Mount Airy and East Surry have a key Northwest 1A Conference basketball game looming Jan. 3, but the two teams won’t exactly be sitting around waiting for the marquee matchup.
In fact, all four of Surry County’s prep teams will be in action in various holiday tournaments the next few days.
The Bears (7-3 overall) play the Team Dolphins, an Australian travel team, 3 p.m. Friday in the Mount Airy Christmas Classic at Mount Airy High School. On Saturday, Mount Airy’s boys will take on the Starmount Rams at 6 p.m.
“We had a tough loss this past week to Ashe County in double overtime, then we rebounded against Surry Central and North Surry,” coach Levi Goins of Mount Airy said. “We are making progress, and we are heading in the direction we need to go. In January, we have East Surry, Walkertown, (Winston-Salem) Prep, and Bishop (McGuinness). Those are all good teams. We have a long ways to go in a short amount of time.”
As for the holiday tournament games, Goins said Starmount is well-coached and plays a similar style of basketball as the Bears, but he is unfamiliar with the Australian team.
Carson Mounce and Khaileel Dailey are averaging around 14-16 points per game for Mount Airy, and Goins added that his team also has capable 15-20 point scorers in Clay Mounce and Caleb Horton.
“It’s good to have different guys step up on different nights,” Goins said. “North Surry was triple teaming Carson Mounce, and Caleb and Khaileel stepped up. Both had 17 points. Khaileel is learning to play as complete guard. He is increasing his assists and rebounds. Carson had 26 at Ashe County early in the week, and he scored 10 in the first quarter against Surry Central.”
The Bears avenged an earlier loss to county rival North Surry with a big win last week. Mount Airy has competed in all 10 of its games this season, with the three losses by a combined eight points.
“What we are finding out is we are a young team,” Goins said. “None of our starters are seniors. Our inexperience has come out to bite us a couple times, but that’s part of the process. I am pleased with our progress. We came from 10 down at North Surry and went on a 15-0 run. That shows resilience in our guys.”
Mount Airy’s resilience and mental toughness will quickly be challenged in January.
“East Surry, Bishop and Prep all have tremendous guard play,” Goins said. “We really need to be tested and grow defensively against really good guards. Scott Meredith, Spencer Wilson for Bishop and Mike Hughes for Winston-Salem Prep are just tremendous guards who will go on to play college basketball somewhere. We’ve got to do better at defending. Coye Simmons of Prep is probably one of the best centers in the state. We’ve got our work cut out for us that’s for sure.”
The Cardinals (9-2 overall) play Elkin Thursday at 2 p.m. and Galax, Va., Friday at 5 p.m. in the Alleghany Christmas Tournament in Sparta. East defeated the Elks in the season opener.
Like Mount Airy, East has been a tough team to handle so far this season. Of the Cards’ two losses, one was by a point to West Stokes and the other came to the defending 1A state champion Phoenix.
“Especially being shorthanded, to be 9-2 at this point, we feel pretty good about things,” coach Jason Anderson of East said. “We needed this Christmas break to get people on the same page, and get injuries healed. Our last game against West Stokes, we’ll see if it was a good turning point. That was the first time we’ve been in a really tight ball game. We shot the ball well the first nine games. We struggled to score the ball the other night. It came down to who had the ball last.”
Meredith leads the Cardinals in scoring, while Seth Brim and Carson Long also have averaged around double figures in scoring. Anderson said some of the other players have been hesitant to pull the trigger, including Jack Edwards, who has been slowed recently with a low ankle sprain, Jacob Bowman and Cody Ashburn.
“They’ve shot the ball well, they just haven’t taken many shots,” Anderson said. “Bryan Banks, he shoots the ball well, brings defensive energy, makes good decisions with the basketball.”
Anderson said he thinks the Cards have yet to play their best basketball. On Jan.3, the Cards make the trip up Highway 52 to Finch Gymnasium for a showdown with the Bears. Both teams are 2-1 in league play.
“Right off the bat is Mount Airy, one of the premier teams in our league,” Anderson said. “We were fortunate to get one game with Bishop and Prep out of the way. There are some sleeper teams like North Stokes, maybe Walkertown. If you come in and take a night off, anybody can get beat. You can’t come in and expect to just win because you are who you are. The perception of us is that we are a talented team, so you better be ready to take everybody’s best shot. West Stokes we beat pretty handily at home and they got us at their place. After the game their fans rushed the floor.”
North Surry (5-4 overall) is coming off losses to East Surry and Mount Airy. The Greyhounds take on Starmount at Mount Airy High School at 6 p.m. on Friday and then the Australian travel team on Saturday at 3 p.m.
Coach Kevin King of North said his team has been up and down the last couple of weeks.
“Both games (last week) we were too inconsistent with our ball-handling and we turned it over too much,” King said. “We didn’t get good shots in stretches, something we really struggled with in both games. East Surry did an excellent job of getting good shots. Mount Airy did an excellent job of taking away what we are trying to do.”
Marcus Sawyers not only leads the Greyhounds in scoring at 13 points per game, but also in rebounds, assists and steals. Nathan Fletcher is in double figures with around 11 points per game. Mason Hawks and Kendal Tucker average nine points per game and Tanner Hodgin and Brady Watts around six points a game.
“We’ve got to find an offensive identity,” King said. “We’ve got to find a way these next couple games to know what we can do when we have to get a basket. We score OK in transition but we don’t score well enough in a halfcourt set right now.
“As soon as Chrismas is over, we head right into the conference. We are going to have to develop a mental toughness. We talked about that before playing Mount Airy Friday night. It’s not a physical-type toughness. Not just about being strong with the basketball, but being mentally tough, not to shoot when we are open, but get good shots.”
Surry Central (4-5) will play in a Christmas Tournament in Wentworth against Rockingham County on Friday at 7 p.m. On Saturday, the Eagles will play at either 4 or 7 p.m. against Western Alamance or Bassett, Va., depending on the outcomes of the Friday games.
Senior Zach Wilmoth leads Central at 18.7 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. Coach Ken Eiswald, whose team has dropped three straight, said he is trying to find some additional scoring.
“We know what Zack Wilmoth is going to produce. Now we are trying to find combinations where we can find a few more points,” Eiswald said. “Defensively I feel like we are doing OK, but we are averaging in the high 40s. You are not going to win enough basketball games if you can’t score more. Our shooting percentage is in the high 30s.”
One of the areas where Central could get some help is down low, with freshman Dante Hanner, who currently averages 5.7 points and 6.8 rebounds.
“With Zach and Dante Hanner in the post compared to other teams in conference, we have a little bit of a size advantage there,” Eiswald said. “We are trying to figure out ways to utilize those guys. In past offenses, we’ve had guys playing multiple positions, five-out motion, more flashing. Now we are looking at different zone defenses. We don’t have quite the athleticism as some of the teams we play, like Mount Airy. We are trying to see where our strengths are.”
In addition to Hanner, Eiswald said freshman Jeremy Patterson also has potential to help the Eagles down the road.
Central certainly hasn’t avoided playing tough teams early this season. On top of the rivalry games with Mount Airy and East Surry, the Eagles have already played West Forsyth and Trinity. Central gets into league play on Jan. 3 against Carver.