
Then throw in South Stokes who, after finishing the regular season with a sub-.500 record, shocked Mount Airy in the third round of the state playoffs before falling to Cherryville in the regional semifinals.
If last season is any indicator, no matter where allegiances lie, the upcoming boys basketball season is sure to be one of the most exciting and even in recent memory.
North Surry Greyhounds
North Surry brings a veteran squad to the new conference, as coach Chris Butlers Greyhounds return nearly all major components from a 20-win season a year ago.
The Greyhounds success will depend on its health, as starting point guard Tanner Hiatt was sidelined for the majority of the football season and starting center J.B. Coram ended last season with an ankle injury.
A junior dominated squad, North may have the starting five with the most time logged together in the conference, with Hiatt, Coram, Tanner Easter and Blaize Brintle all varsity veterans.
Coram is the linchpin for Butlers squad, shoring up the middle and creating a problem for nearly every team in the conference with his combination of size and skill.
Easter is a lanky dead-eye who makes his living from the behind the three-point line, while Brintle is a slashing scorer who finds his way through opponents defenses and more often than not to the free-throw line. Mack is a wild card, but with his athleticism and length he could be the X factor for North along with new addition Dustin Utt, a 6-5 post player who Butler hopes can help Coram inside with defense and rebounding.
With these components combined, the Greyhounds will have one of the most balanced offensive teams in the conference.
For the Greyhounds to be successful, they will have to continue to mesh together and use Coram as the jumping off point for what could be the second best team in the conference.
We like to get the ball inside first and weve added some height to take some of the burden off J.B. in the post, but we feel like weve got people who can shoot and get in the lane and I think we are going to be a fairly balanced team, Butler said. Weve got players who on any given night can lead us in scoring.
East Surry Cardinals
To the chagrin of the football team and the rest of the conference, East Surry coach Jason Anderson will finally have a chance to work with his full team prior to the start of the season.
The Cardinals got a slow start a year ago and desperately missed the scoring punch of senior forward Hunter Diamont, who was sidelined by a lingering football injury during a large portion of the season.
The Cardinals will also look to replace all-conference performer Spence Tuttle, his brother Walt Tuttle, and senior forward Patrick Marion, one of Andersons most steady performers.
Anderson said he thinks his team will make some noise in 2009 with a deeper bench and a more up tempo style setting the stage.
This year is different from last, Anderson said. We rotated seven or eight people and this year we are going to be a lot deeper. I can see 12 kids stepping foot on the floor every night. In the past weve walked it down the floor but we are going to speed it up a little this year. I think we have a lot of strengths, we have some weaknesses because we havent been in the gym a lot but we have a good JV group of sophomores who are juniors now.
Diamont should be the Cardinals go-to scorer once again with forwards Andrew Hunter and Marcus Lawson close behind. Lawson was lost due to injury last season and Hunter is turning into an athletic defender and scorer for Anderson.
Where we hurt last year is we didnt have that outside threat and I think we have some kids who can shoot the ball well this year and I think we have some kids who can score inside, Anderson said. We are going to play defense and every year defense is what we hang our hat on.
Mount Airy Granite Bears
The Bears lost all-conference performers Robbie Rives and Dillion Bobbitt as well as important role players E.J. Valentin, Drew Joyce and Andrew Harris.
Fortunately for coach Kevin Spainhour, Mount Airy can enjoy the return of silky-smooth guard Wade Moody, a top-candidate for conference player of the year, as well as junior guard Torrance Hamilton and the athletic Justin Collier.
While Collier and fellow seniors Anthony Joyce and Kendall Cawley will be absent until the Bears finish their football season, Spainhour will no doubt have his team ready.
The Bears will once again play one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the league in 2009, starting with a four-day trip to Coral Springs, Fla., for the Kruel Classic in December.
The Bears will also take part in the Great Eight Invitational in early January, a tournament masterminded by Spainhour and featuring eight of the top 1A teams in North Carolina in a weekend showdown. Mount Airy plays only one non-conference series (Forbush) against local competition.
The Bears will look to big man Andrew Miller, along with new additions Cawley, Tanner Joyce and Tyler Parries to play valuable roles both off the bench and as starters this season, but its Moody who makes the world go round for Mount Airy.
With the amount of turnover from a year ago, Spainhour said the Bears will have a decidedly different look.
Were going to be a very different team, he said. Last year we had a lot of pieces and a lot of people could do a lot of different things. This year we are going to be a little more limited in our rotation, but I tell you what I like about our team right now is our guys are really working and I feel like the younger guys coming up are buying into the effort that it takes and the consistency that we want to practice at. The game is so much faster, especially with the quality of teams in our conference so with these JV kids coming up, its a big adjustment for them.
Surry Central Golden Eagles
In Dobson Surry Central coach Ken Eiswald has a good core to build from in sophomore guard Ethan Wilmoth, senior forward Austin McLamb and senior guard Dave Wilmoth.
Central was an up-and-down team a year ago, showing flashes of strength but also the inconsistency of youth.
Gone are gunner Brett Boyles and big man Marvin Spicer but Eiswald said he thinks this seasons incarnation of the Golden Eagles has a chance to improve on last seasons uneven play.
I think we are going to be able to do some things this year we were just starting to get a feel for doing last year, he said. Im going to be able to coach at different level because the guys understand things at a different level. Theyve put in a tremendous amount of time over the summer and the fall playing and its going to be a huge difference in their development and understanding of what were trying to do.
Jake Levesque and Tanner Hudson also return and along with newcomer Wade Dawson, the trio figures to take over the job of replacing Spicer, who might be the toughest hole to fill as his strength and toughness were tops on the team a year ago.
One of the things we are really focusing on is rebounding, Eiswald said. We felt like that was a weakness for us last year at both ends of the floor. Tanner Hudson was hurt and had knee problems and he came back a month late and never really was able to catch up. Its hard to replace a kid like Marvin but weve got some guys who have gotten much stronger over the offseason and can get a lot more physical inside and thats what we are counting on. We are hoping we dont have to count on just one or two guys.
Ethan Wilmoth showed his potential in his freshman season and with a year of running an offense under the sophomores belt, he should be poised to improve on a solid debut.